At just 26, Woamy co-founder Mohamed Elamir has been recognised with the Changemaker Award at the 2024 EIT Awards for his company’s revolutionary, eco-friendly foam. We spoke to Mohamed to find out how the EIT-Labelled AMIS master’s programme helped him on his journey to environmental entrepreneurship.

Having completed his AMIS Master’s just two years ago, Mohamed Elamir is now an award-winning co-founder of Finnish-based startup Woamy, which is revolutionising the foam industry with its patented, biodegradable foam.

His path to sustainable entrepreneurship began during his chemical engineering Bachelor’s at the Suez University in Egypt. There, learning about plastics and related materials, coupled with seeing first-hand the detrimental effects of plastic pollution on the Egyptian coastline, sparked his interest in using materials science to create sustainable solutions.

Eager to deepen his knowledge of material sciences and entrepreneurship, he looked for a master’s programme that would align with his aspirations and found the Advanced Materials for Innovation and Sustainability (AMIS).

“I was drawn to the AMIS programme for its emphasis on materials and entrepreneurship, and for the opportunity to study at two different universities; in my case that was the INP – Phelma University in Grenoble and the Aalto University in Finland.”

The connections that came out of studying at the two universities – with startups, researchers, professors and other students – was incredibly beneficial.

During his studies, Mohamed got the chance to work in advanced laboratories at the Grenoble INP – Phelma University and took classes in entrepreneurship through the Aalto Ventures Programme, an entrepreneurship education initiative at Aalto University in Finland.

As a master’s student in the AMIS programme, he immersed himself in practical learning. His internship with a ski-recycling startup gave him the chance to see sustainable business practices in action and some of the course’s uniquely business-focussed learning modules helped prepare him for life in a startup.

The ‘Startup Experience’ module included in our curriculum was great; it simulated a startup’s journey from inception to securing funding. It allowed us to step into the founders’ shoes and gain a genuine understanding of what it takes to establish a company.

Leveraging the knowledge and experience gained from his time on the AMIS programme, Mohamed embarked on his master’s thesis at Aalto University and worked on the university’s foam-wood research project.

Here, he honed his skills in testing and developing the material that would become the backbone of Woamy.

“This was a pivotal time for me to apply my learnings.  I was able to put all of the knowledge I’d just acquired into practice and to direct it into an environmental cause that I was passionate about,” he said.

On finishing his thesis, Mohamed, alongside his four fellow co-founders, established Woamy and transformed the work of the foam-wood research project into a business.

They patented Woamy’s 100% biodegradable, and recyclable cellulose-based foam, which is both strong and lightweight and does not use plastics, chemical additives, or high-impact manufacturing processes.

Since June 2022, the company has seen rapid growth, moving into a space on the university campus and developing their pilot production machine. “We now have about 16 people working with us, along with the research group from Aalto University, which includes some interning AMIS students,” Mohamed explained.

Woamy’s innovative product has the potential to make a substantial impact in reducing plastic waste and, currently, the company is channelling its efforts into scaling up production and expanding its market reach.

“The main challenge is refining our production process to be as efficient as possible and to mirror industrial scale operations as closely as possible.”

Woamy’s goal is to be able to introduce its material to the market at a price point competitive with plastic foams, ensuring that customers don’t have to choose between sustainability and affordability.

The recognition of these efforts came with the Changemaker Award at the EIT Innovation Awards, a celebration of Europe’s leading innovators and changemakers. This accolade is awarded to those who have made a substantial contribution through the EIT Community’s education and skill-building programmes, highlighting the remarkable potential of their work to create a meaningful societal impact.

“I feel honoured and humbled to have received such huge recognition from EIT. And this means a lot to me and my team on Woamy. This will definitely give us a boost to make the change that we want to see,” Mohamed said on receiving the award.

For those inspired by Mohamed’s journey and eager to carve their own entrepreneurial path, he has valuable advice to help pave the way:

“Embrace every learning opportunity, engage with your community, join student groups, and participate in events and conferences. For me, this opened up a world of possibilities I hadn’t considered”.

“We all want to make our mark, to contribute something meaningful. To do that, keep your eyes open to every opportunity to use your skills, in whatever capacity – even if it’s outside your subject area. Be prepared for challenges and risks—they’re part of the journey. The process can be tough, but it’s worth persevering.”

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