Sometimes, a simple question can lead to a big answer. For the founders of Bureo skateboards, that question began on the beach – in particular, with the trash on the beach. How could people be incentivized to clean up the beaches? What if something could be made from all this trash?
“When you make a product out of something, it all needs to be the same something and you need an ample amount of it,” said Greg Swienton, Bureo’s sales and marketing director. Given that discarded fishing gear makes up 10 percent of the plastic pollution in the oceans, fishing nets offered a huge supply of the same source.
“We started in mid-2012 purely as a recycling program with the idea of wanting to turn it into something but we didn’t know what that was yet,” Greg said.
Turns out, the answer was right under one of the founder’s feet. Ben Kneppers was living in Chile and working on life cycle assessment projects for the Chilean government. While riding his cruiser skateboard to and from work every day, the idea came to him: fishing nets to skateboard decks.
Nets to decks
“We did a lot of testing and R&D to see if we could turn the nets into a performance material,” Greg said. “It would’ve been easier if we hadn’t made something with performance qualities. But we knew that to get our message out, we needed to do something unique.”
So began Bureo, a company making eco friendly skateboards. Alongside their skateboard business, the founders also launched Net Positiva, a recycling program.
Ben and his wife Gabby manage the recycling program in Santiago, Chile. Team members Kevin Ahearn, David Stover and Greg Swienton work out of their office in Los Angeles, Califronia. That’s the company’s full-time staff in its entirety.
Bureo launched its first skateboard, the Minnow, in late 2014. It was funded by a Kickstarter campaign that raised $65,000.
Backed by Patagonia
At around the same time, the director of the brand Patagonia in South America, Chris Evans, heard of the eco friendly skateboards.
“Chris was wondering about these three gringos picking up fishing nets in Chile. It caught his attention,” Greg said. “Our paths crossed and it was a natural crossover between Patagonia philosophy and our work in Chile.”
Patagonia had just started an internal venture capital fund called $20 Million & Change to invest in like-minded corporations. Bureo was one of the first to be awarded seed money through the fund.
“It was a beautiful stamp of approval from Patagonia,” Greg said.
That stamp helped Bureo connect with Patagonia’s retail sector, which now carries their skateboards in shops across the world.
In addition to its environmental cleanup efforts, Bureo also prioritizes educational outreach.
Bureo’s staff often shares their story and mission with schools – elementary to college – and corporate groups.
“A lot of people are intrigued from all over the world. They want to bring Net Positiva to their fishing ports,” he said. “We would love to be able to add to the network, but right now it’s small steps.”