The chemical engineer is the brain behind Bolsolution, a novel response to the problems of plastic pollution and food waste. Behind the successes of this entrepreneur, there is a life of effort, which was early valued by the UC, which supported her with the Talent & Inclusion program and the Leading the Way Scholarship, that is awarded by Friends UC, among others. «That there are people who have put money for scholarships is extremely relevant», she says.
Bolsolution is an ecological bag made from natural biopolymers, whose bioactive compounds keep food fresh for longer; the product is also compostable and biodegradable. Behind this idea, which won the Santander X Award Chile 2021 competition in the Launch category, is Javiera Riveros, a young chemical civil engineer from Universidad Católica.
Javiera lives in Macul with her parents and two siblings. The middle daughter of an artisan specialized in chess boards and an accountant, she has always been clear about the importance of study and effort in life: «I was very diligent for my things, I had the experience of my sister as an example and a lot of advice from my parents that things were difficult for someone with our economic situation and the school we were in, which honestly was not the best, so they repeated that we needed good grades so that the NEM (Notas de Enseñanza Media or highschool GPA) weighting would raise our PSU (Prueba de Selección Universitaria or University Selection Test) score».
The Talent & Inclusion program of the Catholic University marked a first big turning point for her. This initiative is an alternative way to being admitted to UC that is aimed at academically outstanding students who come from municipal, private subsidized or delegated administration educational establishments, and that considers extraordinary quotas in all undergraduate careers. Javiera applied and was accepted, so she entered Engineering even though her score was about 30 points below the cut-off for that year (2015).
Talento & Inclusión also provides financial support. Thanks to this and to a state scholarship for academic excellence, Javiera was able to focus fully on her studies. The departure was complex: «The gap was quite a shock, and my first two years were very, very hard for me. I realized that the study method I had used during high school was not the right one, and I had a hard time with this transition. I studied a lot, a lot; we with my friends from Talent & Inclusion, who had the same profile of hard-working, of having to study because we had to support ourselves in the university, we would leave class and study until late; we would leave the university at 9-10 at night and I noticed that I would study and study and get very bad grades, and that was frustrating at a certain period». Again, this program helped him, as a counselor helped her to perfect her strategies. This, plus the encouragement of starting her major, Chemical Engineering, helped Javiera to sort out the scenario and begin a new and stimulating stage in her life.
A dream come trueFreed from that stress, Javiera began to focus on other subjects that interested her, such as sports – she tried out for the UC Futsal team and is a starter in the Engineering Soccer team – and perfecting her English. The young woman says that in high school she had a hard time with this subject; at the same time, she recognized the importance of mastering this language. For this reason, she decided to apply for the Leading the Way Program & Scholarships, carried out by English UC and which culminates with a scholarship to take a study trip to Drexel University, in Philadelphia; the latter is possible thanks to Friends UC. The scholarship is applied for at the end of the program, as there are not enough places for everyone. Javiera again had to use her resilience, because although she took the course, she was not selected. She decided to try again the following year, even if she had to attend classes again every Friday. With more confidence, she went to the interview that would determine whether or not she would get the precious trip. She also took the «germ» of the initiative that has kept her busy for the last three years, and about which she explained with a more than correct English and a determined attitude, which surely contributed to her obtaining the scholarship. Thus, in January 2020 she left the country to spend five weeks in Philadelphia, learning not only English, but also sharing with people from all over the world.
Her return also came with news. During the second semester of 2019 she was doing undergraduate research of a bibliographic nature under the guidance of the current dean of the Faculty of Engineering, Loreto Valenzuela, and, specifically, of FishExtend, a platform of which the academic is founder and which is dedicated to promoting storage and shelf-life extension technologies for food. Javiera wanted to address two issues: the pollution caused by plastic, on the one hand, and also the enormous global food waste. At the end of the term, Dean Valenzuela asked Javiera what her perspectives for the project were. «I told the professor that there is a lot of research that is done in a university that remains just that, but I want to solve these problems, and therefore I want to develop it further and finally be an effective replacement for plastic bags used to store food. I had also seen that the professor already had a company, so it was a perfect fit (…) She told me that it was excellent, and that, if I didn’t say so, she would propose it to me, and we started developing the project». That was the birth of Bolsolution.
Research put into practice
Javiera then began the path of entrepreneurship. Together with student Cristóbal Concha, doctoral student Johanna Fiallos and Fishextend academics, she first made a prototype. A collaboration with Universidad de Santiago allowed her to carry out the mechanical tests at no cost, but for the permeability tests she needed resources. This is how they won the «Apply your idea» contest, from the COPEC UC Foundation; Santander X Awards – where they won second place at the national level – and finally a Corfo. Then she found out about another Santander contest, called Explorer X, which consisted of three months of intensive training in entrepreneurship. They did well: Bolsolution was selected as one of the 5 Chilean projects that would travel to Europe to the Innovation Congress, which took place in the middle of this year. So Javiera left first to Madrid and then to Oporto, Portugal, where, showing off her English, she rubbed shoulders with young entrepreneurs, inventors and mentors from all over the world. Not only that: the project was chosen among the 11 best among the more than 100 that participated, so it will be part of a Babson College program that will help her to continue climbing her dream.
Now Javiera is looking for funding to jump to the industrial phase: «My two main focuses are to be able to develop this product, finish it, and improve as a professional in the world of entrepreneurship. I imagine myself being the CEO of a technological company with products that help the planet, that are sustainable and technological at the same time; that I can apply engineering and chemistry to these projects and that I can lead a company of this style, initiatives that make a difference at a global level». To achieve the goal of commercializing Bolsolution, Javiera is constantly attending business rounds and presenting herself to potential investors, an experience where her resilience has once again been very useful: «It takes a lot of effort, a lot of work, a lot of perseverance, because there have been many companies I have talked to that have told us ‘no, we are not interested in your project’, or ‘yes, I am interested, I will contact you’ and finally they don’t do it. There are several closed doors, but we must also take advantage of the open ones. You have to keep persisting, you don’t have to give up if you believe that your idea has the scope to reach the market and influence the industry.
Before continuing on her way, Javiera looks back and remembers her alma mater and the Talent & Inclusion and Leading the Way programs, and how they changed her life. «This would not have been possible if I had not had the Talent & Inclusion scholarship,» she says. In the same way, she assures that in the future he would like to follow the example of the members of Friends UC and become a donor of the Catholic University: «That there are people who have put money for these scholarships is extremely relevant, and I, when I am in a more sustainable economic situation, I am going to do the same for other types of people. I would like to support the Leading the Way Program or Talent & Inclusion so that people like me, of limited resources, who have had a low socioeconomic level, who have had difficulties to be able to study, can finally achieve it and can develop beyond that».