Environment students win multi-national innovation challenge

Monday, July 15, 2019

Building a global name for themselves, Faculty of Environment students recently won the Youth Innovation Challenge with their sustainable and 100% biodegradable masonry block company – IXIM. This is the second year in a row that a team from Environment were finalists in this multi-national competition sponsored by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC). 

IXIM founders, Daniel Gonzalez and Noor-ur-Rahman Shaikh, are two Master’s in Environmental Studies Sustainability Management students working at the intersection of agro-industrial waste and construction pollution to develop blocks that are an eco-friendly alternative to bricks. Because of their ingenuity, they were selected from nearly 150 participants to receive a $5,000 prize and the opportunity to present their idea to top environment officials from Canada, USA, and Mexico. The challenge runs throughout these countries and one team from each country is selected as a finalist. 

Daniel Gonzalez and two other Faculty of Environment students and staff traveled to Mexico City for this event and to participate in multi-day meetings about continental environmental issues in North America. The trio represent various approaches to green innovation and are breaking down walls to use academic research and entrepreneurship to solve environmental issues.

After Daniel’s pitch, Andrew Wheeler, administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency, celebrated IXIM by saying, “In addition to your scientific discoveries and research, I also applaud your entrepreneurship and starting your own companies in order to move this forward. Congratulations!” 

This isn't the first time University of Waterloo students were finalists in the Youth Innovation Challenge. Jaydeep Mistry, from the Department of Geography and Environmental Management, was a member of one of the top 10 Canadian teams in this year’s challenge, showcasing their innovative SMART App and building on their success as this year’s Jack Rosen Memorial Award winner. The SMART App uses augmented reality and GIS technologies to increase citizen and public engagement in the planning of Sustainable Urban Development projects. Jaydeep joined Daniel in Mexico City for the Youth Innovation Challenge. 

In 2018, Faculty of Environment PhD students, Lauren Smith and Nicole Balliston, were the Canadian finalists with their presentation titled Stop eating your dirty laundry - Our solution to microplastic pollution, and their company Polygone Technologies.

Recognized for their legacy of green innovation, the University of Waterloo was selected by CEC to be in the EcoInnovation Network; a network of green innovation hubs at post-secondary schoolsBrock Dickinson, the Faculty of Environment’s Entrepreneur in Residence, sits on this committee to provide insight on green innovation, and traveled to Mexico City to support Daniel and participate in meetings. Brock is based in the Faculty’s Entrepreneurship @ Environment office; a support for students interested in social innovation, green business, venture creation or social entrepreneurship.

Daniel Gonzalez on stage presenting to an audiencePicture (left to right): Isabelle Berard (Assistant Deputy Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada), Dr. Maria Amparo Martinez (Director-General of Mexico’s National Institute for Ecology & Climate Change), Andrew Wheeler (Administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency), and Daniel Gonzalez (IXIM co-founder).

Jaydeep Mistry, Brock Dickinson and Daniel Gonzalez

Pictured (from left to right): Daniel Gonzalez, Brock Dickinson, and Jaydeep Mistry.

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