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These skateboards offer a sustainable ride

In the language of Chile’s indigenous Mapuche people, ‘bureo’ means ‘waves’. (Photo courtesy of Bureo Skateboards)

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 David Stover ‘07.

Stover, who has a degree in mechanical engineering, joined a major consultancy as a senior analyst soon after graduating from Lehigh. After four 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 debated topics ranging from innovation to the environment to the design of everyday things.

One day, Kneppers called Stover with a unique idea: Would it be possible to build a business by harvesting plastic pollution from 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 could 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 says. “The trick is figuring out how to get it.”

A Chilean harvest

Last March, the two would-be entrepreneurs began developing a product and brand. With help from Chuck Smith, professor emeritus of mechanical engineering and mechanics at Lehigh, the partners applied to Start-Up Chile, a government-run program designed to attract world-class entrepreneurs to kick-start businesses in the South American country.

Stover and Kneppers knew they needed serious design muscle to break into the highly-competitive skateboard business. So Stover recruited friend and fellow Lehigh mechanical engineer Kevin Ahearn ‘07. Ahearn joined the team as designer and modeler, while Kneppers worked on harvesting and using plastic pollution from the ocean. Stover handled the financial side of the project.

The trio named their new company Bureo Skateboards. The word ‘bureo,’ according to the company’s website, means ‘the waves’ in from the language of the Mapuche, the indigenous inhabitants of south-central Chile.

Bureo was not only approved for membership in Start-up Chile—it was the only non-tech based company accepted into the program.

Stover, Kneppers and Ahearn spent last summer studying phosphate pollution in the ocean, and they have continued developing 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.”

A win-win situation

The team moved to Chile and received seed funding and office space in the capital of Santiago to start their business. Bureo has begun working with manufacturers in Chile to align recycling processes and streamline 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. Each one of Bureo’s skateboard decks will utilize about three pounds of the material.

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

Bureo plans to begin selling skateboards in Chile in early 2014, and hopes to expand into the international and American markets by next summer. The company’s strategy is to expand its 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,” he says, “how to sit down at a problem and how to solve it.”

Story by Talia Dunyak ’15

Posted on Wednesday, November 27, 2013

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