Editor’s note: This is one of five startup profiles featuring the latest recipients of $50,000 NC IDEA grants. The winners were announced last week.
WILMINGTON — “North Carolina is an agriculture and textile state,” said Guy Carpenter, co-founder of Wilmington-based Bear Fiber. “We want our farmers and textile industry to benefit and profit from the opportunity.”
Their crop of choice – industrial hemp.
The company aims to grow the local and global supply of cottonized hemp fiber for technical textiles and works with customers in the textile industry like Patagonia and Cone Denim.
“We are bringing to market new fiber opportunities to encourage innovation and add to their sustainability story,” said Carpenter. The company recently developed an innovative cotton and hemp yarn blend that is now being used by screen printing company TS Designs that only uses sustainable materials in its supply chain.
Carpenter and his co-founder Patrique Veille, who originally started the company in Winston-Salem, have together accumulated more than 30 years of experience in working with hemp fiber, and paid very close attention to the adoption of provisional rules and a provisional licensing structure that allowed farmers in North Carolina to adhere to federal law.
The North Carolina General Assembly passed Senate Bill 313 in 2015, allowing the Industrial Hemp Commission to develop the rules and licensing structure necessary to adhere to the federal laws as articulated and updated in the Agricultural Act of 2014 (P.L. 113-79).
The NCGA law was modified in 2016 in House Bill 992, and the Industrial Hemp Commission adopted temporary rules for review in February 2017. The Rules Review Commission of the Office of Administrative Hearings voted to approve these rules on February 16.
Industrial hemp can be grown in North Carolina, and licensed growers are required to report data, information, and results related to their stated research purpose to North Carolina State University and NC A&T.
“This experience allows us the knowledge to not reinvent the wheel,” said Carpenter. “We understand the needs and wants of our customers and consumers, and how to execute appropriately.”
The company plans to allocate the grant funds to grow their customer base, further develop their proprietary hemp fiber cottonization process, and refine and develop their brand strategy.
“We want to help make brands more sustainable and provide an alternative option to those who want a reliable and innovative supplier,” said Carpenter. “We are honored to be selected by NC IDEA and will use the funds to grow opportunities for our company and our state.”
Since the inception of NC IDEA in 2006, NC IDEA SEED has awarded and distributed nearly $6 million in grant funding to 136 companies across North Carolina. According to the organization, nearly 70 percent of these companies are still operating and collectively these companies have raised more than $220 million in equity and non-dilutive funding and generated more than 1,000 new jobs in the state.