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My first 250 days as an entrepreneur

September 19, 2019 By: Barry Chong

This post is also available in: Français (French)

I’ve often felt pulled in opposite directions. When finishing high school, I felt torn between studying music and engineering; and when planning where I would settle down, I fought between living in the bustle of downtown Toronto and disappearing into the spindly wilderness of northern Ontario. These are easy examples.

In my work, this habit of being in two cognitive places at the same time manifests itself through my passion for environmentalism and my understanding of big industry. My PhD research in solar fuels spanned this divide. I looked into how common industrial petrochemicals might be sourced from waste GHGs rather than fossil feedstocks. And better yet, how these reactions might be driven by sunlight rather than fossil-fuel derived heat, as has been the standard since the industrial revolution.

Having been part of academia for most of my adult life, entrepreneurship has led me to explore the perceived tension between socially-impactful projects and the hard realities of economics. My goal is to make Solistra both a humanitarian and public-service chemical engineering enterprise, working on one-off projects to make communities more sustainable.

Cleantech is a challenging sector, and getting into the commodities market equally so. To clean up our atmosphere and mitigate the effects of climate change, we may need to start viewing our chemical infrastructure the way we view our public infrastructure. If products and processes in the chemical engineering world are so vital to our everyday lives, should their operation be seen as a public service, similar to a utility? And while taxing emissions from private corporations is one mechanism to encourage the adoption of GHG conversion tech like Solistra’s, could we also one day come to see our atmosphere as public property to be cleaned like parks or wastewater treatment?

These are difficult questions. And that’s what I’m learning through the Women in Cleantech Challenge — that balance is essential to the brand of entrepreneurship I want to pursue.

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Alexandra Tavasoli