Pioneer | Hungary (2017)
Start-up, New skills, Waste reduction
István Kertész is a Food Engineer at Szent István University in Budapest, Hungary. He joined the Pioneers programme to broaden his experience beyond his academic learning and to have the opportunity to work abroad on a placement.
When given the choice of working on a group project related to either food or clothing, István decided on a topic he had not previously worked on and chose the clothing challenge. He was encouraged to try something new by the Pioneer trainers.
The challenge was set by Old Blue – a Hungarian social business looking to recycle denim from jeans. The production of jeans is environmentally damaging with 10m3 of water used for every pair and one billion new pairs of jeans produced every year. Added to this, between 30-50% of used denim is not recycled which presented the challenge the group worked on. This included removing metal parts such as rivets and zips, and addressing the difficulty in breaking denim down into threads. István did his placement in Valencia with another Pioneer from his group project, Emese Nánási, and discovered that there was a denim recycling factory in the city. Emese visited the factory which reinforced the problem – no-one had yet solved these issues globally and that the lifecycle of denim clothing is too short.
Previous attempts have focussed on using acid to soften the denim but István brought his food science expertise and developed an approach based on using enzymes that can convert the cotton into glucose. His group is researching the scientific application of using enzymes as well as considering how to deal with the waste products, such as the dyes.
The presentation of the group’s findings to the challenge owner showed that they had discovered a very interesting approach that needed further research. The group decided to create a start-up to test their ideas and were awarded €2,500 through Climate-KIC’s Greenhouse pre-incubation programme. This also involved them working with marketing students to develop a new business model.
“I needed to increase my working network and the Pioneers programme gave me the opportunity to meet so many people in an international setting.”
István stated that he learnt new teaching methods through the Pioneers workshops, such as group learning and open facilitation. He felt he could use these methods at his university and received a scholarship from the ÚNKP-18-3-III-SZIE-1 New National Excellence Programme of the Ministry of Human Capacities to deliver this. He enjoyed how the Pioneers programme brought different people together who could offer an array of different skills and experiences to help work differently and solve problems to industry challenges.
István enjoyed being treated as one of the team at the workshops in Hungary and felt it gave him a new perspective on working cultures beyond his academic working experience.
István and his start-up colleagues are testing their approach to identify the most effective ways of using enzymes and expect to launch fully in 2020. They have a funding partner to allow them to increase the scale of testing. When launched, they will continue to work with Old Blue and other denim recyclers to bring about a huge increase in the recycling of denim globally.