Catching up with… Meinke van Oenen !

Dutch first-year Business Administration student Meinke van Oenen won the finals of the first edition of the UN 2023 Gamechanger Challenge last year in New York. With her innovation of using halophilic algae as a desalination method, the jury found a true gamechanger in her project for the desalination industry.

The Gamechanger Challenge turned out to be the starting signal to turn the basic concept into the start-up Algaenius and she is well on her way to implement her idea in the field.  

We’re more than curious to see how she is doing so let’s check in with her!

First of all: How are you doing?

Meinke: “I’m doing great! Over the past six months I have been to many interesting places and met many inspiring people. I am very grateful for all these valuable experiences. In addition, it gives me great satisfaction that I can be so practically and actively involved in sustainability.”

You represented Algaenius in New York and won! How do you look back on the final?

“It truly was an unforgettable experience! Algaenius actually started as a master thesis (final technical project of high school) together with Nynke Baks and Pjotr de Haan and we looked into the use of halophilic algae to desalinate seawater in a clean way. I already believed back then that this was a “green”-gold concept so I developed it further after high school. That’s how I came across the Gamechanger Challenge as a brand new, first-year TU Delft student.

A process of several months followed, during which I was challenged to further develop my concept of Algaenius from a school project to a professional proposal. Algaenius managed to place in the top 5 for the UN Gamechanger Challenge and I was allowed to represent the team in New York at Wetskills. That was a two-week pressure cooker (simultaneously with the UN Water Conference) where I had the opportunity to further develop my case with young water professionals. This was extremely valuable and helped Algaenius a lot in concreting the business plan. But besides the substantive part, it was also a lot of fun with all like-minded and passionate Wavemakers together!”

In which stage is Algaenius now ?

“After winning the UN Gamechanger Challenge, I was the youngest ever nominated for the ‘Most Innovative Student in the Netherlands’ (by INNOVATE & Quest). This nomination has generated a lot of traction, so I am now at an advanced stage of discussions with possible partners.

I believe that for an innovation like Algaenius, which relates to water supply, it is crucial to find support from both science and business. After all, water supply is such an essential part of all life on earth and in principle a human right. That is why I am first looking at specialized knowledge institutes for possible continuation of independent, fundamental research into biodesalination by algae. Secondly, I am talking to a number of possible partners from the business community for a large-scale pilot test. This pilot is crucial for the next step in scaling.”

And what can we expect from you next year?

“My plan is to put Algaenius and my vision ‘look at nature, find the future’ even more on the map! I believe that the transition from gray, high-tech systems to green, low-tech solutions is crucial for our ambitions to live in harmony with nature.

My goal for this year is to conclude the agreements and collaborations with a scientific body and a company in order to further develop from two different angles.”

What would you like to say to other youngsters who are thinking of innovating?

“Water lies at the heart of many of the problems that plague our world; if it is too much, too little or too dirty. Your innovation can make a difference, so don’t hesitate and get started!”