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Global trash, international entrepreneurs
Alums weave South American flotsam into sustainable development

The art of creating something from nothing is no easy task. It takes a combination of passion, hard work and a little luck.

Just ask Lehigh alum David Stover ‘07.

Stover, who graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering, joined a major consultancy as a senior analyst soon after graduating from Lehigh. After four productive years, the company promoted him to a managerial position in Sydney, Australia.
During his two-year stay in Sydney, Stover crossed paths with his future business partner --environmental sustainability consultant and Northeastern University alumnus Ben Kneppers. In their free time, Kneppers and Stover endlessly debated topics ranging from innovation to the environment to the design of everyday things.

One day, Kneppers called Stover with a unique idea:  could a business be built on harvesting plastic pollution found in the ocean and transforming it into unique, high-quality products?

And what if that very green product wasn't just sustainable -- what if it were a skateboard that would be described in today's parlance as "sick?" (If you are over 30, rest assured that "sick" is equivalent to what you think of as "cool.")

“There is value in this wasted material that is dumped in the ocean,” Stover said. “The trick is figuring out how to get it.”

In March of 2013, they returned to Northeastern and began working on developing the product and brand, with help from Lehigh emeritus professor Chuck Smith, the partners applied to Start-Up Chile, a government-run program designed to attract world-class entrepreneurs to kick start their businesses in the South American country.

Stover and Kneppers knew they needed serious design muscle to break into the highly-competitive skateboard business. So David recruited friend and fellow Lehigh mechanical engineer Kevin Ahearn ‘07. Ahearn joined the team as the designer and modeler, while Kneppers worked on harvesting and using the plastic pollution from the ocean. Stover handled the financial side of the project.
The trio named their new company Bureo Skateboards, originating from the Chilean word for “the waves.”

Bureo was not only accepted as a member of Start-up Chile – they were the only non-tech based company accepted into the program.

Stover, Kneppers and Ahearn spent last summer researching phosphate pollution in the ocean and have continued development of the final product.

“We are only doing one small thing with ocean plastic pollution,” Stover explained, “but just like a small disturbance creates a wave, we hope that our small project will be able to grow in energy and we eventually will be able to make a significant change in the way people think and act about plastic pollution.”

The team moved to Chile and received seed funding and office space in the capital of Santiago to jumpstart their business. Bureo has begun working with manufacturers in Chile on aligning recycling processes and streamlining plastic sources.

“It was a perfect match,” said Kneppers. “Chile gets a cleaner coastline and communities, and Bureo provides the most quality skateboard we can to the market.”

The team recently recycled their 300th kg of plastic and each one of Bureo’s skateboard decks will utilize about three pounds of plastic in total.

The team hopes to promote recycling and continue to encourage people to develop ways to lessen ocean plastic pollution.

Bureo plans to begin selling skateboards in Chile in early 2014, and expanding to the international and American markets by next summer. Ultimately, their strategy is to expand their business to create additional products out of recycled plastic within the next few years.

Stover credited Lehigh’s intensive class curriculum, dedicated professors and support network in helping to get the idea moving.

"Lehigh taught me how to learn," Stover explained, "how to sit down at a problem and how to solve it."

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