Christian Navarro and Carlos Bravo, co-founders of Nautilus Innovation Lab, at DMZ headquarter in Toronto. Photo courtesy of Nautilus Innovation Lab

WHEN CHRISTIAN NAVARRO AND CARLOS BRAVO LANDED IN CANADA FOR THE FIRST TIME IN SEPTEMBER OF 2017, they didn’t plan on staying for long. Their visit was supposed to last a week, two at most. The social entrepreneurs, who were born in the highly-industrial city of Leon, Guanajuato (primarily known for the production of leather textiles, shoes, and accessories) had been selected to participate in the LatAm Startups bootcamp and were looking forward to discover more of the burgeoning Canadian innovation ecosystem, expecting to return soon afterwards.

Christian and Carlos are, together with Raúl and Iván Gallardo, the co-founders of Nautilus Innovation Lab, a company that has as its core mission to “improve people’s quality of life by developing technology that is inspired by nature”. Since its inception in the state of Guanajuato, Nautilus has developed two offerings designed to create a substantial positive impact in the environment, focusing on the areas of renewable energy and water conservation. The first one, BrighTree, is a self-standing structure that mimics a tree and is able to provide electricity, lighting, and wireless internet access. Its energy is generated autonomously, through solar panels that are strategically located in the design for a seamless integration.

Their second proposition, Lotus Water, consists of an electromechanical device that bears the resemblance of a lotus flower, which activates with rain, opening its petals and capturing the water generated by precipitation. It then filtrates and purifies the collected water, making it clean and drinkable as a result. The gadget is also programmed to close down its petals once the rainfall has stopped pouring.

“It is a project that can make water available to everyone, without depending on public services, and without altering the natural cycle,” says Navarro, acknowledging, at the same time, the critical importance of protecting water from the impending threats and realities of climate change. “Water is a nonrenewable resource and belongs to everyone, and thus it is important that we generate actions that lead us to a better future, before it is too late.”

“Water is a nonrenewable resource and belongs to everyone, and thus it is important that we generate actions that lead us to a better future, before it is too late.”

Once in Toronto, the pair were received with open arms. Subsequently to their completion of the LatAm Startups bootcamp, they were admitted to the HELIX Accelerator (Standing for Health Entrepreneurship and Lifestyle Xchange) at Seneca College, and after having participated in several pitches and winning a number of entrepreneurial competitions, they were incubated at the IBM Innovation Space located in Markham, Ontario, at the quarters of VentureLab.

These emphasis on supporting sustainable social enterprises amounts to remarkable news for a nation that recently has seen its role as a leader in the global scuffle against climate change come under intense scrutiny. Earlier on the year, The Globe and the Mail’s Gary Mason declared that “Canada’s environmental agenda is on the verge of collapse, and the debate is louder than it has ever been,” and Trudeau’s initial aggressive approach to tackle everything from energy dependence on oil to greenhouse gas emissions has been countered by issues as diverse as the Federal Government $4.5 billion purchase of Kinder Morgan TransMountain pipeline in British Columbia and the recent election of conservative Doug Ford as Premier of Ontario, who has already scrapped projects originally destined to increase Canada’s commitment to combat global warming.

For Christian Navarro and Carlos Bravo, the fact that their home country of Mexico has also felt the devastating effects of climate change has not gone unnoticed. The chief of Mexico City’s Resilience Office, Arnoldo Kramer, said that “climate change has become the biggest long-term threat to the city’s future. We can’t begin to address any of the city’s problems without facing the climate issue,” and according to the National Water Commission (CONAGUA by its initials in Spanish), there are roughly 8.9 million of Mexican citizens that have no access to clean water, with the number increasing exponentially when considering the people that experience significant irregularities on their service. (Curiously, Leon, Guanajuato, hometown of Navarro and Bravo received the “City Water Champion” award for its green initiatives and it is known as one of Mexico’s most environmentally-friendly municipalities.)

Photo by Nautilus Innovation Lab.

SOLVING THE WORLD’S ENVIRONMENTAL CHALLENGES IS NOT A LIGHT ENDEAVOUR. And neither has the entrepreneurial journey been smooth or crossroad-lacking for the Nautilus co-founders. As an example, Carlos placed his studies at the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education on hold in order to be able to dedicate himself full-time to the venture. Christian, who didn’t go to university and experienced a period of poverty while living in Leon, says the lack of academic formation of the team can be seen as an obstacle, but it is also an asset as it has provided them with practical knowledge, resilience, and a can-do attitude, which has empowered them and helped them adapt to the feat of living in Toronto.

“Being in a new city, a foreign country, away from your family and everything familiar is quite complicated,” says Bravo, who also admits that being in Toronto comes with many opportunities that counter the challenges of sentiment and nostalgia.

“We chose Toronto because it is a point of reference when it comes to technology. We have felt and experienced that here, the entrepreneurship ecosystem works, and we have had access to all the support that we have needed: workshops, coaching, workspace, all of which has been critical to move our company forward.”

The team’s ambitions do not stop in Canada. One of the focal points of Latam Startups’ programme is to help their portfolio companies to scale globally from Canada, and as a social enterprise that is tackling a universal challenge, that is what its founders hope to achieve. Using Toronto’s ecosystem as a launchpad, Nautilus Innovation Lab recently secured a place to participate in the European Innovation Academy in Cascais, Portugal, where they validated their business model and reinforced the potential impact that the initiative has to touch billions of lives for the better.

Using Toronto’s ecosystem as a launchpad, Nautilus Innovation Lab recently secured a place to participate in the European Innovation Academy in Cascais, Portugal.

“We are working hard to be a leader in the fight against climate change, raising conscience about our current environmental situation and showing by example how we can coexist in harmony with nature, improving our quality of life through the tools that nature provides us with instead of acting destructively.”

And beyond the positive dent they aspire to make with Nautilus, Christian Navarro and Carlos Bravo also aim to use the knowledge and experience they have gained from succeeding in the Canadian business environment and import those positive practices into Mexico, to inspire more people to become impact-driven entrepreneurs. “Our country has many valuable entrepreneurs with great ideas, and if it would be possible to create a true ecosystem, with strong linkages between the different innovation organisms, and really work as a team, many valuable projects could follow,” says Christian Navarro, adding that “just as we hope to help build the future by creating sustainable devices, we also dream of serving as an example for other entrepreneurs to succeed, to create, to build. It is always a challenge, but through this journey and what we have accomplished, we believe that everything can be achieved when there is passion, belief, and dedication.”