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Enterprise Spotlight: Bureo Skateboards

Chile is one of Latin America’s fastest grow­ing economies. Accord­ing to the World Bank, approx­i­mately seven mil­lion Chileans lifted them­selves out of poverty between 2004 and 2012 due largely to increases in gain­ful employ­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties. Despite such socioe­co­nomic improve­ment, Chile con­tin­ues to under­per­form, rel­a­tive to neigh­bor­ing coun­tries like Argentina, with regards to envi­ron­men­tal protection.

Plas­tic pol­lu­tion is of the utmost con­cern in Chile for two main rea­sons. First, Chile is the sec­ond largest plas­tic con­sumer in Latin Amer­ica. Sec­ond, approx­i­mately 90 per­cent of the Chilean pop­u­la­tion does not recy­cle. Fish­ing indus­try waste, i.e. derelict fish­nets dis­carded in the ocean, con­tributes sig­nif­i­cantly to Chile’s over­all plas­tic pol­lu­tion problem.

Ben Knep­pers, a North­east­ern Uni­ver­sity alum­nus (Col­lege of Engi­neer­ing ’07) and for­mer sus­tain­abil­ity con­sul­tant, has joined forces with two friends, David Stover and Kevin Ahearn, to tackle plas­tic pol­lu­tion in Chile. Bureo Skate­boards (“Bureo”) is a social busi­ness co-founded by Knep­pers, Stover and Ahearn that man­u­fac­tures skate­boards made from “upcy­cled” plas­tic col­lected from Chilean coast­line com­mu­ni­ties. Each skate­board is made from approx­i­mately 30 square feet of derelict fish­nets that might oth­er­wise be dis­carded in the ocean.

In addi­tion to the obvi­ous pos­i­tive impact Bureo has on the envi­ron­ment, it also pro­motes socioe­co­nomic devel­op­ment of the largely indige­nous fish­ing vil­lages from which it sources its plastic.

Bureo’s “Net Pos­i­tiva” fish­net col­lec­tion and recy­cling pro­gram, made pos­si­ble through a part­ner­ship with the World Wildlife Foun­da­tion, allows Bureo to 1) col­lect derelict fish­nets before they reach the ocean, 2) employ local fish­er­men to con­tribute to their envi­ron­men­tal mis­sion and 3) edu­cate the Chilean pop­u­la­tion as to the harm­ful effects of plas­tic pol­lu­tion in the ocean environment.

In 2013, Bureo was invited to par­tic­i­pate in Start-Up Chile, a pro­gram devel­oped by the Chilean gov­ern­ment to attract early-stage entre­pre­neurs to develop their ven­tures in-country. Bureo has received from finan­cial sup­port from Start-Up Chile as well as from IDEA: North­east­ern University’s Ven­ture Accelerator.

Bureo launched a Kick­starter cam­paign in mid-April through which they have since raised more than US $44,000 to fund the first pro­duc­tion run of their skate­boards in San­ti­ago, Chile’s cap­i­tal. With two weeks remain­ing in their cam­paign, Bureo is likely to raise more than dou­ble its orig­i­nal goal of $25,000.

Bureo’s three co-founders have been trav­el­ing through­out the east­ern United States pro­mot­ing their Kick­starter cam­paign. On April 16, Knep­pers vis­ited his alma mater to speak to an audi­ence of North­east­ern Uni­ver­sity com­mu­nity mem­bers about the social busi­ness he co-founded.

Hosted by the Social Enter­prise Insti­tute (SEI) Stu­dent Asso­ci­a­tion, the lec­ture largely con­cerned Bureo’s social mis­sion. Stu­dents and alumni of Northeastern’s Social Enter­prise Insti­tute posed a num­ber of ques­tions related to Bureo’s oper­a­tional sus­tain­abil­ity, scal­a­bil­ity, social impact mea­sure­ment and more.

It’s impor­tant to us to keep our pro­duc­tion cycle in Chile,” said Stover, who joined Knep­pers at the SEI Stu­dent Asso­ci­a­tion event in Northeastern’s Vis­i­tor Cen­ter in West Vil­lage F. “Local pro­duc­tion pro­motes job growth, a major aspect of our mission.”

After their Kick­starter cam­paign wraps in mid-May, Bureo will begin pro­duc­tion of Min­nows, i.e. their flag­ship skate­boards. Pro­duc­tion is expected to be com­pleted in June, when the Min­nows will begin to be shipped to Kick­starter back­ers in the United States. Early adopters inter­ested in receiv­ing Min­nows are encour­aged to visit Bureo’s Kick­starter cam­paign, avail­able here until May 15.