BioCellection, co-founder win Pritzker environmental prize | December 12, 2018 | Almanac | Almanac Online |

Almanac

News - December 12, 2018

BioCellection, co-founder win Pritzker environmental prize

by Maggie Mah

Entrepreneur Miranda Wang and BioCellection, the Menlo Park-based company she co-founded, have been named the winners of the Pritzker Emerging Environmental Genius Award for 2018. The prestigious award, which includes a cash prize of $100,000, is funded by the Anthony and Jeanne Pritzker Family Foundation and was presented by the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability last month at a ceremony on the UCLA campus.

CEO Wang, 24, and the company's co-founder and CTO Jeanny Yao have invented a breakthrough process that converts plastic waste into high-quality components that can be used in a range of commercial applications. Wang, Yao and BioCellection were featured in the cover story, "The Perils of Plastic," in the Nov. 7 issue of The Almanac. (Go to tinyurl.com/plasticperils11-18 for the story.) At the time the story appeared, Wang and BioCellection were among three finalists chosen from the original field of 20 candidates.

The only prize of its kind to be given for work in the environmental field, the Pritzker prize is open to people under the age of 40 and is intended to recognize innovators who are poised to make significant impacts on serious environmental issues and provide cash that could mean the difference between success and failure.

"The Pritzker Prize came at a time when my team is working on attracting more talent and resources for scale-up," Wang said. "Having a light shone on our work and the potential of it opens doors for us and reminds us that people support what we do. This prize will make a huge difference as we move forward."

Each candidate in the competition was put forward by one of the 20 members of the UCLA IoES nominating committee. Miranda Wang and BioCellection were nominated by Steve Westly of the Menlo Park-based Westly Foundation, about whom Wang said: "He has been a mentor and inspiration throughout the whole process. He discovered and supported us from the very beginning."

Catherine Crystal Foster, now CEO of Give Local Silicon Valley, was the Westly Foundation executive director at the time nominations were being considered. "I saw a young woman with an incredibly clear and focused vision, which she had been pursuing for years," Foster said. "She is driven and accomplished, yet humble, and represents exactly the kind of young innovator that the Westly Foundation seeks to honor."

Wang and BioCellection were also one of four grand prize winners of the 2017-2018 Westly Prize for young innovators of California.

A panel of four judges chose the winner of this year's Pritzker prize. Atherton resident Wendy Schmidt, president of the Schmidt Family Foundation, has judged the competition since the prize's inception. Regarding this year's win by Wang and BioCellection, Schmidt said: "It is fascinating to see someone so young understand a complex problem so clearly, and to advance such a transformational solution. Miranda's company will learn a lot in her early trials, and I hope we will see the scaling of her innovative approach to eliminating plastic waste very soon."

Why does Wang think she was chosen over 19 other impressive nominees? With media attention and heightened public awareness about plastic pollution, the issue is very timely, she said, but added: "My team's approach and particular technology are also very unique, different from anything that's ever been attempted on plastics. Now is the time to use philanthropy dollars to accelerate innovations in recycling, and I think the Pritzker prize, being a very forward-looking prize, is doing just that."

Beyond the financial boost afforded by the prize money, Wang views the process itself as valuable. "The team at UCLA has been wonderful to work with, and they made it very easy for us to focus on communicating what matters," she said. "Receiving the recognition from a community of luminaries was a huge confidence boost, one that will go far in the many challenging months ahead."

Scott Saslow, CEO of One World, also profiled in the Nov. 7 issue of The Almanac, sees other aspects of winning the prize as a major step forward for Wang's company. "The recognition helps BioCellection with increased visibility and credibility, which in turn attracts more partners, customers, and investors to power the business forward," he said.

Since The Almanac's feature article appeared and prior to winning the Pritzker Award, Wang and Yao were named by Forbes magazine to the "30 under 30" list of social entrepreneurs for 2019.

Garnering such an impressive list of awards in so short a time might lead to speculation about what honor might come next. For Wang, however, that's not what it's about. She offered this perspective: "It's very generous when people recognize you and your team for what you do and even better when it comes with funding to help move things forward. But accolades are not what we're after.

"I can't wait for the day when a photo of my team standing with our commercial recycling machine gets featured along with some positive customer testimonials showing that we've made a difference in the world."

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