Alumni portrait - Celine Sandberg - NTNU Alumni
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Position: Founder & CEO at Agoprene
Education: Master’s degree from NTNU School of Entrepreneurship, Bachelor's degree in Business Development (Kristiania University College) and one-year study in Business Administration (BI Norwegian Business School)
Started a company that makes foam rubber from seaweed
Are you curious? For Celine Sandberg, being curious was one of the most important things she learned at NTNU School of Entrepreneurship. It led her to start a business that makes foam rubber from renewable materials.
- At NTNU, I gained access to a world of knowledge and technology that I didn’t know existed. For a while, we knocked on the doors of professors so they could tell us what they were working on, and what thoughts they had. I had never thought that curiosity would be so important and that it would be the door opener to starting my own company, says Celine Sandberg.
Sandberg founded the company Agoprene in January 2020, a year and a half before finishing her master's degree at NTNU School of Entrepreneurship. In Agoprene, Sandberg and the three other employees work on developing foam rubber from seaweed, kelp, and spruce. The vision is to make a sustainable foam rubber production.
Manufacturing dream inspired by great-great-grandfather
Sandberg's dream remains the same as it was when she was a child; she wants to start a factory. Her role model is her great-great-grandfather, Nils Halvorsen Norheim, who founded the flatbread factory Korni in 1919.
- My great-great-grandfather was not an engineer, and he had no form of higher education, yet he managed to start his own factory and received the King's Medal of Merit for his work with automated flatbread baking in 1934. I am incredibly proud of that.
The driving force and her motivation in the ups and downs that entrepreneurship entails, is knowing that what she does every day brings her closer to this goal: Her own factory by 2026 that produces sustainable foam rubber.
Will provide solutions to the UN's sustainability goals
Why does Sandberg want to make foam rubber from materials such as seaweed and kelp? The motivation that lies behind has to do with both NTNU's vision "Knowledge for a better world" and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Today, foam rubber, which is used in our furniture and mattresses, among other things, comes from two sources. One is from rubber trees – which affect rainforests where they are planted. The other is from the petrochemical industry, meaning the oil industry. Neither of which are sustainable.
- It is predicted that 60 percent of the emissions from the oil industry will come from the petrochemical industry in 2030. Much of it is plastic production, and foam rubber is foam plastic. We need renewable sources, and biomaterials are the way forward, says Sandberg.
She mentions several environmental benefits from the production of foam rubber from renewable materials. Petrochemical industry emits several hazardous substances, the plastic pollutes the sea. She emphasises that it is not a question of using an endangered kelp forest, but of upscaling the cultivation of seaweed and kelp. This in turn will have a positive effect on biodiversity and the marine ecosystems.
Would not have become an entrepreneur without NTNU
Producing foam rubber from kelp is not something you learn overnight. Had it not been for the knowledge and the network she gained while studying at NTNU School of Entrepreneurship, there would be no Agroprene. Particularly the community in materials technology and chemistry at NTNU contributed to developing the idea.
- I can’t emphasise enough how important the time as a student at NTNU has been, both in terms of network and knowledge. Networking means everything. We will hire more people in Agroprene, and for that having access to so many qualified and committed people through the NTNU network is crucial.
Her advice to current students is also to be active and make contacts outside the library and the lecture halls.
- What kind of student where you?
- I was, as I mentioned, curious. I was never the last to leave the library, or the last to leave the party, but I worked a lot and volunteered for student organisations.
For a while, she worked in market development for a company called Connect LNG. Then she was event manager in the student society. Due to the pandemic, the focus became facilitating how to interact socially without being together physically.
First job at 14
Sandberg got her first job when she was 14 years old, she has been a cleaner, cook at summer camp and store manager. For 8 years she worked in a sports shop, and one of her favourite things was spending time downstairs in the workshop fixing bikes.
She likes variety and as a founder of Agoprene no two days are the same.
- It is important for me to have a team that likes unpredictability and can take things in their stride. We're a bunch of positive people.
Patience is another trait that is useful to have as an entrepreneur. There is a lot of trial and error.
- It has been two years of development, sometimes you are banging your head against a brick wall. Without a doubt, this is not for everyone. You need to have a strong inner motivation and know your goal says Sandberg.
Now they have developed a prototype of foam rubber. This has resulted in an order for 500 chair cushions before the material is fully developed.
Hoping for a better future
- How do you think the world will look in 50 years from now?
- I don’t have a crystal ball, but I hope and try to look positively to the future. The climate crisis will be defining how the future will look, and that we handle it in the best way possible. I hope it is a world that is even more globalised, with hyperloops, high-speed rail and other efficient transport alternatives to planes. That cities have more pedestrian streets and people than cars. Then I hope we have a planet where animals thrive as well as humans.
8 on the side
- What was your dream job when you were 10 years old?
- Factory owner, just like my great-great-grandfather and great-grandfather. It is the big childhood dream.
- Your biggest mistake as a student?
- To turn up for an exam on the wrong day
What talent would you like to have?
- I would be world champion in a sport. That fascinates me.
Which 3 qualities do you value most in others?
- Reliability, punctuality, and honesty
This makes me happy
- I never feel as happy, and free, as when I am skiing
I'm afraid of
- Dangerous diseases and the forces of nature, such as avalanches and landslides.
Favourite travel destination
- Skiing trip to the French Alps
One or more legendary book tips
- Shoe Dog - the story of how Phil Knight started Nike. A mentor once said I reminded him of Knight for better or worse, and that I could learn from the stupid things he did.
Text: Lisbet Jære