Sponge co-founder Pinar Guvenc spoke to ClimateLaunchpad about her technology, working as an entrepreneur, and making an impact.
Sponge absorbs contaminants safely
Bathing suits don’t usually come to mind when you imagine cleaning up a toxic oil spill. But Pinar Guvenc and colleagues at the Turkish startup Sponge, are working on technology that could be used in bathing suits (they already have a working prototype). It can also be used on large scale oil-spill cleanups, capturing thousands of gallons of toxic sludge that would otherwise dissipate into the oceans and atmosphere.
Sponge has licensed a unique material that absorbs pollutants and isolates them in a super-cleaning fabric. It traps water pollution so well, that it can safely be worn as a piece of swimwear. When the material is saturated, you it can be heated, cleaned and re-used. The core technology is a material derived from ordinary table sugar. It is aptly called ‘sponge’ because it absorbs oil and industrial residue. The material could become an important tool in the fight to clean up the world’s oceans.
Sponge has been experimenting with swimwear that contains pads of sponge which clean the ocean as the wearer swims and enjoys a day at the beach. The material absorbs several times its weight in ocean pollution so the wearer knows they are doing good for the environment. The same material, scaled up, can be made into very large mats to keep precious ocean resources free of leaked oil from industrial oil spills the world over.
Guvenc is determined to make a mark on several industries. There is no shortage of ideas for applications of the material. These include architecture, aerospace, consumer goods, and industrial solutions.
Entrepreneurship is a “genetic defect”
Guvenc laughs when asked what drew her to entrepreneurship, “It must be a genetic defect.” She then she says with all seriousness,
“I enjoy making new things, using my creativity, working with ideas that impact real life. Sustainability is not a choice, it’s not a luxury, it’s a must…the only way we will have a future in this world.”
Never give up!
When asked what advice she has for other women interested in entrepreneurship and cleantech she replies,
“Never give up! You have one life. Be dedicated. If you work hard enough and persist, you will make a difference. None of this is easy…you must be strong.”
Like Sponge, the flexible material that can be a fiber, a powder, a composite or a textile, Guvenc exudes the confidence that she and her colleagues have the creativity, spirit and drive to make their mark on the future of sustainability.
Succeeding at business and at sustainability
While sustainability is clearly a priority for the team at Sponge, Guvenc seems equally dedicated to entrepreneurship. She says they matter equally. Personally, she is the business and marketing side of Sponge. While she is comfortable talking about the technology, it’s the impact in the world that seems to really get her excited.
“If you even accomplish something very small…any impact is useful.” She says, referring to part of what encouraged her to pursue the Climate Launchpad competition.
“It’s great to see so many ideas being turned into solutions globally…bringing ideas to people’s awareness and attention. Meeting many other like minded people has been a great experience…people that want to create positive change!”
In October 2016 she and her team will compete together with ninety other teams in the ClimateLaunchpad European Finals in Estonia. They will be one of three teams from Turkey. Placing in the competition could lead to earning a place in the Climate-KIC Accelerator. The Accelerator will provide mentorship, education, and financial resources to help take Sponge to new markets and new frontiers of sustainability solutions on the global stage.
More about Sponge
Pinar Guvenc, Managing Partner ERAY CARBAJO LLC designers, architects, planners
Co-founders: Prof. Mihri Ozkan, Prof. Cengiz Ozkan, Pinar Guvenc
Tech team: Prof. Mihri Ozkan, Prof. Cengiz Ozkan, Hamed Bay, Daisy Patino, Andrew Patalano, Fabian Villalobos – from University of California Riverside
Design Team: Pinar Guvenc, Inanc Eray, Gonzalo Carbajo, Marco Mattia Cristofori – from Eray/Carbajo
Strategy Team: Pinar Guvenc, Brinda Wiita, Richard McMahon