Sun Valley has held its own over the years as a home to burgeoning entrepreneurs and start-ups. Joining the ranks of locally-made brands like Smith and Scott, Hempitecture is making a splash on the building industry with their hempcrete building material. And not only has the company been making strides in using their material to build new buildings across the nation, founder and CEO Mattie Mead was recently named one of Forbes’ “30 Under 30”.
Mead began Hempitecture as part of his senior thesis at New York’s Hobart College where he was studying architecture and environmental studies. His thesis explored more sustainable ways of building and drew upon existing examples that use vernacular (true to place) architecture like adobe in the southwest. His research eventually brought him to the UK and France where builders use hempcrete, a construction material made from hemp. It was a light bulb moment for the senior who, in addition to the thesis, was inspired to create the start-up that would become Hempitecture.
It was 2012 then and industrial hemp was still federally illegal and on the Controlled Substances Act. Despite these odds, Mead was driven.
“I just knew there was this opportunity that was missing from the United States,” Mead said. “I became even more gung-ho on it after people said I was out of my mind.”
Mead began entering Hempitecture into business plan competitions, always placing in the top three, but never first. As fate would have it, it was one of those competitions that would result in his coming to Idaho and building his first hempcrete building. Stay with me here—one of the winner’s of a competition and friend to Mead posted about the competition and Hempitecture on Facebook. That person is from the same town as the wife of Matt Gershater, the Executive Director of Idaho Basecamp, who was interested in finding someone to build a hempcrete building at their Trail Creek facility.
“To be honest, I wasn’t even sure where Idaho was,” Mead said. “It was a life-changing moment. It took one Google search of Ketchum to be like, ‘Hell yeah! Let’s do it!’”
Shortly before this, Mead had gained a business partner in the form of his high-school friend from New Jersey, Tommy Gibbons. After graduating from Princeton and working in finance for Goldman Sachs, Gibbons had changed directions and moved to San Francisco to work in the start-up culture. He had been following Mead and Hempitecture on social media for a while and called Mead up to see if he would help him build a hempcrete tiny home, his solution to the high-priced housing of the Bay Area.
“Mattie was in Bellingham at the time starting on our biggest project, framing a house,” Gibbons said. “He described the progress of the company and the more I learned, the more I saw the opportunity and need. I knew he couldn’t do it by himself; he needed someone with a total different skill set.”
Gibbons joined Mead in Bellingham for the summer and helped with the house before both came to Ketchum in the fall of 2018 to start work on the Borah Building for Idaho BaseCamp. The two also set about doing what it takes to help a company grow, including being one of the early companies to work with the Ketchum Innovation Center.
Since building that first building in Idaho, Hempitecture has had several other projects including a new cottage at Idaho BaseCamp, a shed out Croy Canyon, led several workshops, held a very successful Hemp Summit in October, and have promising projects in the works with highly-regarded architects like Olson Kundig and Belgium’s Axel Vervoodt.
“I’d like to think we’re at a nexus point of having really great high-quality projects coming into the pipeline that we’re able to work on,” Mead said. “For me, it’s a dream come true because I come form the world of design and architecture and we’re now having conversations with architects whose models and drawings we would pin up in college.”
For a surprise birthday gift on the day of Mead’s 29th birthday, Gibbons decided to submit a nomination to Forbes for their “30 Under 30” list. After hearing about Hempitecture and some of the major strides the company made during the consideration process, Mead won, no easy feat for someone trying to launch an entire industry in the U.S.
“The recognition is a great honor,” Mead said. “If anything, it’s just a feather in the cap because there’s plenty of work ahead of us. To be honest, maybe it’s just the start.”
And Hempitecture has no plans to go anywhere; they’ve even settled down some more permanent roots in Ketchum in the form of an office/warehouse in the light industrial area. Many attributes of the Sun Valley area make it the place Mead and Gibbons love to call home. Blaine County has one of the highest concentrations of hemp buildings in the U.S. including one that Blake Eagle built in 2012, one of the first 10 hempcrete buildings in the nation.
But there’s obviously so much more to why Hempitecture, as a new start-up, chooses to be in Ketchum rather than New York or San Francisco.
“To be able to wake up in the morning, take a couple runs and come to the office; what better way to start your day?” Said Mead. “The work/life balance that you can have here fuels creativity and keeps energy and excitement high. If you visit Ketchum for the first time and you’re not immediately thinking about how can you make this place work for you, then it’s not for you.”