At Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO), our vision is to build the world's most influential community of entrepreneurs. One way we encourage young entrepreneurs is through the EO Global Student Entrepreneur Awards (GSEA), EO's premier competition for students who own and operate a business while attending college or university. The intense, international competition culminates with the Global Finals, where "studentpreneurs" from 50+ countries compete and make connections with both seasoned entrepreneurs and their fellow competitors. We asked the 2018 EO GSEA winner, Axel Antonio Garcia Burgos from Puerto Rico, about his entrepreneurial journey. Here's what he shared:
As a child, my dream was to become an astronaut and work in space. Growing up in Puerto Rico, I spent many days with my grandfather, an irrigation foreman who encouraged my entrepreneurial spirit with his words: "Dream big. Work hard. Give back."
I was recruited to pursue my education with NASA at age 16 and quickly realized I could use my skills in mitigating environmental issues in space to solve issues here on Earth. I redirected my passion for space and integrated my passion for social impact through my company, PRatian, a strong R&D platform that creates and commercializes space technologies to solve global issues and directly benefit society.
It's the legacy I want to give to the world.
A global perspective
My curiosity about environmental conditions in different countries led me to study and perform research in the U.S., France, Lebanon, Poland, Germany and Russia. I've identified terrestrial environments comparable to those on Mars where the poor soil quality and extreme weather conditions are inhospitable to plant life.
Agriculture is a basic need, both for ongoing space exploration and survival here on Earth. Our company's first product, Hydropearl, was an idea formed while discussing technologies that could enable plant growth on the surface of Mars. I submitted the initial concept to a European Space Agency Committee and won a competition, along with the opportunity to validate Hydropearl technology at a research facility in Poland. After successful research, I decided to commercialize Hydropearl to enable plant growth in non-arable climates.
Tiny bead, worldwide impact
Here on Earth, 2.5 billion people live in dry areas where rainfall is scarce and soil is infertile. Developing countries aren't the only ones facing irrigation challenges: Did you know that 12 percent of the U.S. agricultural market, mostly in California, is located in drought-prone areas? Hydropearls can mitigate the impact of drought on food crop production worldwide. This benefits both developing nations without irrigation systems to sustain crop growth and industrialized nations where farmers can save up to 35 percent of total crop production costs through reduced spending on irrigation system materials, maintenance and labor.
Hydropearls are biodegradable beads the size of marbles that are capable of significantly reducing the amount of water consumed and wasted by irrigation systems. Farmers simply add the designated number of Hydropearls to the soil around the roots of seedlings, and there is no need to water or fertilize the plants again for their entire life cycle―up to a year. We are in the process of optimizing our technology for crop life cycles that last more than a year.
Our product is cost-effective to manufacture and easy for farmers to use because they are easily distributed into the soil with the same equipment used to plant crops. Once the roots of the plant touch the Hydropearl beads, the plant can access all the water and nutrients needed for an entire growth cycle―from seedling to harvest. Hydropearls can absorb up to 30 percent of their weight in water, which maximizes the benefit of every rainfall. In addition, our product can be tailored to accommodate the unique nutritional and water needs of a specific crop. The result is plants that grow faster and healthier.
Hydropearls have been successfully tested in a variety of soils and have the potential to provide food security by maximizing crop performance while conserving water resources.
A big loss ...
There is a point at which every entrepreneur experiences despair. Mine came on 20 September 2017, when Hurricane Maria decimated the island of Puerto Rico. We lost hundreds of lives. The island lacked the food, water and electricity needed to function normally for more than five months. The crops we were growing as proof of concept for Hydropearl―$40k in valuation―were completely destroyed. Our company lost employees who went to help their families or left the island in search of alternative income.
Though it was the biggest challenge our company had faced, I never considered giving up. Perseverance and patience are the keys to succeeding with long-term goals. This experience taught me the importance of having an international team. I asked team members who lived outside of Puerto Rico to write grant proposals to help cover some of our losses. Team members who remained on the island helped me re-start the process of validating Hydropearl for industrial farming use.
And a big win
During this same period, I was honored with the opportunity to represent Puerto Rico in the EO GSEA competition. The experience taught me that showing my authentic personality and passion are the most powerful tools for conveying potential and vision.
Winning the competition will have a huge impact on our ability to scale production and distribution of Hydropearls. I've made connections with both experienced entrepreneurs and fellow studentpreneurs from many different countries through EO GSEA and along my entrepreneurial journey. I believe that our product can increase food security in many of these countries and am establishing collaborative partnerships with people who share my core values.
My hope is that Hydropearl will expand to all markets where water consumption by irrigation systems is a critical issue and be able to make a positive impact on people across our planet.
To other students who are passionate about sustainability and changing the world, I would say to follow your curiosity in matters that you truly care about. Take risks to learn about your passion and become a global citizen. It is through international collaboration that disruptive ideas are born, and that's how we will change the world for the better.
Axel Antonio Garcia Burgos, founder and CEO of PRatian, won the EO Global Student Entrepreneur Awards on 16 April 2018 in Toronto.