TCI News

TCI’s Gabriel Saunders and Decomp win University of Waterloo’s Pandemic Challenge

Turks & Caicos – EDITORIAL SUBMISSION – November 9, 2020 – Turks and Caicos Islander, Gabriel Saunders, and his Co-Founders recently won University of Waterloo’s ‘Pandemic Challenge’ with their start-up, Decomp.

The pitch competition, which was held virtually, was co-hosted by entrepreneurial entities at the University of Waterloo – including the Conrad School of Entrepreneurship and Business, St. Paul’s GreenHouse (a social impact incubator), as well as Concept, the university’s pre-incubator program.

Rather than requiring student-led ventures to find a cure or focus solely on solving the issue of the novel coronavirus spreading, the Pandemic Challenge encouraged teams to tackle massive problems that have been brought on by the current pandemic.

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Some of the problems that the competing start-ups were attempting to solve included food insecurity, health issues in long term care homes, and inefficiencies with remote work.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a surge in single-use plastics. This includes take-out containers and plastic bags, along with personal protective equipment (PPE), such as throwaway gloves, as well as disposable masks, which often contain the plastic polypropylene.

Decomp aims to combat plastic waste pollution through their unique solution, which combines plastic-degrading microbes (i.e. fungi and bacteria) and custom bioreactor technology. The microbes identified have the capability of being able to degrade plastics that take 400-1,000 years to degrade in landfills, in weeks. Bioreactor technology facilitates Decomp creating and maintaining the optimal growing conditions (i.e. temperature, humidity, pH, etc) for the microbes. Plastics will be sorted, shredded and inputted into the bioreactors to be broken down by the microbes.

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The biotechnology start-up was chosen as one of three winners of the Pandemic Challenge – winning $3,000 for research and development. Decomp was also selected to enter GreenHouse’s Workplace Innovation Program, which will provide them with funding opportunities, as well as opportunities to work with entities, such as the Region of Waterloo, as well as Environment and Climate Change Canada, in their efforts to build and test their prototypes.  

“I’m extremely proud of our team and all of the work that we have put in,” said Saunders, who pitched for the competition. “It’s an honour to have been chosen as a winner and even more so to have been selected to enter GreenHouse’s Workplace Innovation Program. We’re excited for our next steps and to keep developing Decomp,” added Saunders.

Decomp previously won the University of Waterloo’s Hult Prize Finals in 2019 – the university round of the world’s largest social impact competition. University of Waterloo has consistently ranked as Canada’s most innovative university and is located in Waterloo, Ontario – a tech hub that is commonly referred to as ‘Canada’s Silicon Valley.’

At the time of the Pandemic Challenge, Gabriel was a 23-year-old Master of Business, Entrepreneurship, and Technology (MBET) student at University of Waterloo’s Conrad School of Entrepreneurship and Business.

Gabriel attended The Ashcroft School (now The International School of the Turks and Caicos Islands) and British West Indies Collegiate (BWIC) in Providenciales, and graduated from Trinity College School in Port Hope, Canada.

He is the son of E. Jay and Drani Saunders.

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