Carlo Centonze is an entrepreneur, textile specialist and CEO of HeiQ [LSE:HEIQ], a Swiss based textile innovator company which was listed on the London Stock Exchange Main Market on December, 7 2020. A serial entrepreneur and textile specialist, Carlo went to co-found the textile innovator company HeiQ along with Dr Murray Height. Since 2004, he has served HeiQ as CEO, developing the firm from a two-employee company to 80+ employees, worldwide reach and a focus on sustainability and innovation.
1. An introduction from you - background, overview, education...
2. Since 2004, you have served HeiQ as CEO, developing the firm from a two employee company to a company with over 100 employees on four continents - working with PhDs around the world and an ecosystem of 500 plus people. Can you tell us more about it?
3. Founded in 2005 as a spin-off from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH), HeiQ is a leader in textile innovation creating some of the most effective, durable and high-performance textile technologies on the market today. You built some cutting edge products on textiles. Can you tell us about it and show some examples? The product HeiQ Viroblock?
4. HeiQ is a three-in-one company: Scientific research, Specialty materials manufacturing and Consumer ingredient branding, all for improving the lives of billions of people by perfecting the everyday product of textile. How do you manage this?
5. You have been going through a recent IPO for HEIQ. Can you tell us about it?
6. The textile industry is a massive global industry going through a lot of challenges. What are the main risks and opportunities you see, especially when it comes to sustainability and social impact?
7. You are based on Switzerland and work around the world with global brands and organisations. How do you see the textile, fashion, retail industry as a whole?
About Carlo Centonze’s background. I come from an Italian and Swiss background and I have tried to learn the best of both worlds. My family has a heritage in entrepreneurship, although when I was younger I wanted to become a scientist but I was too impatient to become one so I decided to move into what my family was best at, entrepreneurship. I was very interested in sustainability and climate change, I have always been. And my first endeavour was about climate change.
A few years later, Murray Height, an MIT graduate and PhD, and myself were on a hike. Our then girlfriends sent us a hundred meter ahead because we had very smelly polyester T-shirts. So we thought to ourselves, surely we could use science to solve this problem and improve products that touch the lives of every human being. We talked about the idea of funding a company that uses the best of technological developments in one of the most challenging industries, textiles, intertwining the best of technology and sustainability. And so HeiQ was born.
The textiles industry is one of the biggest in the world but also one of the worst in terms of pollution, so when we created HeiQ we were after finding and researching innovative materials that were conscious with the ecosystem too. We had the chance to create HeiQ from scratch, our focus was entirely on a scientific approach, that is why it is so important for us to have the right talent. As of now we have a few dozen PhDs working with us. To bring innovation, we knew we had to be flexible, so that is why we set up the company in a way that would allow us to be as agile as possible. We also created an innovations division, which is critical in our business and a platform where to share information and findings to be able to find the right solutions.
About HeiQ’s solutions. One of our first approaches was to develop textile effects that use very little use of active ingredients and have a long life. We were really conscious about waste and sustainability and many of our solutions are based on these two concepts. From that we have been strongly focused on developing bio-friendly materials.
Regarding COVID-19, we have created a bio-based solution, a material that is resilient to viruses like SARS-Cov-2 and other coronavirus and with this material we are now building facemasks and other products. HeiQ Viroblock NPJ03 is an intelligent Swiss textile technology that is added to the fabric during the final stage of the textile manufacturing process. HeiQ Viroblock NPJ03 has been tested according to ISO 18184 as strong antiviral and ISO 20743 as strong antibacterial against enveloped viruses and bacteria. It is estimated to have been applied to at least one billion face masks during the current global pandemic. With this innovation, HeiQ has won the Swiss Technology Award, crowned as Innovation Leader. HeiQ is the only company that has ever won this award more than once. The first time was in 2010 with Oilguard, a solution aimed at cleaning up oil from the ocean, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster and to mitigate the negative impact on marine lives.
Another example can be found a few years ago when we were approached by Ikea. They wanted to improve the quality of the air in their customers’ homes. We then developed a textile solution that was able to improve the quality of air indoors. HeiQ Fresh is a comprehensive family of sustainable and highly effective odor control and VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) management technologies that can be tailored for the intended performance and the article’s end use. In 2019, we added a revolutionary air purifying functionality to the HeiQ Fresh range, called HeiQ Fresh AIR to help reduce indoor air pollutants such as the Volatile Organic compounds (VOCs) acetaldehyde, formaldehyde and nitrogen oxide.
Another technology we have developed is HeiQ Real Silk, our treatment reproduces the luxurious touch effects of silk: soft, dry, cool and comfortable. It uses real silk fibers secured to the surface of each textile fiber. It is ideal for any apparel and endows any fabric with a touch of luxury and added value. HeiQ Real Silk is ideal for the fashion world and brings a touch of luxury to everyone by enhancing otherwise “common” fabrics (e.g. polyester or cotton) with the characteristics and luxurious feel of silk.
At HeiQ we love to share, to help others. The way we approach companies, other partners always starts the same, we share our knowledge and explain the technology behind our solutions and how they can help solve specific problems. I think that if we all are more open to share we will build trust and we can solve problems better.
About HeiQ’s IPO. It is a big step for HeiQ to go public and be listed in London. It is a big challenge for us but it is also an opportunity to broaden our reach worldwide and grow at a faster pace. We believe that through this IPO we will be able to grow our network and solve problems at a faster pace. At last, what we want is to have a bigger impact, which is very important. For example, our air purifying solution can have a big environmental impact as it can turn the curtain into an air purifier and breakdown 80% of indoor air pollutants, and going public can help us scale and deploy our solutions at a global scale.
Carlo Centonze is an entrepreneur, textile specialist and CEO of HeiQ, a Swiss based textile innovator company.
Carlo studied Biology and Forest Engineering at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology ETH Zurich where he graduated in 2003. Shortly after that, he earned his Executive MBA at the University of St.Gallen in 2007.
After his service as army pilot he started his professional career founding Myclimate where he took the role of Head of Marketing between 2002 and 2003. After that first contact with environmental and sustainable organizations, he went to co-found the ETH Spin-off textile innovator company HeiQ together with Dr Murray Height. As such, since 2004, he has served HeiQ as CEO, developing the firm from a two employee company to a 100+ employee company as of today with seven offices around the globe.
Carlo was recently interviewed by Natascha Tummeley, from the digital Switzerland magazine where he explained the reasons why he decided to start HeiQ. He said: “In the summer of 2004, my friend Murray Height and I went hiking with our then girlfriends in the Swiss mountains. After wearing for five days the same Polyester T-Shirt our girlfriends kindly requested the ‘gentlemen’ to keep a walking distance of at least 100 meters ahead. We had a musty bynote indeed! That’s when we realized that there was an unsolved problem in the market for producing synthetic textiles that don’t develop malodours when wearing them for a long time. Having experienced this problem first hand and being two engineers, we quickly came up with a solution by creating a new material and technology that enabled us to functionalize synthetic textiles to stay hygienic and odorless for days when worn! This technology laid the foundation for our company and the success we have today.”
Alongside his role as HeiQ’s CEO, Carlo Centonze has also been proactive with similar projects. He became board of Director of C8 Investments Ltd. for 3 years between 2012 and 2015. And more recently, in 2019, he has taken an active role as Member of the Board of Directors of scienceindustries, a Swiss based business association of chemistry and pharma life sciences as well as Chairman of The Board of ECSA Emanuele Centonze SA, the largest Swiss owned company specialized in the distribution of chemicals.
HeiQ is a Swiss based company that develops and manufactures high-performance textile effects. Founded in 2005 as a spin-off of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zürich (ETH), HeiQ is the innovation partner of over 300 brands for unique textile technologies.
As of today, the company has grown to more than 100 employees and has presence in 12 countries with subsidiaries in Australia, China, Iberia, Taiwan and USA. The company also manufactures in Switzerland, Australia & USA.
HeiQ’s activities are divided into three branches: Scientific research, Specialty materials manufacturing and Consumer ingredient branding. And all of those are towards the goal of improving the lives of billions of people by perfecting the everyday product of textile. In that sense, HeiQ is focused in textile innovation creating some of the most effective, durable and high-performance textile technologies in the market today.
According to a recent interview with CEO and co-founder Carlo Centonze published in Digital Switzerland magazine, the CEO stated that: “HeiQ creates specialty chemical effects for textiles. Our core focus is on textile finishes like fluorine free water repellant technologies such as the ones you get when buying a outdoor rain jacket, just without harmful perfluorinated compounds. HeiQ offers chemicals that enable textiles to show enhanced properties and e.g. have cooling effects or make them odor free. Today HeiQ has over two hundred products offered to the market.”
Likewise, co-founder and Chief Science Officer Dr Murray Height said the following about HeiQ’s mission: “Scientific discovery is about pushing the frontiers of knowledge – it involves the spirit of exploration. HeiQ’s mission is motivated by this spirit – we work closely with researchers around the world to push the boundaries of textile technology to help our brand partners exceed the expectations of their customers.”
One of HeiQ’s major concerns is social responsibility, specially regarding the environment. As such, the company states that all their services and technologies are in accordance with environmental, ethical and social standards. A perfect example of this is their Clean Tech, a technology that helps the manufacture of textiles to be more eco-friendly and efficiently. In fact, HeiQ Clean Tech features time, water and energy savings of 30-40%. It enables a faster polyester dyeing process with disperse dyes as well as optimizing the textile product quality. This technology permits high process flexibility thanks to its suitability for most standard polyester dyeing machines and can be applied to wovens, knits and yarns.
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