Falmouth entrepreneur combines product innovation, social focus

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FALMOUTH — Kai Smith’s business philosophy is simple.

“Doing good for the environment is also good for the bottom line,” he said – and he has an award to prove it.

Smith, whose new business creates environmentally friendly, biodegradable coasters out of the spent grain discarded by local breweries, will receive the Business Leadership Award from the Environmental Health Strategy Center at the organization’s annual awards dinner on Nov. 29.

The Environmental Health Strategy Center, based in Portland, has a mission of “fighting for safe food and water, toxic-free products, and good green jobs that keep families healthy,” according to its website.

Smith, who is running Maine Coasters & Bio-Boards out of his Falmouth home, said right now he’s mostly engaged in product and market testing.

However, the company was recently contacted about “a marketing campaign for a major, worldwide brewery,” Smith said. “And, we have some leads for supplying unfinished sheets of coasters to a few mills around New England. It’s early on, but very exciting to see the product gathering momentum.”

On the Maine Coasters & Bio-Boards website, Smith describes his business model as “innovative (and) sustainably-minded” with hopes that it will bring “good green jobs to Maine communities.”

“I am thrilled to receive the Business Leadership Award from the Environmental Health Strategy Center,” Smith said. “Receiving this award demonstrates that unique concepts, and products that promote social and environmental goals, can lead to successful business opportunities and markets. … There’s a meaningful market for companies that have an environmental or social focus.”

Very simply, Smith said, his business creates “bio-based products locally that are healthy for the environment and connect consumers to their favorite brands.”

“Currently, nine out of every 10 beverage coasters in the U.S. come from raw materials in Germany,” he said. “Maine has the natural resources, infrastructure, and world-class research facilities to make them in state.”

Smith launched Maine Coasters about a year ago, he said, “after vetting the concept with a handful of people, including owners of breweries, leaders in the pulp and paper industry and faculty at the University of Maine.”

He first thought of helping local breweries to connect with their customer base through another Maine-based product because “it’s hard to miss the incredible level of art and marketing that’s happening within the craft beer scene at the moment.”

“Having amassed a small collection of coasters over the years, the connection between beer, marketing and art (just) clicked for me,” Smith said. Also, most coasters “just aren’t environmentally friendly. This is because of the chemicals used in the surface coating.”

Smith said his current production level “is very small, but that should ramp up in 2019.”

Maine Coasters & Bio Boards is Smith’s second startup. “That experience taught me I didn’t need to reinvent the wheel if I wanted to create an innovative product that’s appealing to consumers.”

“As a Mainer, part of my business mantra has been about developing products based on (things) that are already working throughout the state.”

For instance, Smith said, “We have great downtowns and great local businesses. We’re also home to some of the best breweries and beers in the world. When I think about Maine’s heritage in the paper industry, I see a perfect match with beer coasters.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Falmouth resident Kai Smith has started a business creating biodegradable coasters out of spent grain from local breweries. Smith has won an award for his innovative, environmentally-friendly and sustainable product.

Creating a Maine-based product with a message of sustainability is the goal of Falmouth entrepreneur Kai Smith.

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