L-R: Mauro Manzi, Coast Capital; Ranah Chavoshi, PhyCo Technologies; Dr. Joy Johnson, SFU. Photo Credit: Kevin Pilar Photography

Coast Capital Venture Prize winner creates seaweed solution to ocean plastics

April 20, 2023

A company co-founded by an SFU biology graduate student and partnering with local Indigenous communities to develop bio-based plastic from seaweed—a product capable of breaking down in home compost in just four weeks—is the top winner of SFU’s 12th annual Coast Capital Venture Prize competition. PhyCo Technologies will use a $10,000 cash award to further develop its product.

PhyCo founders, SFU’s Ranah Chavoshi and Dr. Stacey Goldberg of the University of PEI, are using microbial degradation technology to reduce dependency on unsustainable petroleum-derived plastics and move towards a circular economy. 

Chavoshi’s work with bioplastics has already been recognized on an international level, having taken first place in the 2022 Ocean Wise Innovator Lab, a global project-based competition that spotlights youth-led innovation focusing on ocean health. 

The mentorship she received together with her background in aquatic toxicology and pollination ecology—and concerns for ocean health—helped her conceptualize a bio-based seaweed-bioplastic product. Both Chavoshi and Goldberg are alumni of the national Mitacs Invention to Innovation (i2I) Skills Training program at SFU which trains scientists on the entrepreneurial mindset to help them commercialize their inventions.

The top prize earnings plus accounting and legal services will support PhyCo’s next steps.

“Currently we are developing a pilot trial to determine if the invasive Japanese seaweed can be utilized to develop a bio-based plastic material,” says Chavoshi, who also did her undergraduate degree at SFU. “If we can demonstrate our process, then we can utilize free source material, restore ecosystems and create a beneficial product for the environment and local communities.”

Coast Capital Venture Prize is SFU’s largest entrepreneurship competition open to the university community. This year’s competitors represented students, staff, faculty members and recent alumni from seven of SFU's eight faculties.

The annual event has grown to include a top venture, prize and awards for science-based, tech-based, social impact, alumni founded and idea-stage ventures, to encourage and celebrate the diversity of entrepreneurial activity at SFU. 

Teams are provided workshop and mentoring opportunities, and 36 volunteer judges from industry participated in several pitch events to pick the competition winners, who now share a pool of cash and in-kind prizes valued at $65K. 

Sarah Lubik, SFU's Director of Entrepreneurship, with the Pondr team.

Pondr, a browser bookmark management platform startup founded by communication student Kenneth Tung and computing science student Kenny Bui, won the Top Idea Prize. The platform allows users to easily manage their browsing and schedule by organizing tabs and setting automated reminders to revisit them. 

"Until now, all our demand and support has been from word-of-mouth and tons of networking,” says the Pondr team. “Our mission is to become a must-have tool for everyone's browsing experience.” The team intends to apply the $5,000 prize towards marketing campaigns, web hosting and AI costs.

“SFU Innovates is proud to be a platinum sponsor of Coast Capital Venture Prize,” says Dr. Elicia Maine, Associate Vice-President, Knowledge Mobilization & Innovation, Simon Fraser University. “Venture Prize represents and supports the whole spectrum of entrepreneurship, innovation and changemaking that happens at SFU across all disciplines. Coast Capital Venture Connection plays a pivotal role in the thriving SFU Innovates ecosystem, bridging curricular and extra-curricular entrepreneurship and innovation programs, and collaborating with the many players required to unleash innovation at SFU, including 4D Labs, VentureLabs, i2I and the Technology Licensing Office.  Congratulations to all the finalists and thank you to our many volunteer judges and mentors.”

Since 2008, Coast Capital has been a key partner with Venture Connection in fostering entrepreneurship and innovation at SFU, and title sponsor since 2012 for the Venture Prize competition. 

The awards were announced April 18, 2023 at a ceremony hosted at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP with 100 attendees, and with presenters and speakers representing partners and supporters from throughout the SFU community, including SFU President and Vice-Chancellor Joy Johnson and Mauro Manzi, Chief Commercial, Wealth and Retail Officer at Coast Capital.


Top Venture Prize: PhyCo Technologies Inc

Top Idea Prize: Pondr 

Digital Platforms Category Prize: buskr 

Digital Services Category Prize: SISA Energy 

Research & Development Category Prize: Edee Care Inc

SFU Alumni Founder Award: Hanieh Zahiremami of Edee Care Inc. 

Social Impact Award: Fingerprint Technologies Corp. 

* Please visit our Winners page for more information on each of the winning companies.

About Coast Capital Venture Connection

Coast Capital Venture Connection incubator has been providing support for university ventures and founders since 2008, from initial idea to business validation. This SFU Charles Chang Institute for Entrepreneurship signature program has supported more than 20,000 individuals from the SFU community including students, staff, faculty and recent alumni, and has provided startup services to more than 275 early ventures.   

Coast Capital Venture Prize is in its 12th year of celebrating SFU entrepreneurs, over which time it has awarded over $500K in cash and in-kind prizes to local startups, including Spexi GeoSpatial, Moment Energy, Ionomr, Zennea Tech, ODEN Health, MetaOptima, Mala the Brand and Employ to Empower.