"Building my own support base is something that I'm incredibly proud of."

The person I'd most like to have dinner with is: Serena Williams My favorite food is: Thai food

Atom Nguyen

Building a sustainable future for the textile industry

FINDING THE STRENGTH TO GO IT ALONE. Atom can remember the exact moment he wanted to pursue a career as an entrepreneur. It was while working at Apple, his first job after college, as an Analytics Manager. "Though it was innovative, culturally at the time, it was very conservative and white-dominated. It was difficult to move up the ladder or even just move across teams."

When Atom realized he was unlikely to progress any further ("In the Asian community, in Silicon Valley, we have a saying called 'hitting the bamboo ceiling'"), he decided to leave and realize his lifelong dream: to start his own business. The result is TômTex, a company creating sustainable commercial materials to make environmentally positive changes.

Atom has always been passionate about the environment. The idea for TômTex goes back to his childhood in Vietnam, where he saw first-hand the effects of pollution caused by the manufacturing and textile industries. "My mom ran a food manufacturing business, and there was always so much packaging waste. I asked her, 'why don't we use rice paper or banana leaves to wrap food?' but 20 years ago, there was no support for that kind of innovation."

CREATING LUXURY FROM WASTE. Developed by a team of scientists and designers, TômTex is creating plastic-free and 100% naturally biodegradable alternative materials, including an alternative to leather. They're now working with top fashion brands to find solutions for better materials applied in the industry. "We started with leather, creating a different biomaterial from seashell and mushroom waste, because traditional animal leather and synthetic alternatives are a major cause of environmental destruction."

Atom founded TômTex in 2020 with his best friend Uyen, a fellow Vietnam native he met in San Francisco who was also passionate about saving the planet. They explored several sustainability-themed business concepts, including athleisure wear and coffee, but it was Uyen's well-received thesis on the use of food waste in the development of biomaterials that ultimately led them to launch TômTex.

But while their professors and mentors bought into the idea, Atom says raising funds for the enterprise has been challenging. It's partly due to the modernity of the sustainability industry worldwide, but he also believes his identity has been a significant factor. "Especially when you're an immigrant and from Asia. You're not white, your physical appearance is very different, you have an accent, and you're LGBTQIA+. Everything eventually adds up."

Having now spent half of his life in America, Atom appreciates and embraces the commonalities and differences of living between two contrasting cultures. It's also proven a valuable tool in his entrepreneurial journey. "In Asia, there's very limited acceptance around failure. Entrepreneurs won't talk about their idea until they have something tangible to show people. In the US, sharing your ideas with people so they can be improved upon is encouraged. I have experience in both worlds, and I realize the bad and the good of each.”

"I still have a lot of self-doubts, and on those bad days, I'll think, why am I doing this? Why am I torturing myself? Ultimately, I feel proud of how far I've come with so much support from friends, family, and even strangers who helped me in many ways. Building my own support base is something that I'm incredibly proud of."

Order your own copy of the Gaingels 100, today! Our mission is to encourage greater representation and create a more diverse, equitable, and accessible venture capital ecosystem. Elevating the stories of the most inspiring amongst us is one of the ways in which we do this.

Lead Image

Presented with Pride Here is the first collection of one hundred incredible and inspiring LGBTQIA+ venture-backed entrepreneurs featured in this year's Gaingels 100.