After working in a compounding plastics company in Brazil and seeing the need to serve small compounders, molders and end product manufacturers who would like to offer sustainable alternatives to clients, Ana Silva started recycling and bioplastics startup Comitatvs Group of Boston in 2018.
Comitatvs' vision, according to its website, is "to contribute to building a world where we maintain the practicality of plastics in a sustainable way, being mindful of the footprint our materials leave behind."
"We can't live without [plastics] and we can't live with it in terms of plastic waste and pollution," she said in her Women Breaking the Mold survey. "This is where I saw the emerging markets for bioplastics and decided there was an opportunity here to bring about real change and create a positive impact through facilitating the circularity of recycled and bioplastic materials."
Her first sale and first hire have been her greatest accomplishments so far, she said.
Silva is a graduate of George Washington University with a Bachelor of Arts in international relations. She participates in the Plastics Industry Association and Female Founder Collective.
Nine people nominated Ana Silva for Women Breaking the Mold, including Lina Zdruli, founder of consumer food startup Dafero; Kirsten Barrie, owner of Verte Consulting; and Sara Christine, founder of Hello Sara Christine LLC.
"I am breaking the mold of who and what the traditional leader in plastics is," Silva said. "I am a young female Latina founder of a company solely focused on recycled and bioplastics, serving the customer at its core. We source for the customer sustainable plastic solutions that best fit their vision and product so that they can create products their customers feel good about."
Q: What is your current challenge at work?
Silva: My current challenges are resources and connection. Since we are a startup, we are resource scarce and competing with plastics companies that are giant and have been around for decades. This is where it's really important to define and find our niche. We solve for the customer, sourcing our materials on a national and international level to find the best fit solution, therefore it takes a lot of manpower to stay in the know and updated on new sustainable products/resins/materials that are being developed.
Q: Biggest failure and what it taught you?
Silva: COVID-19 brought about our first delinquent customer account. Our client's operation stopped completely and they were not about to follow through on their outstanding payments. This put a serious strain on our cash flow and ability to source new products for new clients. It taught me to be more strategic in our partnerships with customers and to redesign our business model to be more resilient to market changes/fluctuations. It also taught me to not burn a customer even when things get tough. We have since reworked a favorable payment plan for them, investing in continuing our relationship long term rather than making gains in the short term.
Q: What about the plastics industry surprises you?
Silva: The camaraderie in the plastics industry really surprised me. I joined the Plastics Industry Association earlier this year and was pleasantly surprised by how active its members were in reaching out to me to introduce themselves and participate in the committees. Through Plastics, I received formal mentorship, which has been crucial in building my knowledge of the plastic industry in the U.S. I was also pleasantly surprised by how central improving sustainability is to the conversation within the plastics industry, which gives me great hope for my company and the industry as a whole.
Q: What is the best advice you have ever received?
Silva: The only limitations are the ones you set for yourself. This has guided me throughout my career thus far and hasn't failed me yet. I took a leap post-college from the nonprofit sector to starting my own company in the plastics industry, something I never thought I'd do, but that has been rewarding every day since. I have experienced my fair share of ups and downs since I founded the company in 2018, but this advice allows me to keep picking myself up, learning from the mistakes made and forging the path forward.
Q: What advice would you give to a person considering a career in the plastics industry?
Silva: Do it. You will not regret it. The plastics industry gets so much criticism and a bad reputation for being traditional and outdated, but this cannot be farther from the truth. It is a robust industry filled with innovation and opportunity for people who want to enact change and contribute to a positive impact.