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Tenacity reaps rewards

University of Otago applied sciences graduate Georgie Northcoat is no stranger to confronting challenges in her life. Now she is pursuing her dream of entrepreneurship – a dream that saw her unique eco product, Lynk Solution (originally known as EcoTex), become a finalist in this year's Callaghan Innovation C-Prize awards.

A street stand at the side of a deserted road on the outskirts of Christchurch selling horse manure, alongside lemonade, marked the beginning of 10-year-old Georgie Northcoat's entrepreneurial dream.

But while Georgie, now 21, applauds the plucky attitude of her 10-year-old self that saw her convince her best friend to embark on that first entrepreneurial adventure together, she says she's learnt a lot since then about presenting the right product in the right place and right time.

“I'm not sure horse poo and lemonade was a great combination,” she laughs.

“Nor was selling a product like horse manure into a farming community where there was already an abundance of horse manure.”

Fast forward a decade and it could be argued that Northcoat's latest venture, EcoTex – an eco-solution that found a patentable process to repurpose synthetic fibres from waste fabric into insulation materials for homes – was exactly the right product for the right place and time.

Armed with an applied science degree in textile science and marketing, her idea became one of eight finalists in the Callaghan Innovation's C-Prize, an annual science prize which offers $100,000 and assistance for the winning concept.

Then along came COVID-19.

“Manufacturing in offshore markets, where we aimed to source textile offcut waste, virtually halted and we found it difficult making connections with the people we needed to work with on building the solution. Essentially, we couldn't find our product-market fit,” says Northcoat.

“So a week or two into lockdown we made the call to pivot – to try to solve the same problem, but in a different way. While many of us are aware of the growing problem of microplastics in the ocean, most people are unaware that domestic laundering – the washing we do at home – contributes 35 per cent of all these emissions.

“I've learnt a lot of practically focused business information. I'm still a university student… so learning about all the steps you need to take as an entrepreneur to validate your business idea and get it ready for market has been a massive learning curve.”

“Our solution is a product to remove this synthetic textile waste – created when the abrasive mechanical action of washing machines causes fibres to shed from clothing – from the natural environment.”

While the original idea for Eco-Tex may have changed, it still meets the company's original goal of finding a solution to mitigate the impact of synthetic textiles on the environment. The new solution – the Lynk microfibre filter – attaches to any washing machine and works to eliminate 93 per cent of the pollution caused by microfibre plastics that comes when synthetic fibres break down through the washing process, releasing plastics into waterways, grey water systems and impacting environmental and human health.

“At the moment, we're prototyping the product and doing consumer testing.

“I've learnt a lot of practically focused business information. I'm still a university student – now doing postgraduate studies at ICT Signal – so learning about all the steps you need to take as an entrepreneur to validate your business idea and get it ready for market has been a massive learning curve.

“While we unfortunately didn't win the prize, I'm looking forward to pursuing Lynk Solution, while working for a local company [Winely] over summer as the operations manager with mentors I very much admire.”

Responding to new challenges and constantly evolving situations is something Northcoat is no stranger to. Born with cystic fibrosis, a condition that causes severe damage to the lungs, digestive system and other organs, she spent much of her childhood in and out of hospital.

“I have a really bad habit of downplaying everything, but I do treatments every day – preventive treatments – that help keep me well and have kept me out of hospital for the past two years. Before that I probably spent a couple of weeks to a month in hospital at least once a year.

Georgina Northcoat

“Everyone talks about the physical aspects of cystic fibrosis, but the psychological aspects and the toll those take on me and everyone in my family is massive. It's definitely present in my day-to-day life. I've been extremely lucky to be healthy for the past two years and am really grateful for that.”

Northcoat grew up in Christchurch and attended Burnside High School, before choosing the University of Otago for her study, where she won a Donna-Rose McKay Scholarship*, embarking on a degree in applied sciences (textile science) and marketing.

“I have always been hugely interested in textiles. At one point I considered studying fashion, but I knew I wanted to do something with real depth. My degree has helped me begin a journey where I am using what I know to make a meaningful change in the world.

“I really enjoyed Otago for the balance of university and study and friends. I've loved it. It's taught me a lot about independence and, while I never considered myself an academic, I was able to pick up some great habits and do well.”

Keen on developing her entrepreneurial skills, Northcoat joined Audacious in 2019, a programme for students that builds entrepreneurial skills through workshops and mentoring, run through Startup Dunedin.

“In November last year I went to China to take part in UNLEASH Innovation Lab for the Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs], a hackathon for trying to solve the world's most pressing issues. This is where EcoTex – now known as Lynk Solution – was born. After that I travelled around China visiting manufacturers and attending conferences. When I returned to New Zealand in December, I applied for C-Prize.”

Northcoat is humble about her many achievements in her 21 short years and says doing something different from your peers may seem “a bit unnatural or off” at first, but is extremely rewarding.

“Expand your interests. You're never too young to start exploring your interests. Don't be afraid to uncover a person-driven or passion project.

“Last year I became very involved with Cystic Fibrosis NZ and this has been an incredibly rewarding experience. Prior to that I had been a bit more private, but I've found that educating people about what cystic fibrosis is and what it means has been really cool and I'm really proud to get involved.”


*Donna-Rose Mackay was Head of the University of Otago's Disability Information and Support service. A suite of scholarhips for students with disabilities was named in her honour in 2014 following her death.Otago alumna Georgie Northcoat: “My degree has helped me begin a journey where I am using what I know to make a meaningful change in the world.”
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