Herbi Clean has already got the local environment on its side. The Polish start-up is located in Bialystok, near the border with Belarus and the Białowieża National Park with one of the few and oldest low-altitude forests in Europe. The perfect spot for a manufacturer of cleaning products which are made from what is out there in the environment.

CEO Przemyslaw Kolak explains that the idea for Herbi Clean arose more than two years ago. It was a cleaning product with an extract from acorns as its main ingredient.

How did you come up with the idea of using acorns for cleaning products?

“”The whole idea behind our company is to make products based on plant matter. The reason for this is that we are convinced that plants contain many valuable ingredients that have not yet been sufficiently utilized.”

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When scientist and entrepreneur Miroslaw Angielczyk (owner of the company Dary Natury) told us a few years ago about a new study on oak trees, we decided to take a closer look. It turned out that acorns contain a certain substance that has a strong antibacterial effect similar to that of antibiotics. That was the reason for us to come up with a new line of cleaning products.

What specifically is the secret inside an acorn?

That’s in the 7% tannin contained in an acorn. Many people will be familiar with tannins in wine and tea, for example. It is a collective name for a chemical substance that can vary from one plant to another.

Plants developed tannins during their evolution as a substance to protect themselves against herbivores. Humans can use them to protect themselves against bacteria, viruses and so-called free radicals (atoms with only one neutron). Tannins bind to toxins produced by bacteria. Moreover, the bacteria are no longer able to reproduce.

From left to right sales manager Edyta Banasik, CEO Przemyslaw Kolak and co-founder Dagmara Rut.

How does your company differentiate itself from other companies?

Unlike most other manufacturers of detergents and cosmetics, we focus on plant products based entirely on scientific research. Nature is home to enormous forces. Yet it takes expertise to exploit that potential and to make the most of it. Not all plants and herbs are good for us and not everything that is natural is safe. The priority for us lies with knowledge that originates on the one hand from traditions that have been passed on from generation to generation, and on the other hand that comes from science.

What were the biggest obstacles you have had to overcome?

The biggest problem for any start-up is finding funding. We have made a first step here with a financial injection from Meta Zernike Ventures and the National Capital Fund, but the greatest challenges are still ahead of us because we want to move up on to a global scale and we need more money to do be able to do that.

We are now in discussions with various investors about the next investment round. But unfortunately we’re not from the IT industry, so that’s not such a simple process.

The hardest thing about a start-up is the fact that I have a family with children. I am a scientist and an experienced manager. And yet I get up every morning with the feeling: ” is what I am so committed to all really worth it?” But fortunately that’s just a fleeting moment. Then after that I realize once more just how great it is to develop products that are able to change and improve people’s lives.

What was or were your most rewarding moment(s)?

I hear on a regular basis that our customers recommend our products to others. These are moments that I and the team I work with are really proud of.

How do you see the way forward for Herbi Clean?

At the moment we have 6 products based on an extract of oak. In the coming weeks, we will be bringing more products onto the market, including a toilet refresher and a detergent. So far, these have only been destined for the Polish market, yet we are ready for expansion abroad. The product is universal, so we believe it could just as easily be sold in Europe, Asia and America.

We also started researching and developing products based on other plants with properties that are as unique as acorns are. We want to mix the extracts from these plants in order to obtain even more powerful antibacterial results, but also, for example, as a bleaching agent or to counter unpleasant odours.

During the next phase we also want to develop products for industrial use in addition to products for the home. We see great business potential there, because a lot of chemicals are currently being used there and hardly ever any plant-based products. We are convinced that, with the right financial support, we will be able to become a well-known international company within a few years.

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About the author

Author profile picture Maurits Kuypers graduated as a macroeconomist from the University of Amsterdam, specialising in international work. He has been active as a journalist since 1997, first for 10 years on the editorial staff of Het Financieele Dagblad in Amsterdam, then as a freelance correspondent in Berlin and Central Europe. When it comes to technological innovations, he always has an eye for the financial feasibility of a project.