TerraSlate is a Denver start-up that’s revolutionizing the way people use paper to make waterproof menus.
President and founder of TerraSlate, Kyle Ewing, invented a new kind of paper that isn’t really paper at all. It’s not made from trees, it’s billed as the most durable paper on the planet, and it’s 100 percent recyclable.
What started out as an idea to market back-up copies of passports for students has burgeoned into a product that has countless other uses, such as waterproof menus and signs, training materials for businesses and agencies, even durable books for non-verbal children with autism so that they can communicate with the rest of the world.
TerraSlate paper works with any laser printer or copy machine, so companies are finding that it saves them time, resources and money when they need to print materials can survive the harshest environments.
According to the Ecology Global Network, nearly 4 billion trees worldwide are cut down each year for paper, representing about 35 percent of all harvested trees.
As a Colorado native, entrepreneur and a marathon runner, Ewing wanted to do something that would have a positive impact on the environment. And as a self-proclaimed foodie, he immediately thought about how much paper is used in the restaurant industry.
“The paper needs to be inexpensive enough to change as the menu changes, but durable enough to last three shifts a day without getting dirty, greasy, bent or wet,” he said. “It also saves time and money because you’re not paying someone to create and laminate menus all the time.”
Just to prove how durable his TerraSlate menus are, he ran them through an industrial dishwasher. They came out as good as new, ready for another round of abuse.
“The menus look great and they’re sturdy,” says restaurant owner Nicholas M. “I will never waste my time laminating again.”
Ewing was featured on National Public Radio’s “How I Built This” series, where he said he came up with the idea in a roundabout way.
“I was trying to create a product for students traveling abroad,” he says.
Ewing was creating back-up passports that would be as durable as the real thing, but also tear-proof and waterproof. The problem was that the product he had in mind didn’t yet exist.
“I was trying to create the product,” Ewing says, “which was proving difficult. I was trying to figure out what to do when the phone rang and the guy said ‘Kyle, I love your passports. I even bought four of them for the kids. All of my daughter’s use the SOS World Pass, but I have a question for you—can I buy a case of your paper?”
That’s when Ewing realized that the paper he was using to create the emergency passports was actually a better business idea than the passports themselves.
“That moment was me standing up out of my chair and spiking the pencil and doing a touchdown dance … it was an immediate light-bulb moment where this failing business just grew legs. All of a sudden I had a million ideas of what I could use waterproof paper for.”
Ewing immediately thought of the restaurant industry and how waterproof paper would be a no-brainer for menus. His idea took off, even garnering the attention of the U.S. government. TerraSlate is now being used for field manuals for the U.S. Navy and Air Force and navigational maps for the Coast Guard. Even Google now uses TerraSlate.
Ewing worked with engineers until they finally formulated a polyester pulp “paper” that won’t rip, fall apart, and holds ink permanently when printed.
As an entrepreneur, Ewing says building a successful business model all comes down to numbers; he expects this year’s sales to be in the millions. Restaurant owners are also seeing a difference in their bottom line, especially with TerraSlate’s two-day turnaround on domestic menu orders.