When Naivety Can Be an Entrepreneur's Best Friend
The idea of setting up a business, a foundation or charity can be exciting. But enthusiasm often diminishes once the reality of getting people to back the venture starts to chip away at self-belief in your ability to succeed. Not so for Dutch entrepreneur, Boyan Slat. While on a diving holiday in Greece, Boyan was shocked that there were more plastic bags than fish in the sea and decided to seek a solution.
What is notable about Boyan’s story is that he was only 16 at the time. He was told that to clean up the ocean on such a scale would take hundreds of years and would also be too costly. Despite this, Boyan remained undeterred and over the next few years researched the problem thoroughly to come up with ‘The Ocean Cleanup’ concept.
“When I dreamt up the concept, there were certain things I didn’t know. Perhaps it was a bit naive of me to think it would work, but that helped me pursue my ideas as I thought if there was a chance it would work, then I had to try. Not knowing certain things was actually helpful. If I’d known more about the destructive nature of the ocean, for example, perhaps I would have convinced myself it was a silly idea.”
Nor was Boyan’s young age a handicap. On the contrary, he believes it was a contributing factor to the success in initiating what will be the largest cleanup in history should his idea prove successful.
“I think it would have been a lot more difficult to do if I had been older. Obviously there are risks involved due to the scale of the project and the older you get the more cautious you become. It’s not only that age limits your thinking, but you become less decisive. When your young, you’re more dynamic; you just go for it.”
His idea is to clean up the millions of square kilometres of plastic that is trapped in the ocean. The majority of this plastic is concentrated in five rotating ocean currents, including the huge Pacific Garbage Patch which contains approximately one third of all oceanic plastic. Boyan’s concept uses an array of anchored floating barriers that use the power of the ocean’s currents to catch floating debris, which is then captured and recycled. As there are no nets or emissions, marine life is not harmed, making it a safe and sustainable solution.
Still only 20 years old Boyan is founder and CEO of Ocean Cleanup. He has already received critical acclaim for his concept which has now been through a feasibility study.
The indications are that The Ocean Cleanup is likely to be both technically and financially viable and will remove almost half the plastic from the North Pacific Garbage patch in 10 years, which is an estimated 7900 times faster and 33 times cheaper than conventional methods. Thanks to small operational expenditure, high capture efficiency and the possibility of reusing the plastics, it will only cost €4,50 for every kg of plastic removed.
So far the project has raised just over £2m via crowdfunding and Boyan now leads a team of 120 people working all over the world. It’s a level of success Boyan believes would not have been possible without the internet.
“The internet has had a really significant influence. First, without social media the project would never have gone viral. Secondly without crowdfunding we would never have been able to raise enough funds to do this and, thirdly, without things like Skype the team would not be able to collaborate on a global scale so easily and efficiently.”
With the budget to start the pilot phase now secure, Boyan is working towards getting a 1 kilometre pilot into the ocean by January 2016, with a full scale operational pilot in 3-4 years’ time. In terms of achieving an innovative solution to such a global problem, it’s a relatively short timescale that Boyan believes has been helped by collaborating with experts, as well as selective and clever use of technology. Although he believes that we need to re-assess our attitude to technology if we are to make the most of it in future.
“There is sometimes a negative bias to technology as it has created a lot of problems. But we have also used it to change the world for good. To me this is evidence that the immense power of technology is not good or bad, but neutral. It would be unwise not to use that power to our advantage in combatting global problems.”
It is this combination of technology and entrepreneurism to tackle problems affecting the sustainability of the world’s resources that Boyan believes has helped turn his dreams into reality – plus a large helping of youthful determination, courage and passion.
In 2012, The Ocean Cleanup was awarded Best Technical Design at the Delft University of Technology. Boyan Slat has been recognized as one of the 20 Most Promising Young Entrepreneurs Worldwide (Intel EYE50), and is a laureate of the 2014 United Nations Champions for the Earth award.
For more information www.TheOceanCleanup.com
The above article is based on an interview Mazars conducted with Boyan Slat.
How we play our part
Mazars Netherlands provides accountancy services to The Ocean Cleanup, a percentage of which it does on a pro bono basis. Globally, Mazars is involved in a number of initiatives aimed at helping entrepreneurs and owner managers to harness and develop their entrepreneurial ambitions. Mazars believes that by combining the skills and knowledge of established entrepreneurs, business leaders, advisers and academics, entrepreneurs around the globe can share their experiences and tap into much needed expertise and advice.
Judith Bilsen. Marketing & Business Development Director. Mazars Netherlands.
Sander Boomman. Market Group Leader, Not-for-Profit. Mazars Netherlands.