For Ben Kneppers and David Stover, the dream was always sun, sand and a great day of skateboarding and surfing. But their passion for sustainability and the environment made them keenly aware of plastic pollution in the oceans — when the two took on beach cleanups as a hobby, all it took was a brief epiphany that this plastic could be put to use, and Bureo Skateboards was born.
Their new company is using recycled plastic from the ocean to create cruiser skateboards. According to Kneppers, cruiser skateboards have blown up in the last 4-5 years. With a retro feel, low cost and easy accessibility, plastic skateboards can be a great product not only for beginners, but also for anyone who is looking for a fun way to get from point A to point B. While there are many other, established brands of skateboards out there, none come with the same commitment to sustainability and environmental responsibility as Bureo.
For a product that is working to solve a global problem, it surely has global beginnings. Both Kneppers and Stover were born in Massachusetts before moving separately to Sydney, Australia for work, where they were eventually roommates. There, they became attached to the outdoor lifestyle that Sydney is known for and further developed an interest in the outdoors and the environment. Kneppers’ background as a sustainability consultant specializing in life cycle assessment led him to be assigned to lead a project in Chile. While working with Fundacion Chile, it was clear that Chile was a responsive community, not only for young entrepreneurs but also for the skating and surfing community they enjoyed and the idea for a low-impact, recycled skateboard company began growing.
One of the first challenges Kneppers and Stover faced, as all new companies do, was the issue of funding. Fortunately, Bureo was funded by two exciting programs. The first is IDEA, a student-run venture accelerator at Northeastern University. In addition to $10,000 in gap funding, IDEA provides new companies with mentors and coaches to help develop business plans and give other helpful advice. Simultaneously, they had also applied to a program called Start-Up Chile, a government sponsored accelerator focusing on turning Chile into the entrepreneurial hub of South America. They were accepted into the program and began receiving the $40,000 in funding just this month. Now, they are working with local industries to source the plastic in Chile, manufacture the boards in Chile and start by marketing the products to Chilean consumers.
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To design a great skateboard, Kneppers and Stover enlisted their friend Kevin J. Ahearn, a product designer, to help out with the process. After sampling different types of plastic and dealing with the ongoing issue of consistency, Bureo was able to finalize their design while Ahearn helped out with stress and strain tests. In addition to using only recycled marine plastic, there is also a commitment to use only the most responsible and transparent manufacturers for the other parts. In partnering with respectable known brands to find the lowest-impact wheels and metal trucks, Bureo is trying to make every aspect of the board as environmentally friendly as possible. The company is also committed to releasing a full life cycle assessment to prove the responsibility of the product, even including the challenging transportation costs. Beyond having a low impact, it was important that the board be safe and easily ride-able. As any skateboarder knows, cruising too fast down hill can often lead to “the speed wobble.” Bureo skateboards are being designed with a wider board and a wider truck (the steel or aluminum support) to increase stability and safety. Currently, they are working on developing an injection mold with the manufacturer in order to get the product available by February 2014.
“We’ve gained great support from the organizations locally here, and of course, the Start-Up Chile program itself,” Kneppers commented. “We couldn’t have done it without this assistance.” The Chilean community has been such a large part of the process that even the name Bureo comes from the region. In the indigenous Mapuche language, “bureo” means “the waves,” tying together the source of the recycled plastic, the waves of change they hope to represent in the industry, and of course the remarkable support provided by the community.
After the roll-out in Chile, the next target market will be the U.S, starting with California, where the team envisions ways of raising awareness through their product. Kneppers outlined, “When we bring this back to the States next year, we love the idea of doing a campaign where we not only promote what we’ve done with this problem [of plastic pollution], but we go to every major beach across the coast of California where we can do talks and make people aware of it.” They also want to partner with local organizations to promote beach cleanups, furthering the awareness of plastic pollution problems, but also the sustainability mission. Both Kneppers and Stover lived in California and are eager to return to promote their product there.
Alongside this campaign, Bureo is hoping to gain some traction through crowdfunding. Stovers, excited about expanding, explained, “Certainly we think our product and our story is well aligned with a platform such as Kickstarter.” The current plan is to crowdfund in Spring 2014. They are hoping that they will be able to get a positive response from the product while showing off the company’s sustainability mission and ramp up production. “We want to show people that we can do this,” Stovers added confidently.
The passion Kneppers and Stovers show for their product and mission is clear. Their path to success is still challenging, but with a wide range of support and a healthy dose of inspiration, they seem more than ready to expand. Already the first batch of plastic recovered totaled more than 300kg. If this process is expanded, Bureo is poised to make a significant impact in Chile’s marine plastic pollution problem. Fortunately, they want to share every step of the process with their consumers. They regularly update their new blog with great pictures of Chile and their beach cleanups, so follow along, catch a wave and enjoy the ride. Bureo Skateboards is coming and prepared to make an ocean of change.