Six entrepreneurs have been rewarded for conceptualizing or creating exportable products made from volcanic ash.
The big winners in the Barbados Investment and Development Corporation’s (BIDC) Volcanic Ash Product Challenge were Chef Rhea Gilkes and Esthetician Selina Craigg. The duo won the first prize of $5000.00 for their “La Soufriere foot scrub”.
The competition, which is part of BIDC’s Export Barbados campaign, sought to uncover unique and innovative products that could be developed for export or import replacement using ash blown from to Barbados from St. Vincent’s La Soufriere volcano.
Spokesperson for the winning group Rhea Gilkes, said she believed that the La Soufriere foot scrub has the potential to do well locally and in the European market. “I think that in someplace like Europe where they are into organic body products… there would definitely be an appetite for our product.
I believe that once our branding is strong, and we follow up with decent marketing and pop-up opportunities for use, it would be a contender because the beauty market is huge…,” she said.
Rhea, who believes in upcycling and adding value to natural and organic materials, said she approached Selina with the idea of finding a way that the local beauty industry could benefit from the fine dust which littered the island. They settled on a foot scrub. Rhea focused on sanitizing the ash for human skin while Selina created the formula for the scrub using essential oils. They produced samples that have already been utilized by some of Selina’s clients.
“The fineness of the ash is very effective. It’s not hard and rough. It’s actually finer and smoother than sand, and it has grit. It’s like the difference between a rough sand paper and a finer sand paper. When you rub it on your skin, it is a really good exfoliant and of course, volcanic ash has a lot of minerals, like magnesium, which is good for your skin. So we thought the scrub would be a good idea,” Rhea said.
In addition to the prize money, Rhea and Selina will have access to the full suite of BIDC’s export development services.
Taking second place, and winning $2,500, was Kamal Howell who conceptualized a tool called an ash classifier.
The mechanical engineer said he came up with the idea after a colleague complained that while cutting the lawn, the lingering ash on the grass would rise into a massive ash plume and affect neighbours. Kamal immediately started to look at ways the ash could be collected and bagged while using a lawn mower.
“Present day solutions provide a bag collector but it collects both the lawn trimmings and the ash. The concept looked at using a centrifugal separation and the vacuum and vortex system to classify the ash from the trimmings, so that ash would be solely collected in a bag for disposal or use otherwise. So what I presented in the competition was a blade design which would reduce the efficiency of the cutting aspect but increase the ability to suction the ash from the lawn,” he said.
The next step is building the prototype, something he said could be done locally through welding fabrication. “Then we would test the concept, refine it by seeing if we need to make changes to the geometry and arrangement, and continue the process until we get the efficiency we are looking for,” Kamal stated.
Kerrie-Ann Bovell captured the third prize of $1,500. She conceptualized a biodegradable material, called EcoMyco’s Biomaterials, which can be used to replace Styrofoam packaging for commercial products.
Noting that there are presently alternatives on the market, the chemist by profession said she was creating a local version when the island was covered in ash.
“The project was already in the making and then I saw the volcanic ash, so I looked at how it could be used in the product. Then I saw the challenge and I thought it was the perfect springboard to push this project forward.
Styrofoam is non-biodegradable and it is a pollutant to the environment. EcoMyco’s Biomaterials comprises all organic matter, mainly sargassum seaweed, mushrooms, and volcanic ash as a binding agent,” she said, adding that the research and development phase was her next step.
The winners of the social media component of the volcanic ash competition were Dennis Sobers, who created portraits using ash, as well as a shot glass, and Michelle Bowe who created a Barbados shaped pendant from volcanic ash. They both won $500.
Chief Executive Officer of the BIDC, Mark Hill congratulated the winners. “You dared to step outside the box, to step outside your own comfort zone and conceptualize products from a source that has been a national nuisance,” he told them.
Minister of International Business and Industry, Ronald Toppin, also praised the competition’s winners and other entrants. Acknowledging the negative impact of the ash, he said: “Your efforts to turn our challenges into opportunities is laudable. The pursuit of ingenuity, creativity, innovation and the manufacture of well-made products, coupled with a knowledge of standards, intellectual property and international business savvy, can provide a much needed platform to share our legacy of Barbadian pride and industry with the world.”
The Industry Minister also called on more citizens to take part in BIDC’s upcoming Innovate Challenges series, noting that the next round of competition will focus on creating products from the Barbados Aloe Vera plant.