Recycling business pays off for local student

A few decades ago, becoming a CEO before your thirties was unheard of. Nowadays, with mentors like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Groupon’s Andrew Mason being huge successes in their twenties — the same age as many university graduates — many students are considering creating a job over finding one.

Zakir Hussein, 22, is one such student. In March, he won the 2012 regional championship for Western Canada in the Student Entrepreneur National Competition, organized by Advancing Canadian Entrepreneurship.

“I realized, I could be an employee, or I could be my own boss and share my vision with the world,” says Hussein, a student at the University of Calgary who is majoring in both petroleum geology and environmental management.

Ask him if he would have seen this success coming in November 2009 when his company, Organo Energy, got its start with mere experiments with algae and florescent bulbs in his parents’ basement, and he laughs at the notion.

After a friend gave him some advice, he changed his focus last September and began researching cooking oils and the possibility of recycling used cooking oil and selling it to local distributors. He soon after started a subsidiary division of Organo Energy called Alberta Clean Technologies Ltd.

Hussein then began knocking on local restaurant doors, pitching his idea of placing a shed containing two 45-gallon drums outside each establishment to collect used cooking oil. He proposed also coming to empty the drums, all at no cost to the restaurant itself.

Hussein proved to be on the right track, as of July 1, 2011, the Canadian government’s Renewable Fuels Regulation requires an average of two per cent renewable content in diesel fuel and heating oil.Zakir Hussein kneels next to one of the Alberta Clean Technologies Ltd. collecting bins outside of Jameson’s Pub in the northwest.
Photo by: Jean Symborski

His business exploded and now 139 restaurants in Calgary are participating in Hussein’s project. Organo Energy has grown to seven employees to meet the demand. The company refines the cooking oil at its warehouse in the northeast and then makes its profit by selling the recycled resource to biofuel-producing plants across Canada.

Hussein says he is always looking for ways to expand. He eventually decided to recycle plastics and cardboard from the restaurants as well.

“They (restaurants) were all throwing away their plastics and cardboard and it was going to landfills so I thought why don’t we take the plastics and recycle them too?” he says.

Hussein is also the president of Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) Calgary, a student-organized group at the University of Calgary. SIFE is part of a global network of students, academics and industry leaders that aim to create change through business initiatives.

Hussein recruited Ginelle Polini, vice president of events for SIFE Calgary, into the group last fall. She speaks of his charisma and how he is in a mentor in her own life.

“I immediately wanted to be a part of the organization because of his passion for entrepreneurship and giving back to our community. Last year we had no projects running and now there are currently eight projects in operation,” she says.

As a regional champion, Hussein received a $1,000 cash prize and will move on to the final round of competition, taking place on May 9 at the 2012 Advancing Canadian Entrepreneurship National Exposition in Calgary. He put the money he won back into his company by purchasing 100 more collection drums for Alberta Clean Technologies Ltd.

The winner of the national championship will receive a $10,000 cash prize and represent Canada at the international level of competition, the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards. The 2011 competition was hosted in New York last November.

“Each year we are proud to encourage and celebrate student entrepreneurs from across Canada,” says Amy Harder president of event organizers for Advancing Canadian Entrepreneurship.

“Zakir is the true definition of a young entrepreneur, by finding a unique need and developing a solution by starting an innovative business with a triple bottom line approach.”

Hussein’s plan, if he wins, is to donate two per cent of his winnings to his choice of charity and put the rest back into Organo’s future expansion plans.

In fact, giving back to the community runs deep for Hussein. Of every gallon of recycled fuel that Organo Energy sells, two per cent of its proceeds are donated to Calgary Homeless Foundation.

“I’m so happy because I’m creating economic opportunity for seven employees as well as I’m giving back socially,” Hussein says.

jsymborski@cjournal.ca