WVU Tech student Nima ShahabShahmir has big plans for a small business. The computer science major wants to use his degree in the technology field, where he sees a lot of potential for the state of West Virginia. But he’s got an entrepreneurial streak, too, and he’s making the most of it by launching a business that he hopes will change the way we think about eco-friendly consumer products.
His project is Future Fungi, and it aims to disrupt the plastic and styofoam industry by turning mycelium – the basic structure and roots of a common mushroom – into eco-friendly consumer items likes plates, cups and blocks.
The process works by forming the mycelium into various products that are baked, glazed and sold in bulk to environmentally conscious purchasers. The fungi-based product is waterproof, lightweight and boasts an indefinite shelf life. It’s also a biodegradable alternative to long-lasting plastics, which Nima says can sit for 400 years before being degraded. By comparison, a Future Fungi cup will return to nature in as little as two weeks. Mycelium is also rich in nutrients, which gives a Future Fungi product a usable life well after it’s discarded.
“It will have great positive impacts for the state of West Virginia,” said Nima. “We are planning on using the agricultural waste materials from the farms within the state and also the process of natural decomposition of these materials can bring lots of nutrients to the soil, which will ultimately help out the agricultural businesses.”
Nima was born and raised in Iran, and his family moved to the Lewisburg area seven years ago. He said that his time in the region has given him an enhanced appreciation for nature.
“I grew up and lived 16 years in the large city of Tehran with lots of noise and air pollution, so it was definitely great to move to a place that is closer to nature and also fresh air,” he said.
That appreciation was part of his drive to create Future Fungi.
“I believe that for the longest time we have only been using the planet’s resources. Unfortunately these natural resources have mainly been replaced with industrial waste materials. By switching to mycelium products, we will not only create a better ecosystem now, but also for our future generations as well,” he said.
In recent weeks, Nima has secured the support of multiple organizations that will help him bring Future Fungi to fruition.
Nima was the first student to work with WV Hive and the LaunchLab on WVU Tech’s Beckley campus. The lab offers entrepreneurial resources, including business coaching, equipment and incubator space. Working with the lab, Nima won the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority’s Common Grounds competition sponsored by TechConnect. The $500 competition award allowed him to conduct additional research and experimentation.
After his research showed the vast potential for the product, he participated in the Robert C. Byrd Institute’s Vanguard Agricultural Competition, where he received an award of $10,000 and a year of business assistance. That assistance will help Nima put together everything from patent applications to Future Fungi logos.
Nima said that it’s still too early to know the exact timeline of Future Fungi’s rollout because he’s still experimenting with the mycelium-based products, but that he hopes to share more news in the coming months.
“There are lots of applications for utilizing these eco-friendly products and by assistance of Robert C. Byrd Institute I will be able to bring these innovative ideas into reality. It is amazing to cooperate with the knowledgeable team of the institute to develop this business. I would like to thank WVU Tech, WV Hive and RCBI for giving me this great opportunity and I feel so honored and grateful for it,” he said.
Read more about Nima and Future Fungi in a recent article from the Register-Herald.
Photo: WVU Tech student Nima ShahabShahmir (center) celebrates his win with Joseph Carlucci (L) from WV Hive and Bill Woodrum (R) from RCBI.