Making a dent in an ocean of plastic
Can a skateboard make the world a better place?
If riding one makes you happy, then sure, it plays a role that way. But Block Island native David Stover and two of his colleagues have a slightly more ambitious goal for the sports product.
Stover, as well as Ben Kneppers, of Cape Cod, and Kevin Ahearn, of East Hampton, New York, earlier this year responded to a call put out by Start-Up Chile, an initiative that originated with the Chilean government to bring entrepreneurs, new business and employment opportunities to the South American country.
The three pooled their collective passions, which include outdoor sports such as skateboarding and surfing, their engineering backgrounds — plus a concern for creating more environmentally-safe products — and came up with an idea they eventually called Bureo Skateboards.
The group took its idea of making skateboards out of recycled plastics and submitted its application to Start-Up Chile and, out of 1,300 submissions, were chosen to participate. They will receive a $40,000 grant from the government to get started. The group heads back to Chile in October.
The road to Chile was circuitous. David Stover was working for Ernst & Young in Los Angeles, which led him to Australia for a couple of years and then to Santiago, Chile. Ben Kneppers, who is an environmental consultant with an interest in sustainability, met Stover in Santiago. After awhile, Kneppers said, they both “began to feel a little burnt out and we decided to come up with our own business ideas.” Their third partner, Ahearn, was a friend of Stover’s at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, and is an engineer at Boeing who works in modeling parts (he’s focused on the specifics of the design of the skateboard).
“We started to kick off ideas in January (of 2013),” said Stover, and researched the topic of plastics pollution. He said that, globally, about 35 percent of all plastic is recycled, but that figure is lowered to 10 percent in Chile “at best. There’s no recycling program and no education,” he said. This led to the idea of creating a product that was made out of recycled plastic.
Stover said he personally was inspired, in part, by growing up on Block Island, where environmental causes are so prominent. He also worked at the Block Island Sports Shop for 10 summers (which explains his interest in skateboards).
The application they submitted to Start-Up Chile was the only one, they said, that was for something other than a smartphone application or some other hi-tech venture. They heard in May that their application was successful.
Their idea, said Kneppers, is not to simply “come in and pick up a pile of trash and make a couple of boards. We want it to be a permanent thing.” They have a plan to partner with companies that have access to recycled materials, and their goal is to employ people from the surrounding region — a primary goal of Start-Up Chile.
Stover and Kneppers have been attending a venture capital program at Northeastern University in Boston that will further their understanding of setting up a business and to learn more about marketing. They hope to have their first boards ready by the middle of 2014. Right now, the venture is very much a family affair. The website was designed by David Stover’s brother Eddie and the company logo was designed by Knepper’s girlfriend.
Stover and Kneppers said the word “bureo” is native to the Mapuche people of Chile, which means “the waves.” The image struck the group: just as waves can be created in the ocean by the wind, they hoped that their new venture would make a “small change to this ocean of plastic.”