One Sylvan Lake couple is looking particularly forward to the next year following a fun filled win at a University of Alberta alumni business competition.
Kate and Adam Latos were recently awarded $10,000 during the University of Alberta Business Alumni Association Innovation Challenge after having presented their EcoFence and Decking business proposal.
The U of A competition was held in celebration of the 100-year anniversary of the Alberta School of Business. According to the University, the competition invited individuals and teams to present a ‘seed-stage social enterprise idea to an adjudication panel of business and community leaders’.
“We’re proud to announce that Kate Latos from EcoFence and Decking successfully caught the judges’ attention and walked away with the $10,000 prize and year-long mentorship from the judges,” said the University in a press release. “EcoFence and Decking is working to replace a common home product, vinyl fence panels, with one made from recycled waste. Their new method will require minimal upkeep, is stain resistant, does not leach harmful chemicals and is a lower price point than traditional fencing materials.”
Kate, a University of Alberta Business School – Bachelor of Commerce and Masters in Finance and Family Business Alumni, added for the Latos family the mentorship really is the most valuable part.
“Judges ranged from owners of multi million dollar companies, CEO’s of private sector companies and for example the vice president of IBM. That’s where the big value is,” she explained. “One of the mentors is a CEO of a national construction firm, so to be able to have access to her and gauge her reaction to our product and even to have her input on our product as far as colours and textures is something you can only dream of if you are just starting a commercial building product.”
The idea for the business originally came to the Latos’ after Adam began a recent Renewable Energy and Conservation course through Lakeland College. With an initial interest in solar panels, soon the pair found themselves increasingly interested in recycling after … had completed a course on the subject.
“I was editing one of his paper’s for him on how much plastic ends up in the oceans,” said Kate. “When you throw plastic into the landfill it never breaks down. It will break up into smaller pieces but it never breaks down. Water comes by and can wash it into the oceans, then fish eat them, then we eat the fish.”
The Latos asked themselves what could be made from plastic that wouldn’t end up in the landfill and would have a long life span? Soon after they were driving through a neighbourhood in Calgary.
“It was yard after yard of vinyl fences,” said Kate. “So we thought, what about a fence?”
She did a bit of research and quickly found there were no companies who sold 100% recycled fence that looks and installs exactly like vinyl. As if almost by fate, Kate saw an ad for the upcoming Innovation Challenge and together they decided to enter.
The first round of the competition asked teams to submit a one page business proposal stating why the world needed their product.
“Our pitch in the first round was focused on how ecofriendly our product is. Most plastic containers end up in a landfill within a year of production, so our pitch was that we were going to turn recycled plastic into long lasting products so it didn’t end up in the landfill,” explained Kate.
Out of hundreds of entrees from as far away as Hong Kong, the Latos’ made it to the second round they were asked to write a 55 page business proposal covering everything from what the business did all the way to technical aspects such as competitive market analysis and how it would be marketed.
“They picked us from those top six teams in the second round to be in the top three for the finals,” she said. “From there it was really just like going to pitch at Dragon’s Den.”
Latos said she believes the team’s idea was selected because they weren’t striving to create a market as the other two ideas were.
“We were capitalizing on the fact that people are always having to replace their fences and decks in addition to the fact that people love environmentally friendly products,” said Latos. “We aren’t going to have a large overhead, we have a strong marketing team behind us and it will be a relatively simple process to go from laying the business out in our proposal to implementing it.”
She explained that from her husband’s course, she has learned how plastic is a very valuable source of heat, power and energy that people toss into the landfill without thinking.
“Every piece of plastic that gets thrown into the landfill is a piece of plastic we’ll never get back. If we can turn around and save that and make something else from it, then we can make sure the sources of oil we do have are best utilized,” said Kate.