Upstarts: Bureo Skateboards

Bureo Skateboards Founders Launch Innovative Model That Transforms Recycled Fishing Nets

Editors Note: Leading up to Earth Day next week, TransWorld Business will be profiling several brands that are working with innovative business models that promote sustainability by reducing their eco-footprints. Stay tuned to TransWorld Business for more. 

Bureo Skateboards has developed the first cruiser skateboard deck made from recycled fishnets. The company, made of up three friends and surfers from the East Coast, is named after a native Chilean Mapuche word, which means ´the waves’.

“Selected in honor of the Chilean people, the name represents our mission,” says Bureo’s founders. “Just as a wave originates from a disturbance of wind along the ocean surface, Bureo is starting with a small change in an ocean of plastic. Through time and energy, the waves of Bureo will develop the force required to cause real change.”

Bureo Founders

Bureo Skateboard founders David Stover, Kevin Ahearn, and Ben Kneppers.

The concept behind the company came to life in 2012, when co-founder Ben Kneppers got an opportunity to work with the Fundacion Chile in Santiago. That quickly evolved into an innovative business model, that transforms fishnets captured off the coast of Chile into skateboards. The team’s unique initiative, ‘Net Positiva’, is Chile’s first ever fishnet collection and recycling program, and provides fisherman with environmentally sound disposal points, while Bureo receives highly recyclable and durable raw materials. Net Positiva is supported by the Chilean government, World Wildlife Fund Chile, Marine Conservation Action Fund and in alliance with local fisheries.

In the first year of operations, Bureo is focused on proving its concept, with  hopes that future sales and funding will allow the company to increase its  support of local fishing communities as the program expands, according to Kneppers and crew. Board production is currently underway in Chile, and the company launched a Kickstarter campaign earlier this week to support its efforts. 

 We caught up with Kneppers and crew to hear more: 
Bureo Net Positiva

Bureo’s breakdown of its Net Positiva initiative.

How and when did you first realize that fishing nets were a problem in oceans, and why did you select Chile as the testing grounds for your concept?

The project started with a goal to develop a fun and innovative product from upcycled plastic waste by creating a sustainable collection program in coastal communities in Chile. Faced with a multitude of plastics collecting in our oceans, we wanted to focus on the major sources of plastic waste in the ocean and our research showed that discarded fishing gear made up more than 10% of this waste. We looked into the problem and realized that not only did it make up a significant portion of the problem based on the weight of the material, but the materials were significantly harmful to marine life. Further, the material was durable, highly recyclable and other programs had been set up in Europe and the US to collect and recycle the materials.

In 2012, Ben accepted an opportunity from a close friend to work at Fundacion Chile in Santiago. While living in Chile, and through his travels he connected with the country’s deep appreciation for the environment and support of foreign entrepreneurs. At the same time, we were developing our project ideas, Ben was introduced to the Start-Up Chile program. Accepted into the program in August 2013, Chile gave us the support and opportunity to launch our project. We have had a tremendous response to our idea in Chile, which allowed us to develop and run with our board production this year. Chile’s tremendous environment for entrepreneurs and vast coastline created an ideal setting to launch our project.

What was the aha moment when you thought to create a skateboard out of recycled fishnet, and how long did it take to develop the collection and manufacturing process?

Per answer above, we were first focused on plastic collection programs, and how we could reduce plastic waste entering the ocean. This evolved into developing products from these programs that may be profitable to support the collection programs. Our whole team is connected through a passion for surfing and skating, and we all were riding plastic cruiser around to the beach, work, etc. After months of brainstorming ideas, Ben called me one day while working on the carbon footprint at Lollapoola in Chile and said…lets make skateboards! The idea to source fishnet waste for the boards came a few months later. We started testing the fishnet materials in a plastic engineering lab at the start of last summer, and began discussions for the fishnet collection programs in June 2013. Our team (myself, Ben, Kevin) spent the last six months in Chile setting up our initial collection programs and working with our manufacture to develop the tools and processes.

Is manufacturing done in Chile? As a result, were you able to create more jobs around the communities you are working with?

Our whole process from collection to recycling to manufacturing is completed in Chile. Currently, we are working with one local facility in Santiago to take our materials from nets to boards. In the communities, this first year has been a proof of concept phase, where we needed to prove (with limited funds!) that we could collect the materials and create value out of our products. Going forward we are looking to fund local employment in the communities to assist/manage the net collection programs. We will be using profits from our first major production run to expand and support these programs next year.

Bureo Timeline

The expected timeline for production after the launch of Bureo’s Kickstarter campaign earlier this week.

What is the approximate amount of fishing net you’ve collected and recycled to date, and how does that translate to the amount of boards you’ve made? How much fishing net does it take to make one board?

To date, we have collected several tons of fishnets, and recycled a small portion into our initial prototype skateboards. We are currently waiting to recycle a few tons of nets in order to fuel our first production run which is awaiting funding support from Kickstarter. It takes approximately 1kg (2.2lbs) for each board. For every board purchased, riders keep more than thirty square-feet of fishnet out of our oceans while providing support to Chilean fishing communities.

Do you see a place for this business model in the States eventually? What’s your distribution plan going forward?

Management of fishnet waste is a challenging problem all over the world, including the US where programs are currently in place in both the east and west coasts to assist in proper management. In addition to expanding our program in Chile, we certainly see an opportunity to replicate this model in other regions, including the US.

Currently, we are looking to predominately market our initial boards (first year production) in the US and Chile through direct distribution. Following this, we are looking to expand our production capabilities and introduce our product to a broader market.

Talk about how the partnership with Satori Wheels came about, what it entails and why you saw them as a good fit with Bureo’s philosophy.

We reached out to Satori Wheels, as we were interested in partnering with a wheel provider that aligned with our vision for sustainable products. We were impressed with Satori’s re-life program and other initiatives to incorporate more eco friendly materials into their products. We are proud to have Satori wheels on our boards, which have 100% recycled cores and a formula containing 30% vegetable based oils.

What is the next steps for Bureo after the Kickstarter campaign closes?

We will be working on our first large production run with our manufacturer in Chile following the completion of our Kickstarter campaign, after which we will re-join our team in the US in early June. Currently, we are planning to make a tour of the coast in California in June/July where we are looking to bring awareness to our project and organize several beach clean-ups with local partners. We are speaking with our friends at Save the Waves and 5 Gyres, and we are looking for other local partners in California to partner on our initiative over the summer months. During this period we will also be showing off our first few production boards and taking pre-orders to fulfill upon receipt of our boards from Chile, currently planned for late July.