2023 Most Disruptive MBA Startups: Banofi Leather, Yale School of Management

Banofi Leather

Yale School of Management

Industry: Biomaterials

Founding Student Name(s): Jinali Mody, Maggie Boreham, Isobel Campbell

Brief Description of Solution: Banofi Leather is a plant-based leather alternative made from banana crop waste. We seek to redefine the materials of the future and are on a path to make the fashion industry sustainable.

Funding Dollars: We’ve raised over $100k in non-dilutive grants and this September we were the winners of the $1M Hult International Prize awarded by Stella McCartney out of 10,000 startups

  • $70k from Student Pitch Competitions at MIT, Yale, and Rice
  • $11k from the WEF Global Talent Award for SDGs
  • $31k from the Ministry of Agriculture in India
  • $30k from the WEGE Circular Economy Prize

What led you to launch this venture? When Jinali was a student at Yale School of the Environment, she struggled to find a sustainable leather bag. She knew that vegan leather alternatives tended to be made from petrochemical sources and be highly polluting, so she and Isobel began to think of ways to create a plant-based leather. Using her expertise in chemistry and master’s degree in environmental management, she developed Banofi Leather. The full Banofi team came together when Jinali and Maggie met while speaking on a sustainable fashion panel at Yale – Maggie’s background is in fashion design. In her previous role as an accessory designer, she had always struggled to find sustainable materials to work with. Since this first meeting, our team has been dedicated to putting an alternative material that looks, feels, and smells like traditional leather in the hands of designers.

What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with the venture? This year, Banofi competed in the Hult International Prize, and we were selected as the winning team out of over 10,000 student startups. The theme of the prize was “Redesigning Fashion” so we saw it as an incredible opportunity to begin to build a name for Banofi within the industry. Participating in the digital and in-person accelerators before the final pushed our team to hit key milestones in our business, including finalizing our business plan and getting all of our due diligence documents in order. Throughout the course of the competition, our team pitched weekly and received meaningful feedback from a panel of industry experts and mentors. Their insights helped us refine our pitch and led us to success in the final. In the end, we walked away with the $1M prize, valuable insights about our business, and closer as a team.

What has been the most significant challenge you’ve faced in creating your company and how did you solve it? The biggest challenge we’ve faced as we’ve been growing Banofi is reaching some of our client’s technical requirements for our material in terms of flexibility – The leather we’ve commercially launched is ready for application for hard leather goods, but further development is needed before we’re ready for soft leather goods and garments. We’re working to strike a delicate balance between durability and performance. Our material needs to stitch and sew like leather so design teams can adopt it with no switching costs. However, it also needs to withstand all the wear and tear that a consumer would put a leather bag through. This is a common problem faced by many plant-based leather companies and most of our peers are working through it alongside us. To address this challenge, we’ve been having brands sample with Banofi and have been conducting feedback calls with design and sustainability teams – we’re using these insights to inform our continuing R&D and have seen massive amounts of improvement in our material over the past 4 months.

How has your MBA program helped you further this startup venture? The Yale SOM MBA program has provided our team with the business fundamentals needed to successfully pitch and manage our company and create client sales. Through the curriculum, we’ve learned how to create projections in classes like Entrepreneurial Finance as well as how to successfully develop a pitch deck in core courses like Innovator. Not only has the SOM MBA equipped our Banofi team with the tools and skills we need for success, but the integrated curriculum that lets students take courses across Yale allowed us to meet and assemble a cross-disciplinary team.

What founder or entrepreneur inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did he or she prove motivational to you? Our team has always looked up to Stella McCartney as she has been a pioneer for Sustainable Fashion (Maggie even wrote about this in her Yale application!). Since founding her brand, Stella has never used animal leather in her designs and has been a key figure in driving the industry’s interest in biomaterials by investing in new technologies and premiering them on her runways. It was such an honour for our team to have the opportunity to pitch to her and having her announce us as the winners of the Hult International Prize was truly a dream come true.

Which MBA class has been most valuable in building your startup and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it? The Start-Up Founder’s Practicum taught by Jennifer McFadden at Yale SOM was one of the most valuable courses for our team.  The Founder’s Practicum allowed our team to work on Banofi for credit while applying the teachings of the integrated core curriculum. We were able to practice pitching Banofi to our peers and received lots of questions and suggestions that allowed us to be better prepared before heading to pitch competitions. Professor McFadden has become a valuable mentor for the Banofi team as we develop our product.

What professor made a significant contribution to your plans and why? Professor Marian Chertow is the director of the Yale Center of Industrial Ecology and is a sustainability advisor to Banofi. Her work on industrial symbiosis and circularity helped our team decide to move forward with banana crop waste when we were thinking about what bio-based feedstock we should use to develop our product.

How has your local startup ecosystem contributed to your venture’s development and success? The Yale Ventures Ecosystem has been so supportive of Banofi and we’re so grateful for all the opportunities it has given us. Our first order came from the Tsai Center for Design and Innovation – we created notebooks using Banofi to create our proof of concept and test our material before commercial launch. Yale Ventures have continued to place orders with goods made from Banofi, allowing us to have a constant stream of revenue while we work to scale our operations and continue our R&D to achieve a 100% bio-based material.

What is your long-term goal with your startup? Our long-term goal is to continue to grow Banofi and improve our product until it is ready for application not just in the fashion industry but also for automotive and furniture. Additionally, we see an opportunity to use banana crop waste to create alternatives to other materials such as silk and polyester. At Banofi, we envision a future where we and other plant-based materials replace the harmful, toxic, synthetic materials companies use in consumer products to reduce social and environmental impact.


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