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- Susan Rockefeller
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Spotlight On:

Solvify

What's the Story?

After experiencing a severe drought firsthand in his village, Pakistani teen Hasham Tanveer set out on a mission to end water scarcity and hunger around the globe. With the help of a polymer chemist, he spent two years developing Solvify, a super-absorbent nano-powder that can retain mass quantities of water that gets slowly released to the roots of plants/crops.

How are they different?

Solvify is made from recycled polymer waste which has the potential to prevent millions of tons of waste from entering our oceans. When applied to soil, it reduces the need for water by 70% and fertilizer by 50%, and increases crop yield by 20%. And as the super-absorbent particle biodegrades, it releases potassium ions that act as fertilizing agents for the plants.

What inspires us?

Solvify is conducting innovative, groundbreaking work that could help change the agriculture industry as well as the alarming rate of starvation and malnutrition in the world. It has the potential to make land threatened with desertification fertile again.

Q&A

Hasham Tanveer

Co-Founder, Solvify

When Hasham Tanveer’s village in Lahore, Pakistan experienced severe water shortage in 2015, he began to consider the challenges 2.2 billion people with chronic water shortages face every day. That same year, other regions of the country experienced famine leading to the loss of thousands of lives. Tanveer wanted to help and being a teenager in high school did not deter him. He teamed up with a polymer chemist and together they spent the next two years developing Solvify—a super-absorbent particle that can retain water up to 1,000 times its own weight. Made from non-hazardous and biodegradable waste material, Solvify can be applied to soil, reducing the need for water by seventy percent and the need for often-toxic fertilizer by fifty percent. Plus, it increases crop yield by twenty percent. His work won the prestigious Diamond Challenge sponsored by the University of Delaware and he used his winnings to bring Solvify to 200 farmers and their families. Tanveer is also one of We Are Family Foundation’s 2019 Three Dot Dash Global Teen Leaders.

What was the process like when developing Solvify? Did you face many obstacles?

The process itself was very iterative. We barely had any idea of the scope of improvements we would need to make to our initial prototypes to get it to work. Initially, we were pushing only certain qualities of the polymer, and it was not until we first field tested it that we realized the prototype we had made was not suitable for farming at all. It took a long time after that to get to where we are right now, especially because of the wait we had to go through for testing each prototype on the field and gathering data. I believe we have been through the trouble that is expected from undertaking such a project, if not more, and while our current prototype is quite well suited for farming, we are still trying to improve our product before we file for a full patent. There are more hardships waiting for us on the R&D road for this project.

Were you clear from the get-go on what you hoped to accomplish or was it more of an organic unfolding?

We were pretty clear that we would be working with hydrogels from the get-go, however, a lot of what we had to integrate into our product was after the testing and data collection. We were not experts on agriculture and to develop this for Pakistani agriculture, we had to go back and change a lot, scrap many ideas we initially had, and brainstorm more to tackle the newer problems that arose. So it was, in a way, a set goal, but reaching it was a very organically unfolding process.

Did you (or others) ever think you were too young to take on such a crucial project?

Back when I first decided to work on this project, I was in high school and to be honest, I was very intimidated. There was a feeling of anxiousness in finally taking the steps to start doing something that mattered to me; that I’d been thinking of doing for quite some time. The people who wound up being part of the team were really supportive and it gave me the courage to start doing the work that was needed. After we had done initial prototyping and people got to know about what we were doing, we realized some people were skeptical of high school students working to tackle such a major issue. But it all disappeared as soon as we had our working prototypes—the proof behind our hard work.

How does Solvify actually work? How long does it keep the soil watered before a new application is needed?

The polymer is loaded with water beforehand. It is a very light-weight polymer and we plan on selling it in bags just like fertilizer. For application on soil, the dried polymer is spread and mixed with the soil. When that field is then watered, the polymers inside the soil soak up the water and that is how the polymer is loaded. The source of this water can be anything from rain to an irrigation system. We have brought down the life of the polymer to around 6 months, which is roughly one cultivation cycle for a crop. The polymer is almost completely biodegraded by the time of harvesting, so its presence in the soil does not interfere with the machinery used during the harvest. New application is required at the start of the cultivation cycle of a crop.

Why does Solvify lessen the need for fertilizer?

A major reason a lot of fertilizer is wasted is because when it dissolves in water, ammonia escapes as the solution stands on the field idle under the environment and that solution leaches down into the ground as well. Solvify locks the water-fertilizer solution into the polymer, stopping the evaporation of ammonia and leaching of the water into the ground. Furthermore, as Solvify biodegrades, it releases potassium ions into the soil which act as fertilizing agents for the plants.

How many farmers now have access to this product? And what sort of results are they experiencing?

Almost 200 farmer families have access to Solvify and they are helping us get the pilot project done. So far, the results have been great yet there is a slight deviation from our expectations which is helping us to optimize the product.

How did you pick your team? At the moment, it’s all men. Do you plan to include women in the future?

It was not a deliberate choice to have only men on the team. It was just how things unfolded. And of course, picking people for our team is a purely meritocratic process and as we plan to expand the startup, we will surely expand our team and hopefully you will see more diversity down the road.

Are there any downsides to Solvify? Or any aspects you haven’t yet mastered?

We spent a lot of time making sure we overcame every downside we came across during the development process. However new problems might arise when the product is tested in drastically different conditions across the country. This is why we are still trying to determine any such shortcomings and are calling our current product a prototype. We plan on collecting more data before a launch and making our product as perfect as possible.

Solvify is made from recycled polymer waste which has the potential to prevent millions of tons of waste from landing in our oceans. How do you gather the source materials?

Any type of natural waste with suitable polymer can be used as a raw material to develop Solvify. We also need some synthetic chemicals to carry out the manufacturing process, but at the end, the waste being used is saved from getting into the landfills and oceans.

What do you see as the future of our food supply chain?

We need to understand that the main issue with hunger around the world is not shortage of food around the world, but shortage of food in the areas where food insecurity exists. We need to empower every nation around the globe to grow their own food and as long as we do not accomplish that, food insecurity will remain an issue. With the changes caused by global warming, I believe more people need to step up with innovative solutions to empower LDCs (Least Developed Countries) to become climate resistant in terms of agriculture and growing their own food.

Are you developing other products at this time?

There are certainly other projects planned in the pipeline, but being full-time students makes things hectic and the processes tend to slow down. We are keeping most of our focus on Solvify right now.

Do you feel optimistic about a healthy future for our planet?

I do. I think humans have come a long way so far and I have faith that we will fix this mess we have made of our planet. We can already see people making solid efforts with technology to reverse the damage done. We will manage to fix our planet. It might take decades, but we will get there.

Any advice for other teens with big ideas?

Start making it real. Ideas will not matter until you can make them tangible. Our startup culture is gaining momentum and I think this is a great time to get involved with like-minded people and to turn your ideas into solutions and products. There are people out there willing to work with teens, empowering them with their networks and technical expertise. Just set your mind to it and start working.

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Spotlight On:

Pleni Naturals

What's the Story?

After having her first child, former aesthetician Allyson Owens set out to find the cleanest baby care products she could, but everything she found had the same ubiquitous list of ingredients. She channeled her skin care roots and passion for nutrition to found Pleni Naturals, a line of products for adults and kids that begins with fruits and vegetables.

How are they different?

Most organic products, especially baby care, feature an echoing blend of herbal plants like lavender and chamomile. Pleni Naturals celebrates vegetables in a way that kids don’t often see in their bathing routine (think Berry + Olive Baby Balm and Apple + Broccoli Hair and Body Wash). For adults, the multifunctional products like the papaya-based Enzyme Cleansing Oil mean greater value for less.

What inspires us?

Pleni keeps the conversation going about the importance of nutrition and donates 1% of profits to Life Lab’s garden-based education programs.

Q&A

Allyson Owens

Founder, Pleni Naturals

When Pleni Naturals founder Allyson Owens, a former aesthetician, had her first child, she began researching toxin-free baby care products, and found that they all had similar ingredient combinations of lavender, calendula and chamomile. She wanted to bring something different to the table. Utilizing 18 years experience in skin care and a passion for nutrition, Owens created Pleni Naturals, a Made Safe-certified beauty brand for adults and kids that focuses on fruit and vegetables for its main ingredients. The products are not only gentle on sensitive skin, but they’re bursting with nourishment from broccoli, papaya, cucumbers, raspberries and more. Pleni Naturals feeds our largest organ while promoting nutritional education as it donates 1% of profits to Life Lab, an award-winning, garden-based education program founded in 1979.

What inspired Pleni Naturals? How did it all begin?

The idea for Pleni Naturals came to me when I was a skin care product development consultant. The year was 2010, I had a small baby girl at home and when I was researching baby care products for her I realized all of the available products in the clean skin care space contained some sort of combination of lavender, calendula and chamomile ingredients. Don’t get me wrong; I absolutely love these ingredients, but every baby care brand was using them! I decided it was time for someone to do something different, so I pulled my knowledge and experience from product development and aesthetician work, and decided that my brand would focus on highly-functional, premium fruit and vegetable ingredients, like what we used when formulating in the prestige space. Plus, it’s FOOD—something we can all connect with. Everyone wants healthy food for their bodies and we are making sure that it’s available for the skin, which we believe should be fed the same nutrition that gets consumed for our inner organs.

How much fruit and vegetables are actually in your products?

As much as possible! Fruit and vegetables are powerful skin care ingredients and we’ve been having fun exploring them. In future formulations, we will consider other superfoods as well, but fruit and vegetables will always be our main focus.

Your packaging is so playful; children must love it! How have they been reacting to it?

The kids really love it! We created labels for the children’s products with colorful, silly fruit and veggie characters because we knew this is what kids want to see and something they can connect with. I hear from parents that their children are fighting over who gets to hold the oil with the silly grape and cucumber. Another mom told me her son yells, “Mom! Where is my broccoli wash?!” This is what it is all about—connecting us to the healthy foods we eat every day. Exposure to healthy foods outside of the kitchen definitely deepens that connection. This goes for adults too. We lead such busy lives, so it’s important to have these little pings of reminders to be mindful of what we’re eating.

Pleni has partnered with Life Lab. Can you tell us about them and the work you do together?

We decided to partner with Life Lab as we wanted to work with a nonprofit that is in alignment with what we are doing at Pleni Naturals that extends beyond skin care. Our mission is to inspire a deeper connection with healthy foods via our nutritious fruit- and veggie-filled products and inspiring packaging. Life Lab connects children to healthy foods through their garden-based learning programs. It has been around since 1979 and is the first garden education program in the US. Educators across the globe come to Life Lab’s education center in Santa Cruz, CA to learn how to implement “edible education” into their school curriculum. We donate 1% of our profits to Life Lab because every school should have access to a thriving classroom garden.

You now have an Enzyme Cleansing Oil for adults. How did that come about?

As a former aesthetician, I always told my clients that a great skin care routine starts with a good, deep cleanse. There is a misconception that what we wash our face with doesn’t really matter because you rinse it off, but that is simply not true. Our Enyzme Cleansing Oil is a 2-in-1 product, so if you leave the oil on dry skin for up to 10 minutes it doubles as an exfoliation mask due to the enzymatic papaya in the formula. Your skin will never feel more soft and clean than when using a cleansing oil. It acts like a magnet, lifting up all the dirt and debris on the skin much better than any water-based cleanser can do, and it doesn’t strip your skin of its natural, beneficial oils. Also, treatment products won’t penetrate through dirt, debris and dead skin cells, so we need to make sure to start our skin care routine with an effective deep cleanse and exfoliator—a clean canvas better absorbs the products in your routine.

Do you have a garden at your home in Colorado?

We moved here less than 2 years ago, so we don’t have a thriving edible garden yet, but our goal is to have raised garden beds installed so we can grow lots of fruit and veggies next summer. We plan to grow carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, a variety of lettuce, and more. Currently, we have a plum tree in our yard, which we share with the squirrels and heaps of lemon balm that we use to make tea and salves. We also planted a bee and butterfly habitat right after we moved in, and an herb garden, which is so easy to maintain. Before we moved to Colorado, we lived in California for 14 years where we grew blueberries, red raspberries, strawberries and tomatoes in pots on the back deck of our condo!

In addition to your cleansing oil, how do you care for your skin?

Sleep is #1. Get plenty of sleep. Drink lots of water. Scrape your tongue every morning. Have a humidifier in your home to keep moisture on your skin, especially during winter. Wear sunscreen every day, but also make sure you spend time outside in the sunlight as our bodies need vitamin D. The aesthetician in me will tell you: don’t pick your skin! We all get bumps sometimes, but when you pick at them, you can create scarring and pigmentation, which takes longer to heal than what you started with. If you can’t leave a bump alone, visit an aesthetician.

Do you plan to introduce more products? What might the future hold for Pleni?

Yes! We have several products for adults in the pipeline. All of them will be multifunctional so you get more bang for your buck and of course, will have a focus of fruit and veggies. For the adult line, we will address common skin concerns such as sensitivity, acne, pigmentation, anti-aging and more. The most important focus is balance—a balanced skin is a happy, healthy skin that produces less wrinkles, acne, pigmentation and sensitivity.

In addition to using safe products, how else can we encourage vibrant health?

I am going to say it again—SLEEP! Stop staying up late looking at screens. We are not meant to be exposed to all of that blue light after dark. Find your breath—I highly recommend meditation to help with this, to clear your mind and lessen anxiety. Take your shoes off at the door—they carry a lot of toxins into the house. Eat lots of fruit and veggies!

Any advice for others entering the clean beauty world as both consumers and producers?

For the producers: Be a brand that is part of the solution, not the problem. And back up your claims! For consumers: Our purchasing decisions have such an impact on how products are made. Be mindful of supporting brands that are doing better for us and our ecosystems.

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xoxo,
Susan Rockefeller