Hacking competition finalist makes a splash into the entrepreneurial scene

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Lauren Smith standing the Velocity Science lab by a PolyGone signWaterloo graduate student Lauren Smith and her Velocity Science start-up PolyGone Technologies are developing products to tackle the bigger fish in the microplastics problem – microfibres.

Microfibres, which account for 94 per cent of microplastic pollution, are one hundred times finer than a human hair and are prone to capturing polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs), a well-known human carcinogen, as well as other toxins. These fibres are given off from synthetic textiles in the washing machine and end up in our waterways where they are consumed by fish and turn up in our drinking water. 

Microfibres in water at 40x magnification.“Microfibres are a lot harder to ban [than microbeads] because they’re everywhere, especially in sweat wicking and waterproof materials,” says PolyGone Technologies founder Lauren Smith.

PolyGone began as a competition project for the 2017 AquaHacking competition, which focused on Lake Erie. The AquaHacking competition challenges students to develop innovative solutions for freshwater issues in North America.

The team, Lauren Smith and Nicole Balliston, are now working in Velocity Science to continue developing a user-friendly consumer product, similar to a dryer sheet, that can be put into the washing machine and capture microfibers given off by synthetic textiles. They are also developing filters that would be fit for washing machine attachment for industrial use, such as large scale clothing productions. 

Not many graduate students know that Velocity is open to all students, not just undergraduates. Becoming an entrepreneur during grad school is an excellent way to apply graduate research to build a product or service. Velocity Science is a partnership between Velocity and the Faculty of Science that hosts a number of science based start-up companies and provides these companies with lab space, technical resources, and equipment to these entrepreneurs to help build these companies.

“Your schedule is more flexible in grad school, it’s a good time to get involved in entrepreneurship,” says Smith. “There’s a lot of opportunity for overlap with your master’s or PhD research.” 

Smith acknowledges the gender bias in entrepreneurship and hopes to set a positive example for other women interested in building a start-up. 

“I really encourage other women to get involved in entrepreneurship and to not be scared to get your feet wet in Tech or Science of any kind,” says Smith.  “You can’t win every pitch competition, not every meeting will go well, and you won't get along with everybody. You have to be determined to keep going.”

Keep up with PolyGone on their social media @PolyGoneTech

Do you have an innovative, sustainable idea to help protect our Great Lakes? Get involved with the AquaHacking challenge!