Felix Böck, 29
Founder and CEO
CHOPVALUE MANUFACTURING LTD.
Life Story: Felix Böck, who hails from a tiny alpine village in southern Germany, was headed for a career in carpentry after leaving school in Grade 9 to study the trade. But Rosenheim University of Applied Sciences, near Munich, gave him the chance to earn a degree in wood technology and industrial engineering. While becoming the first member of his family to graduate from university, Böck worked in Ethiopia as head of product development for a startup creating bamboo-based alternatives to wooden building materials. In 2012 he returned to Germany; after he joined an engineering firm connected to the wood industry, UBC recruited him to do a PhD as part of a research collaboration on structural bamboo with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Cambridge.
Böck, who has worked all over the world as a consultant, found it tough to connect his bamboo research to Vancouver. But when he learned that each year in the metropolitan region, as much as 600,000 tonnes of wood that could be reused for construction end up in the landfill, he knew he had to do something. The aha moment came one night over sushi with his girlfriend, who told him to start small. “We had these chopsticks in our hands, and that’s when it clicked,” he remembers.
In mid-2016, Böck launched ChopValue Manufacturing as a side project. ChopValue collects used bamboo chopsticks from local restaurants and transforms them into household items such as shelves, side tables and wall tiles. The Vancouver company has recycled more than 3 million chopsticks and is moving into making building materials, says Böck, who still does the collection himself and plans to defend his PhD this spring. “The most surprising thing is that we are cash-flow-positive after year one.”
The Bottom Line: In February, ChopValue’s recycling program was preparing to scale up to 300 Metro Vancouver restaurants from about 65. Next year the eight-employee business expects to double its almost $1 million in annual revenue. Plans for 2018 include expanding its entire concept—recycling, design and manufacturing—to three major North American cities.
What’s the best advice you ever received?
[My family] always told me two things that have stuck with me my entire career. Talk less, but do more…[and] never push something that you can deal with today to tomorrow.
A little-known fact about you is…
I’ve never had a sip of alcohol….I always say that’s maybe why they kicked me out of Germany.