Oklahoma entrepreneur invents plant-based ‘Plastix’Published: Friday, January 22, 2021 By: Jim Stafford Source: The Journal Record
Her audience sat spellbound for more than an hour recently as Sharina Perry shared her journey into entrepreneurship and her vision for her Oklahoma-based companies centered around developing and distributing her invention, Utopia Plastix.
Representatives from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology, the Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance and the New Product Development Center at Oklahoma State University heard Perry’s tale about overcoming numerous obstacles to build her company. Collectively, the organizations are part of what has become known as the Oklahoma Innovation Model, which supports innovation and technology advancements that help diversify Oklahoma’s economy.
Perry founded Utopia Genetics to distribute products made with Utopia Plastix, a trademarked product, as well as Utopia Solutions, which makes Utopia Plastix. Utopia developed patent-pending, plant-based alternatives for petroleum-based plastics such as plastic bags and single-use straws.
But Perry’s journey began with a different mission.
Masked for COVID-19 protection, the OIM group listened to the presentation at Oklahoma City’s Poly Films Inc. as Perry described how she began searching for plant materials that could help reduce incurable tumors that ravaged her nephew. The prohibitive cost of clinical trials to gain Food and Drug Administration approval for any potential new drug delayed that quest.
However, it opened a door for Perry to take what she had learned into a different direction.
“In the process, I realized that God had a plan,” she told her audience. “I’m a person of faith, and Utopia is about my journey and using my gifts and the gifts of others.”
She pivoted into compounding plant-based products as an alternative for petroleum-based plastics after learning that Starbucks was offering $10 million for the first successful alternative to single-use plastic straws. In some areas of the country, single-use plastic straws are now banned, as well as plastic bags that are popular with retailers.
Perry is not a chemist. Instead, she had a long career in the satellite and cable industries before taking her first steps down this new path. But, she dove into the research, working to create a strong paper straw made of hemp. She provided the paper for the first hemp straw created by Hoffmaster Inc. Once it was produced, she learned that hemp would not be feasible for use as a straw that would be a food contact item and current cost of production would not be feasible.
Research led her to some important discoveries.
“I learned of other plants that had stronger fiber, a stronger core, had a greater yield per acre and actually performed better than hemp at a lower cost per seed,” she said. “And what we found out was that