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Skateboard venture is on the incline

The Bureo skateboard may be “minnow” sized, but the reputation of the company co-founded by Northeastern alumnus Ben Kneppers, E’07, continues to grow larger in the skateboarding and ocean conservation communities.

Bureo launched about one year ago, aiming to address growing ocean plastic pollution along the Chilean coast and then recycle those plastic materials by making skateboards. Early on, Bureo received critical resources and support from IDEA, Northeastern’s student-run venture accelerator.

Over the summer, the company landed a partnership with Patagonia, the designer of outdoor clothing and gear, which has also invested in Bureo. Since September, the company has sold 2,000 Minnow Complete Cruiser skateboards.

“Things are really good,” said Kneppers, who is currently in Santiago, Chile’s capital city. “It has been a truly grassroots effort. We always wanted it to be that way. It’s rewarding to see how many people connect with what you are doing.”

Bureo’s relationship with Patagonia began last year when the head of the company’s Chilean operations wrote a letter of recommendation for Bureo’s application to Startup Chile, a government-supported incubator to help early-stage entrepreneurs bootstrap their ventures in the South American country.

In recent months, Patagonia has partnered with Bureo to sell its skateboards in Patagonia stores; the company has also invested in Bureo via its $20 Million & Change program, which aims to help responsible startups bring positive change to the environment.

“This will absolutely take us to the next level,” Kneppers said of his company’s partnership with Patagonia. “It’s one thing to say you have a clever project and cute little skateboards. But it’s another to say we have a brand and a sustainable business that can make an impact on other companies.”

But skateboard production is just one element of Bureo’s mission. The other focuses on the shores of Chile, where Bureo is working with fishermen to provide safer and more environmentally friendly ways to rid their fishing nets of ocean plastic pollution.

“The fishermen have little to no infrastructure for managing their nets,” Kneppers explained. “The most common things they were doing is chucking the nets in the harbor or burning them on the beach, which is very toxic.”

It’s from these fishing nets that Bureo collects a large amount of the plastic materials it uses to build its skateboards, through a program called “Net Positiva” that Bureo founded in January. Kneppers noted that they have collected about seven tons of material in the past month, and 10 tons in the past year.

About 10 percent of ocean plastic pollution around the world comes from discarded fishing nets, Kneppers said, and the Bureo founders had been gathering the nets from the fishermen and cleaning and collecting the plastic waste themselves. But as the company has grown, they have been able to hire and train local Chilean workers to clean the nets, and they’ve even contracted Bureo’s first net collection manager there.

Bureo is now turning its attention to the holiday season and hopes to build about 6,000 more skateboards in the coming months to meet the demand from customers around the world.

To celebrate the holidays and promote Bureo’s mission, the company is running a contest on Instagram. Kneppers and his co-founders are encouraging people to take pictures of themselves with Bureo merchandise while doing something good for their community, and then post those pictures using @bureoskateboards and #netstogifts. One person will be selected to win a custom-made, holiday-themed Bureo skateboard.

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