Queen of Raw
You want to reduce pollutants, the textile industry is a good place to start. Fabric production not only creates a lot of pollution, but also wastes enormous amounts of water. And, according to some estimates, $120 billion a year of unused material is thrown into landfills, burned up or just laid to rest in warehouses. Plus the waste problem happens everywhere from mills to retailers.
That’s where Queen of Raw comes in. Founder Stephanie Benedetto started the company to build an online marketplace that matches buyers and sellers of unused fabric. More recently, she took the platform’s blockchain and machine learning-based technology engine and built MateriaMX, a service for enterprise sellers aimed at helping them find waste in their supply chains in real-time. Then they can automatically send inventory to the Queen of Raw marketplace. Thus, instead of depositing the material in a landfill, they can resell it and turn the stuff into profits. It’s a particularly pressing matter for companies that have signed commitments to reduce their waste by 2030.
“Companies can identify waste in their supply chains they may not even know they had,” says Benedetto.
Queen of Raw, of course, isn’t the only impact startup using state-of-the-art technology, such as blockchain and artificial intelligence, to form the backbone of their businesses. Blockchain technology, often described as a distributed digital ledger, creates time-stamped, tamper-proof records. Though most of the buzz about it has focused on cryptocurrency, its signature ability to build users’ trust in the security and veracity of documents on the blockchain also lends itself to many other uses.
A Return to Her Roots
Benedetto was working as a corporate lawyer during the 2008 market meltdown. That financial catastrophe got her thinking about doing something more meaningful and going back to her roots. At the end of the 19th century, her grandfather, an immigrant who settled on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, started repurposing unused fabrics, turning them into other garments. Benedetto decided to build a company that could accomplish something similar—repurpose material and turn it into something useful—but employ current technology to do so.
Her first move was in 2012, when she started Paper No. 9, a company that made a sustainable alternative to leather. Then she got the idea for Queen of Raw. The online platform would use blockchain and machine learning to find and track excess fabric— post-consumer waste, fabric on rolls, you name it—and then match it to factories, retailers, designers and other buyers looking for that material. She co-founded the business in 2014, selling the excess Paper No. 9 fabric on the platform.
Blockchain for Sellers’ Supply Chains
Then something happened. Benedetto started hearing from sellers that they weren’t exactly sure just how much unused fabric they had and where it was coming from. Also they didn’t know how to add the inventory to the Queen of Raw marketplace easily, since many were handling that task manually, working from Excel spreadsheets.
She realized she could not only help, but use her technology engine to build a supply-chain management service. So last year, she started MateriaMX (short for Material Exchange) to do that, with plans to launch officially this year. Basically, through MateriaMX, monthly subscribers can map, identify, measure and trace waste throughout their supply chains in real-time, ultimately allowing them to minimize their excess fabric, water and other waste streams. In addition, that unused material can be automatically added to the Queen of Raw marketplace. Plus, over time, with more data, the intelligent system will be able to analyze where customers might find waste streams, plus provide reports on the amount of water, toxins and other areas they’ve saved.
As for funding, Benedetto bootstrapped at first. Then in 2018, she went through a Techstars accelerator and won a WeWork Creator Award for $360,000. Last September, the company was one of the winners of MIT Solve’s Circular Economy Challenge, receiving a $10,000 grant, along with access to advisors, MIT facilities, and other benefits.
According to Benedetto, Queen of Raw has over 100,000 users and has saved over 1 billion gallons of water in just the last quarter.