Shervin Dehmoubed, a 19-year-old Yale College student studying economics, started his first company when he was 15, selling children’s toys. It happened to coincide with the Fidget Spinner craze so it did well. That gave him capital and experience to launch a pickleball clothing and accessory line.
But something didn’t sit right with him as his business grew. That something was the packaging —plastic bags the company was using to ship purchases that would then be thrown away.
“I was packaging and shipping products in a conventional plastic mailer. And I just turned to my dad because we were shipping out hundreds of packages every day and I said, ‘There has to be a better way,’” says Dehmoubed.
This led to a whole new startup, EcoPackables, which sells compostable mailers made from corn starch and PBAT, a bio-based polymer. The company’s pitch at Startup Yale 2021 earned it the Yale Center for Business and Environment’s (CBEY) Sabin Sustainable Venture Prize, as well as the first-ever Yale Innovators’ Prize.
The San Diego-based company’s mission is to eliminate the use of virgin paper and plastics in packaging. Its mailer biodegrades fully in less than 180 days.
“I’ve always been environmentally conscious,” says Dehmoubed, who was born in Canada and grew up in Spain before moving to California with his parents. “In Spain, we lived right by the beach and I would walk around picking up litter and throwing it out.”
Noncompostable plastics make up more than one-third of all waste found in landfills. As e-commerce continues to grow, a transition away from plastic packaging is necessary, Dehmoubed notes on his company’s website.
Dehmoubed says he’ll use the money from the prize towards marketing, research and development, focusing on the most energy efficient methods for producing the mailers.
Dehmoubed’s company was part of the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale’s (CITY) Fall 2020 Launch Pad Accelerator Team. Ben Soltoff ’19 MEM/MBA, environmental innovation manager for CBEY, says the innovation winners this year provided inspirational ideas.
“A common theme among this year’s finalists was addressing impacts that aren’t immediately visible: the process of growing plants, the materials used in buildings, the supply chain of superfoods, and the lifespan of product packaging,” he says. “The finalists saw these complex challenges in a way that no one else did, and then they developed meaningful solutions for them. That’s what innovation is all about.”
A total of $125,000 was awarded during Startup Yale, which was held April 29-May 1.
The audience choice award went to Shoots, a startup headed by Yale College student Kevin Gallagher and Graeme Berlyn, E. H. Harriman Professor of Forest Management and Physiology of Trees at the Yale School of the Environment, which seeks to help farmers grow more crops on less land with a nonfertilizer biostimulant. A byproduct of biotechnical research, biostimulants were invented by Berlyn in the 1980s. Also referred to as plant growth enhancers, biostimulants work by targeting key metabolic and antioxidant processes so that plants can achieve their full genetic growth capacity.
The Shoots biostimulant increases yields by 200% and decreases required fertilizers by 50-100%
“Our goal is to not only increase food production but also align the economic and environmental incentives of farmers so that they adopt sustainable land management practices to sequester carbon in the soil,’’ he says. “It was a privilege to be a part of StartUp Yale, and we are humbled by the Sabin Audience Favorite Prize.
A full list of winners can be viewed on the Tsai CITY website.