Abel Goremusandu was working the graveyard shift in a Christchurch factory when he hit on an idea.
Concerned about the amount of plastic used to wrap pallets in the warehouse, he thought about environmentally sustainable alternatives and decided to explore bioplastics made from seaweed.
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He was completing a Bachelor of Commerce at University of Canterbury (UC) and teamed-up with an agricultural science graduate, an environmental policy expert and a marketing whizz to help bring the ambitious dream to life.
Their company, Kelpn, now strives to create a soft plastic alternative that is truly compostable – meaning it can safely breakdown anywhere in the environment while keeping produce as safe and fresh as conventional plastic packaging.
“I worked in the warehouse and we would wrap pallets in plastic, sometimes for just four or five hours. It was incredible how much plastic we used,” he said.
“We looked for an alternative and the reason we chose kelp is because other (bioplastic) materials use land and water.”
The kelp used grows prolifically around New Zealand, but the 22-year-old said exactly how they turn seaweed into a plastic-type material was a closely guarded secret and the subject of a non-disclosure agreement.
Goremusandu, who was born and raised in Zimbabwe, was one of 24 entrepreneurs trying to impress the judges at a UC Dragon’s Den-style competition in Christchurch.
His presentation went so well he was named People’s Choice Award winner.
The undergrads and postgrads devised their business ideas as part of UC’s Summer Start-Up programme, a scheme to help fast-track their ventures into reality.
An initial group of 24 was narrowed down to 10, who took part in the showcase on February 4.
Among the ideas was a company that recovers zinc from hazardous waste, an online speech therapy service and a digital platform that connects Kiwi companies with customers in China.
Each finalist had just three minutes to present their ideas to a panel of industry experts, made up of Melissa Davies, Ben Kepes and Peter Montgomery.
The students came from a range of subject areas and they developed their ideas for 10 weeks with the support of coaches, mentors and speakers.
They covered topics including intellectual property, product development, market validation and measuring social impact and UCE Director Rachel Wright said the Dragon’s Den-style competition gave students a platform to expose their ventures to a wide audience, including potential investors.
The other winners were:
Change Maker Award – The Gro-Up Group, which enables teachers to engage students in science and sustainability through innovative education programmes.
Innovation Award – Zincovery, which provides waste recycling for lower cost than disposal, saving money and the environment.
Overall Winner – eClean Envirotech. The eClean bioreactor removes nitrates, phosphates and other contaminants from waterways.
Published on stuff.co.nz