Paul Tasner: Environmental Entrepreneur

Sometimes forced retirement is the impetus needed to accomplish great things.

Retirement just wasn’t in the cards for Paul Tasner. He spent 40 years working full time making startups and Fortune 100 companies successful, until one day, he was let go. He was 64-years old. His story is similar to that of others looking forward to retiring on their own terms, only to have it short-circuited for one corporate reason or another. What becomes of all those years of experience, all that know-how, and expertise? Do you set it all aside and start looking for that retirement home in Florida, or be the full-time grandpa? Tasner had other ideas.

It was Time to Live His Passion

He possessed an extensive background in leadership positions in procurement, manufacturing, packaging, and logistics. No longer gainfully employed, he used those skills as a consultant for a couple of years. During this period, he entertained thoughts of starting his own company. Tasner dreamed of a business that he could be passionate about and he was very passionate about the environment. He saw our land and water being polluted by the dumping of plastic waste and wanted to do something about it.

“I felt a passion to make a difference for people and the planet,” says Tasner in a Money magazine interview. He courageously pursued his passion knowing his venture, if successful, would have profound impact socially, environmentally, commercially, as well as disrupt the packaging industry.

Tasner used his lifelong experience to research and craft his own clean technology business. His idea was to transform paper, agricultural, and textile waste products into biodegradable packaging. This way, his company could help in reducing the billions of pounds of dangerous plastic waste disposed of each year into our environment. And so, at the age of 66, he became an entrepreneur for the first time and founded PulpWorks in 2011.

The idea was bold, and his background was rock solid, but starting up a company wasn’t easy. Tasner had to overcome all the issues a startup goes through. There was the manufacturing, creating a dedicated team, outsourcing, forming partnerships, marketing and sales strategy, and more, with funding being the most crucial and fiercely competitive to garner. Even so, success was waiting in the wings for him.

Winning the 2013 Global Social Venture Competition

Environmental Stewardship

PulpWorks’ mission is to “mold a better world” by replacing toxic plastic packaging, such as PVC blister packs and Styrofoam, with their own proprietary compostable, biodegradable, 100% waste-based molded fiber products. The new packaging is intended to fundamentally change “the way we experience the world.”

Five years after its founding, the company flourished into blockbuster proportions. Their customer lineup includes Google, Campbell’s, Energizer, Casper, BASF, and other top-tier names. They have established research and development partnerships with the University of Maryland, University of Tennessee, and San Jose State University. Their supply chain is completely outsourced in North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. So far, Tasner and the company have earned 20 awards for sustainable achievement and have been widely covered by the media. Tasner had the honor of being selected as a TED Resident in 2017. Watch his TED Talks segment here…

PulpWorks’ flagship product is the patented Karta-Pack™, an environmentally-friendly alternative to the toxic plastic blister pack. They also offer consumer packaging made from molded paper waste or agricultural waste such as bagasse, bamboo, switch grass, and wheat straw. The company’s website shows they currently have intellectual property in areas of:

  •   compostable plastic blister-pack replacement
  •   novel raw material (pilot study with Mars Wrigley)
  •   freeze protection (pilot study with BASF/Univ. of Tennessee/SBIR grant)
  •   hotel industry (plastic replacement opportunity)

For Tasner, it is a dream come true —a business he is truly passionate about. “I am doing the most rewarding and meaningful work of my life right now,” he says in the TED Talks segment. “We have an interesting culture that really expects when you reach a certain age, you’re going to be golfing, or playing checkers, or babysitting the grandkids all of the time. And I adore my grandchildren and I’m also passionate about doing something meaningful in the global marketplace.”

PulpWorks sustainable ornaments used by Anthropologie stores in 2017.

Turning Age into an Advantage

Tasner wants to see more engagement, more discussion of senior entrepreneurs like himself. His wish may come true as more and more statistics show that older entrepreneurs are more successful than younger ones. According to the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurship, reported by Entrepreneur magazine, “nearly a quarter of new entrepreneurs are boomers aged 55 to 64. They have experience, financial stability, and extensive networks.” Another study by Founder Institute reveals that a 55-year-old and a 65-year-old have more innovation potential than a 25-year-old.

According to Age and High-Growth Entrepreneurship, a paper by Pierre Azoulay and J. Daniel Kim of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management, Benjamin Jones of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, and Javier Miranda of the Census Bureau’s Center for Administrative Records Research, “a 50-year-old founder is 1.8 times more likely to achieve upper-tail growth than a 30-year-old founder.”

Work experience is a key factor for successful startups. Harvard Business Review posts, “we found that work experience plays a critical role. Relative to founders with no relevant experience, those with at least three years of prior work experience in the same narrow industry as their startup were 85% more likely to launch a highly successful startup.”

If a growing trend in New York is any indication, there’s more people starting businesses in their 50s and 60s these days. A report by the nonprofit research and policy organization, Center for an Urban Future, documents “encore entrepreneurs” are “increasingly finding their niche with their numbers growing more than twice as fast as the population of New Yorkers over 50.”

It’s Never Too Late

As for Tasner, he has authored many papers on supply chain sustainability and currently lectures in the MBA Programs at San Francisco State University and Golden Gate University, and the Packaging Engineering Department at San Jose State University.

He also founded the first-ever assembly of supply chain executives, the San Francisco Bay Area Green Supply Chain Forum, in 2008. Constantly on the go, he’s enjoying his “retirement” years to the fullest.

Find more information about Tasner and his company at pulpworksinc.com and keep up with him on Twitter. Click here for our exclusive interview with Paul.