Tesla chair Robyn Denholm backs substitute leather startup in $1.1 million angel round

- January 29, 2024 2 MIN READ
Alt.Leather founder Tina Funder and chief scientific officer Dr Tuan Nguyen
Alt.Leather founder Tina Funder and chief scientific officer Dr Tuan Nguyen
Plant-based leather substitute startup Alt. Leather has raised $1.1 million in an angel round to replace the alternative of petroleum-based synthetic leathers.

The Melbourne-based startup, founded in 2022 by Tina Funder, was backed by Startmate, The Austin Group, Robyn Denholm’s family office Wollemi Capital Group, and LaunchVic’s Alice Anderson Fund, along with strategic angel investors. 

She launched a vegan handbag label that year and now hopes to not only replace petroleum-based options but also animal leather as companies increasingly seek to replace it. 

The global synthetic leather wholesale market is estimated at more than A$100 billion and 97% of that production relies on petroleum-based plastics. 

“That’s millions of tonnes of fossil-fuel-derived plastic that we can eliminate from the world, the impact we can have is enormous,” she said. 

Funder said the research team at Alt. grew from one to four last year and created a base material that looks and feels like leather. 

“I tested many of the biobased alternatives on the market and couldn’t find a suitable material that was petrochemical-free,” she said.

“Given the current climate, it felt like a significant commercial opportunity with the benefit of a positive environmental outcome.” 

This cash injection will help tem access advanced equipment and additional research through leading Melbourne universities, file a provisional patent and begin small-scale sample production with several prominent brands.

“We are incredibly fortunate to have investors with expertise covering all aspects of our business from fashion and manufacturing to finance and government,” Funder said.

“We have the best in the business to call upon when required.”

Alt. Leather’s chief scientific officer Dr Tuan Nguyen said the material they’ve developed uses a combination of waste streams and regenerative plant derivatives available in abundance globally.

“By adopting green chemistry innovation, we have developed patentable material composition and technology to produce a leather alternative that is both durable and commercially scalable,” he said.

Startmate head of investments Brady Flockart said they were the first investor in Alt. Leather when it was just an idea.

“The speed of product development since is akin to a software company,” he said.

“Notwithstanding discouraging historical data indicating fundraising challenges for solo-women founded hardware companies, Tina has raised a great round with great investors. This is testament to her audacious ambition and unwavering commitment to transform it into reality.”

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