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SANTIAGO (Reuters) - A Chile-based start-up venture that collects discarded fishing nets from the country's long coastline and turns them into skateboards for U.S. teenagers is garnering attention from investors as sales ramp up.
Bureo Skateboards hopes the novel recycled element will both help clean up plastic pollution in the Pacific Ocean and attract buyers to its fish-shaped boards.
"We love surfing and activities on the beach and what really struck home to us was this global problem of ocean plastic pollution," co-founder Ben Kneppers told Reuters last week, at the offices of local seed venture project Start-Up Chile.
Although it is one of Latin America's most developed countries, rates of recycling are low in Chile.
Latin Americans at this week's U.N. climate talks in Lima have been pushing for bold environmental goals, but are struggling to balance those with the need for economic growth in countries that are often reliant on potentially damaging industries like agriculture and mining.
Changing people's mindset so they saw what was formerly considered trash as valuable was key, said Kneppers, whose polished discourse is more business executive than surfer dude.
"We thought - what if we transformed this material into something positive?," he said.
"We grew up riding these kinds of skateboards...so we thought it would be a perfect fit, to transform one kilogram of plastic into a high value, inspiring product," he added.
The government's Start-up Chile incubator gives foreign entrepreneurs $35,000 in seed capital, provided they spend at least six months in the country to get the business going. Like the three Bureo founders, many hail from the United States.
Start-Up's offices in downtown Santiago are a cross between a youth hostel and a Silicon Valley enterprise, abuzz with young people chatting over coffees and laptops.
"It's been critical," said Kneppers on Bureo's support from Start-Up Chile. "It allowed us to produce our first boards."
The business has also received funding from crowdsourcing website Kickstarter and outdoor brand Patagonia.
Bureo is into its second production run of 5,500 boards and is aiming at volume sales of up to 20,000 by its third year, selling at $149 apiece.
The plastic boards are manufactured in Chile and then shipped to Redondo Beach, California to have the trucks and wheels added.
"Because it has a recycled story, that's an addition that helps you connect to your users, but it has to be a good skateboard to begin with," said co-founder Kevin Ahearn.
Editing by W Simon