Skip to Main Content

News & Multimedia

Utopia Plastix
Minority, Female-Forward Company Innovates through Partnership with IMS

Penske Entertainment is pushing to create more opportunity for all in motorsports through the “Race for Equality & Change” and trying to create a more sustainable future for the sport, two initiatives that have helped form unique partnerships with extraordinary people.

There may be no better example of an intersection of those two efforts than the partnership with Utopia Plastix, a minority and woman-owned business created by Sharina Perry.

Every merchandise location at Indianapolis Motor Speedway now boasts new plant-based, alternative retail bags that were touched by Perry’s Oklahoma-based company. While those sustainable bags were featured at last month’s 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, they also are being used at the on-location stories set up at every NTT INDYCAR SERIES event.

“We're focused on true sustainability as it positively impacts our environment, our society and our economy,” Perry said.

Brown & Pratt, a local distributor that works with Legends, the retail company for IMS, was on the search to manufacture a more sustainable product, which led it to Poly Films, another Oklahoma-based company that has been an integral part of the research-and-development process for Utopia Plastix.

“As we were growing, and it speaks to what we believe was important in developing this community, we believed as we shifted from sustainability, nobody had to feel like they needed to pay a lot of money to retool equipment or let people go and cause people to lose jobs,” Perry said.

“That if we did some out-of-the-box thinking and our Utopia model, we're intentional on our why, not creating problems as we solve them and making sure manufacturers are able to use their existing equipment. As a result, Poly Films sent the sample of our material, and it landed in the hands of the team at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“They did their research, saw our story and they wanted more than a product, which is exactly what we built everything by; that it was more than a product. It's really about demonstrating how we work together, how we address issues, how innovation can set a path now to open the door in a broader way for so many more people. And you all are living proof that what we believe is possible does actually exist.”

Everything came together quickly, with conversations starting last November and work orders placed in February and the product deployed in March. Now, the partnership with IMS has helped drive more awareness to Utopia, with a golf club organization among those that have reached out for a more sustainable solution for their products.

“That's the power of what happens when you have a sustainable initiative and you have a product that you're delivering,” Perry said. “Not only that, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's vision for sustainability, their equity and inclusion opportunity, their race to net zero, that's what sustainability is about, and they helped create an economic opportunity for another business. Sustainability is about how do you benefit the environment, our society and our economy. And the work that was used, you have to be very intentional about it. You can't wait for it to happen.

“I believe that the reason it worked is because there is an alignment in that value and vision that speaks in a broader and a greater way than any company that looks at it in a silo or just that it's just about them. Indianapolis Motor Speedway sees the issue as bigger than them, and so do we.”

The material that helps form the plastic-alternative solution is harnessed by cover crops that are USDA-approved and absorb carbon at four to five times the rate of trees while also replenishing the soil with nutrients.

The size of Perry’s company continues to grow, and she said “everyone within our organization today is a partner.” The team consists of an estimated 26 partners, which expands to distributors and manufacturers that employ thousands throughout those organizations.

The work goes beyond the endless acres of farmland in Oklahoma, too.

“The good part about building out of the Utopia model that includes farming, processing, manufacturing, distribution, we also built our own sustainable ecosystems, supply chain, and we recognize logistics-wise there will be farmers in Indiana growing the crops that make Utopia Plastix.

“And as we continue to bring in partners like the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, they help advance those efforts. We see a future of Utopia Plastix processing facilities throughout the country delivering the material. So, farmers are now producing part of the products, like the bags that you all have.”

An entrepreneur for over 25 years, Perry is an expert and industry leader in biopolymers. She holds certifications in Sustainable Strategies & Circular Economics from the University of Cambridge Judge Business School.

The passion to create something more came from an event near and dear to Perry’s heart.

“My nephew was diagnosed with neurofibromatosis 2, which is an incurable growth of tumors that adversely affects minority communities, and a lot of it comes from environmental impacts, as well,” Perry said.

“I studied over 600 white papers because I was trying to help him. I learned that not only could some of the crops I had studied shrink tumors, but that also as I was watching this thing emerge on the environmental crisis, the impacts, I learned that some of the crops that I had been studying could be an alternative to petroleum, cotton and wood. Most people think it's some grand thing that happens, but it really wasn't.”

Perry, whose father worked in the oil and gas industry and relocated the family from New Mexico to Oklahoma when she was a child, recalled her pre-teen years growing up and visualizing people working together as a way of dealing with things that were difficult to understand.

“I had this world called Utopia, and in Utopia we worked together, and we solved problems,” she said. “As a young girl, I told my parents I was going to change the world by the time I was 50. And I believed then Utopia was going to change the world, and I was going to be a part of that. I didn't know what that was. That was a child dreaming. But fast forward, and I believe that that vision I had, I walked through my life of education and experience and ultimately it led to my purpose: Me really understanding my why.”

The defining moment that helped lay the foundation for Utopia came in one of the more random settings: a restaurant.

“I had a paper straw in a restaurant, and it was like all of the things came together in this, if it were like a whirlwind. And I said, 'I'm going to make a straw in my kitchen,'” she said.

“We always create more problems when we say we're going to solve something, and I'm going to make sure that I don't create another problem in what I do. And so, I was with one of my business partners then, and he's like, 'Are you serious?' I'm like, 'That's exactly what I'm going to do, make a straw in my kitchen.' And I did. Much to my surprise, I created this straw. My kids were there, they were part of the process when I was doing it, and that straw hardened in cold liquid - made of plants. You think about wood, today's straws break down in water and liquids and they don't hold up to heat. And so here, this straw hardening in cold liquid. I took it over to the boiling pot, and it didn't break down in the heat.”

Perry knew she was on to something special and spent that night praying over it.

“There's that thing that comes out of the blue, and that's that thing that speaks to our gift,” she said. “That is the energy that these gifts are built inside of you. I have a three strikes and you’re out rule. For me, if something's given to me and it's the second time I act on it because it's going to happen, it's just whether you're going to be a part of the process.

“I studied every patent that was out there on the possibility of plants and plastics. I put in the work, as well. It's a commitment. You have to believe it; you have to see it. From that moment, in that time, I was seeing it, but I was given those moments that reminded me to keep going even when nobody could see it. I was seeing the results of the work. And so, what keeps me going is knowing that we created something more than a product. We created a solution, and one day Utopia will be a household name.”

Perry was named to Forbes’ Top 10 “women entrepreneurs who will inspire you in 2023” list. While her innovation is enough to stand by itself, she also knows the impact of representing the minority community.

“You know, that's the reality,” she said. “I'm in a space that's not often occupied by women or minorities, but I believe that there's a point where we shatter glass ceilings. But there has to be someone that does that. But that's not the win. The win is occupying space, and being bold enough to say, ‘I'm willing to be part of that catalyst for change.’ Not only for me, but representation really matters.”

That ability is aided by Perry’s unwavering confidence within herself.

“I believe that I can accomplish everything that I set out to do because the gifts are in me,” she said. “People see life through the prism of everything that they just know. But I'm going to tell you my race, my gender, my socioeconomic status will not ever rob me of my gifts. In fact, it's part of who I am and what is built into my own greatness.

“And so that's what I'm, every day I'm rooting for Sharina. I don't care if it's cheers or boos. I don't get lost in either of them because this is my race to run, and I'm going to endure it and keep going.”

Show More Show Less