According to the old adage, one man's trash is another man's trea­sure. For North­eastern alumnus Ben Knep­pers, it's actu­ally an entire South Amer­ican country's trash that he is hoping to turn into a sus­tain­able business.

Knep­pers, who received his mechan­ical engi­neering degree in 2007, is co-​​founder of Bureo Skate­boards, which aims to reduce the plastic pol­lu­tion along Chile's coast­line and in its com­mu­ni­ties by molding it into skateboards.

Bureo is among the 85 busi­nesses out of 1,300 appli­cants accepted into Start-​​Up Chile, a government-​​sponsored accel­er­ator pro­gram that pro­vides star­tups with $40,000 each to put their plans in action. The program's mis­sion is to attract early stage, high-​​potential entre­pre­neurs to boot­strap their star­tups in Chile, using it as a plat­form to go global, and ulti­mately make Chile the entre­pre­neurial hub of Latin America.

Bureo was the only non-​​technology based com­pany accepted to the Start-​​Up Chile pro­gram. Knep­pers called it a per­fect match: “Chile gets a cleaner coast­line and com­mu­ni­ties, and Bureo pro­vides the most quality skate­board we can to the market,” he said.

Bureo Skate­boards also received $10,000 in gap funding from IDEA, the North­eastern student-​​run ven­ture accel­er­ator. IDEA sup­ports entre­pre­neurs through funding, coaching, and net­working with ser­vices and resources.

Knep­pers and co-​​founder David Stover, who met while they were both working as con­sul­tants in Aus­tralia, said the sup­port they received from IDEA gave them con­fi­dence in their busi­ness plan and guid­ance at a crit­ical point for their startup.

“These guys are an example of our system working at is best,” said IDEA CEO Max Kaye. “It's ven­tures like this that really take full advan­tage of the dif­ferent resources every step of the way. We are proud to be involved and we can't wait to see what they can do down there.”

Knep­pers was living and working in San­tiago, Chile's cap­ital city, last year when he rec­og­nized an oppor­tu­nity to help Chilean com­mu­ni­ties, espe­cially those in rural areas where recy­cling pro­grams are limited.

In the country's larger met­ro­pol­itan areas, the recy­cling rate is esti­mated to be about 12 per­cent, com­pared to 35 per­cent in the United States. Each one of Bureo's skate­board decks will uti­lize about three pounds of plastic.

Knep­pers will depart for Chile next week, and Stover will join him in November. Start-​​Up Chile's pro­gram for Gen­er­a­tion 8 begins Nov. 4. Once in Chile, they will start sourcing plastic, recy­cling it, and preparing the skate­board molds for pro­duc­tion. Then, they will shift their focus to their launch in the United States. The first Bureo skate­boards are expected to hit the market next spring.

The Bureo team will pro­vide updates on product devel­op­ment and progress in Chile through its web­site and Face­book page.

Knep­pers cred­ited Northeastern's co-​​op pro­gram with devel­oping his pas­sion for sus­tain­ability. For one of his co-​​ops he worked at a refugee camp in Zambia where he worked with a local all-​​star soccer team to help raise aware­ness about AIDS/​HIV safety within the camp. To make sure the project was sus­tain­able, the group also pur­chased a former bar in the com­mu­nity that they con­verted into a com­mu­nity center where people could buy items and pro­ceeds would fund AIDS/​HIV edu­ca­tion programs.

“I got to walk out of North­eastern with an incred­ible resume and worldly expe­ri­ences that let me find what my deeper pas­sions were,” Knep­pers said.