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Eco-Pen Startup Begins to Blossom at W Booth SchoolNovember 26, 2018

These two W Booth School graduate students are writing a new chapter in the story of eco-entrepreneurship in Canada.

Rucha Kolte and Ali Awais Amin co-lead an enterprise called Eco-Pen, an emerging startup grounded on the principles of sustainability and devoted to environmental stewardship.

Its first product, now in the prototyping stage, is Eco-Pen. It is a bold innovation that introduces bio-degradable materials into the production of writing pens for the world market. And there is more: plant seeds have been embedded in each test pen. “When the ink has run out, you simply plant the pen in the earth and it grows,” said Rucha. “We’ve adopted a ‘cradle to cradle’ design model that mimics regenerative cycles found in nature.”

Eco-Pen is a creative response to the growing problem of plastics pollution. Each second, approximately 47 disposable plastic pens are sold worldwide. In time, most end up as permanent refuse in landfills. In addition, the energy intensive process of manufacturing the plastic used in conventional pens produces high levels of greenhouse gas emissions, a key contributor to global warming. Eco-Pen seeks to tackle these challenges by employing best practices in the field of sustainability.

Earlier this year, Eco-Pen was awarded the top prize at the inaugural 99 Problems Competition hosted by The Forge, the startup incubator for McMaster University and the Hamilton region. “The judges saw a direct connection between a significant global problem and our proposed solution,” said Ali, adding that the prize money will help Eco-Pen move further along the commercialization pathway. The Eco-Pen team has secured a co-working space at the Forge and will join its community of entrepreneurs, mentors and investors.

Rucha and Ali are quick to acknowledge the ongoing support of entrepreneurship professors Dr. David Potter and Dr. Lotfi Belkhir at the W Booth School. “We appreciate the guidance and mentorship they gave to help us conceptualize Eco-Pen,” said Rucha. The students also recognize Dr. Wayne Meddever, and staff members Salman Bawa and Richard Allen for believing in the product's potential. “Together, they gave us tools to identify audience needs, develop solutions and create value,” said Ali.

Two additional contributors are Dr. Adrian Kitai, an engineering physics professor at McMaster who acts as a technical advisor, and Kim Gutt, the head of Sustainable Hamilton Burlington who acts a business advisor.

Team Eco-Pen enters 2019 with a set of aggressive goals, including advanced prototyping, technical problem-solving related to materials and manufacturability, and the creation of a minimum viable product. It is all part of their journey as graduate students in the W Booth School entrepreneurship program.

“What keeps us going are the letters of intent from organizations pledging to bulk purchase our Eco-Pens when they become available,” said Ali.

Photo (left-right): W Booth School graduate students Ali Awais Amin and Rucha Kolte represent a new breed of eco-entrepreneurs applying novel sustainability principles to business.