Kadeema Jean

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Biodegradable Plastic Alternative Wins Pitch Competition

Tackling the massive environmental issue that is global warming is no easy task, but one international Olds College student is up for the challenge. Kadeema Jean, a fourth year student in the Bachelor of Applied Science Agribusiness program at Olds College is attempting just that by using her knowledge of the tropical plant, Dasheen or Taro Root, to take on the biodegradables market by establishing DomCan Biodegradables.

Photo Caption: Kadeema Jean, Bachelor of Applied Science - Agribusiness student with Rita Egizii, business strategist and Kadeema's mentor.

How might you ask? While completing her third year at Olds College, Kadeema took part in UFA Innovation Day where she was able to submit her innovative idea to a panel of industry experts from the United Farmers of Alberta Co-operative Limited (UFA) in the hopes of receiving mentorship and financial support.

Named a semi-finalist with three other students, Kadeema was provided a business strategist with an expertise in developing value propositions as her mentor and a $500 credit to further develop her idea. She then participated in the Pitch Competition, where she was able to pitch her business model to a panel of judges. Due to COVID-19, the pitch competition, which was originally planned to be an in-person, Dragon’s Den style event, was held virtually. After careful consideration from the judges, Kadeema and her pitch for DomCan Biodegradables was announced as the winner of the Pitch Competition.

But where did Kadeema come up with her idea? In 2017, after her home country, the Commonwealth of Dominica, was devastated by a category five hurricane, an unprecedented amount of plastic waste was washed ashore. As a result, the importation of plastics was banned, and while biodegradable packaging was the solution, it was not up to the task of containing heavy liquids, such as gravy, which is commonly used in many local dishes. While working as an Extension Officer, Kadeema was curious enough to think outside the box and created her own prototype using the toloma plant (a root crop) which is similar to the dasheen plant. She quickly figured out that if the toloma plant had all the qualities looked for in biodegradable products, then so would the dasheen plant.

After further research, Kadeema found that dasheen had a high starch content that would work well for durability and wax extracted from the leaf of the plant could make the product water resistant. With the inclusion of hemp fibre, a new biodegradable plastic alternative, and the origin story of DomCan Biodegradables, was born. Through the process of participating in UFA Innovation Day and the Pitch Competition, Kadeema was provided a mentor — Rita Egizii, a member of the Royal Roads University faculty, published author and entrepreneur, to whom she is still working very  loosely with daily.

“I was matched with an amazing mentor, who taught me the importance of research, a strong value proposition and how to strengthen the business side of my idea,” said Kadeema. “Rita has been very helpful to me, not only through the Pitch Competition, but also in my daily life. She has been a great motivator and someone that I can confide in. I have learned a lot from her, and the bond we established through the mentorship has grown into something much bigger.”

As part of finishing her Bachelor of Applied Science Agribusiness program, Kadeema is currently completing her eight month internship at Poplar Bluff Organics Farm in Strathmore, Alberta. Next steps for DomCan Biodegradables include procuring the Dasheen plant and setting up a greenhouse at the Strathmore farm, with a goal of 2023 for in market distribution of DomCan Biodegradable products. "I am excited and overwhelmed by the opportunity to work with UFA to bring DomCan Biodegradables to the market. This opportunity has meant so much to me! I have been able to highlight the country that I am from, the Commonwealth of Dominica and our strong resilience,” said Kadeema.

See also: UFA and Olds College Announce Pitch Competition Winner