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This article was published 5/8/2020 (364 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Alec Massé and Julien Koga don’t mind getting their feet wet.
Massé, who lives in St. Vital, and Koga, a St. Boniface resident, are finalists in the 2020 Lake Winnipeg AquaHacking Challenge, which is being hosted by International Institute for Sustainable Development.
The pair, whose team name is Typha Co., is one of the five top teams that will present their pitches to a panel of expert judges in mid-October. Massé recently graduated from the University of Manitoba, while Koga has one year remaining.
According to the institute’s website, the challenge is a startup competition designed to support technology and business development addressing environmental problems related to freshwater. The challenge has involved students and young professionals teaming up and developing solutions to problems plaguing the Lake Winnipeg watershed, including algae blooms, pharmaceuticals, and microplastics.
With guidance and support from expert mentors, the teams are competing to win $50,000 in cash prizes and incubator space.
"We’ve had access to a network of mentors from fields ranging from science, media, and law," Koga, 23, said. "We’re fortunate to be in this situation, and each team has come up with a unique solution."
Koga said the overarching goal of the company is to reduce pollution in Lake Winnipeg, which is suffering from eutrophication, and to simultaneously reduce Canadian’s dependence on single-use petroleum based products.
According to U.S. National Ocean Service’s website, eutrophication is characterized by harmful algae blooms, dead zones and fish kills that occur "when the environment becomes enriched with nutrients, increasing the amount of plant and algae growth to estuaries and coastal waters."
Koga said the problem has been a concern in the scientific community for some time, despite the issue coming into the public eye more recently.
While not wanting to give too much away about their project at this stage, Koga said the company’s intention is to develop eco-packaging products that will compete economically with plastics and maintain a high standard of environmental responsibility.
"We’re trying to develop economic demand for a wetland plant because it’s harvest is paramount to reducing nutrient-loading in fresh water lakes," Koga said, noting the importance of eradicating the effect of neurotoxins in the watershed habitat.
"We’re proud of our lake, and it’s important that we help preserve it for future generations."
Go online at iisd.org for more information.
The Lance community journalist
Simon Fuller is the community journalist for The Lance. Canstar’s senior reporter, he joined the team in June 2009 to write for The Sou’wester, which was then the new paper in the Canstar family.