The company, which formed at Saint Mary’s University last year, was one of 26 teams from across Atlantic Canada to enter the competition. It was awarded $2,000 in June when it was named one of five finalists. It then captured the $1,000 Viewers’ Choice Award (selected by people watching the live-streamed competition) and received $20,000 as the first prize.
“This is a great prize and it will give us a lot of opportunity to move forward, especially because we’re getting close to finalizing our packaging and our branding,” said Co-Founder Guillermo Villarreal De Lara in an interview.
Clean Catch is developing biodegradable, PVC-free soft bait fishing lures for the sport fishing market, aiming to replace plastic lures that can leach harmful micro-plastics into lakes, rivers and oceans. The lures are fully biodegradable, completely dissolving within six months of being lost.
AquaHacking Challenges are nine-month programs held across Canada in which competitors work to solve water-related problems. The Atlantic version was organized by SMU’s Atlantic Water Network.
The competitions are the result of a 2012 challenge by the elder members of Quebec’s noted de Gaspé Beaubien business family, who asked their grandchildren to identify an area of philanthropy that they would like to become more involved in. The younger generation chose “water” as their focus, and the foundation developed a mission-brief that focuses on leveraging technology-related entrepreneurship and mentorship for environmental impact.
As well as the cash prizes, the winner also receives a spot in a local incubator, and Clean Catch has been awarded a spot at the Start-Up Yard in the COVE facility in Dartmouth.
The inspiration for Clean Catch dates back years to when Villarreal developed a love of angling while fishing for largemouth bass with his father in Northern Mexico. He continued fishing when he attended SMU as a business student, targeting smallmouth bass and striped bass around Halifax and in Colchester County.
He soon began to research natural substances that could be used to make lures to reduce the effects of fishing on the environment. In his senior year, he proposed making these lures as a project in one course, and soon he and some classmates formed the company.
The Clean Catch team now comprises Villareal, Robel Berhane, and Katherine vanZutphen. As well as winning money through Aquahacking, Clean Catch won $5,000 through Innovacorp’s Blue-Green Challenge earlier this year.
Clean Catch hopes to launch the product to the full market next year. So far, it has lined up 14 retail stores across Canada that are interested in selling the lures, and it is setting up its own ecommerce site.
The team is now carrying out its second product test with a group of anglers, and is gathering feedback from the beta-users.
“We have had a very good response so far,” said Villareal. “A lot of them have been looking for something to help the environment. And people are just excited about the idea because they are conscious of the use of plastics in fishing.”