Spotlight on Daniela Blanco

Meet Daniela Blanco: Co-founder of Sunthetics, NYU Ph.D. Candidate in Chemical Engineering, and winner of the 2019 Global Student Entrepreneur Awards (GSEA) Competition. 

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How did Sunthetics come to be?

I studied chemical engineering in my home of Venezuela, where the oil industry was booming many years ago. I knew I had wanted to be a part of this space one day because of how much growth and energy there was in the industry.  After graduating, I realized how polluted the industry was. I found that the chemical industry on its own is the third largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the world, and still is to this day. I couldn't believe something we use in our day-to-day had such an impact on our lives and on the environment, but nobody was trying to do something to change the adverse effects. I wanted to change that, and I couldn't really do that from Venezuela. 

I came to the U.S. with this mission and got accepted into NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering PhD program, where I work with a professor who has been named the top innovator under 35 by MIT. His research is not only applicable to my field, but also has made an impact outside the lab. Nylon is one of the most polluting plastics, but it's used everywhere, even though it is not sustainable and the process is inefficient.  So my professor and I started working together to redesign the process to make nylon. 

For two years now, I have been working on this process and building my company, Sunthetics. I have built new reactors and I have designed a new process for creating nylon that is more efficient, uses less raw material, less energy and produces less waste. And, at the same time, it can be coupled with renewable energy sources, decreasing pollution.

You won GSEA’s regional, national, and global Student Entrepreneur Competition! How did that come into your journey?

I'm an engineer. I knew nothing about business, nor did my co-founder, who is also a chemical engineer. She was about to graduate when we decided to join forces to see if we could make something out of this technology that I was developing. We started going to the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute – the Leslie ELab. We joined accelerator programs for startups to learn a bit more about what to do and how to make the company a reality. One of the mentors mentioned that there was the GSEA program for students who are building businesses, and we decided I would apply to the competition.

I was accepted but was initially drawn to the competition mostly as a way to build brand awareness and win prize money for the company. But the more I got into GSEA, and the Entrepreneurs’ Organization’s (EO) network, the more I realized that it was more than a competition. The real prize was the personal growth that I could have as an entrepreneur, the ability to be mentored by more experienced entrepreneurs in the EO network, and meeting other young entrepreneurs changing their industries around the world. The entire experience was inspiring. 

I'm so happy I was part of the 2019 GSEA competition because those involved are truly amazing. They’re not just successful entrepreneurs that have very profitable businesses; they are people with huge hearts willing to help you (a young student entrepreneur) grow your business, your network, and your entrepreneurial skills – and for that I am so grateful. 

What is your support system like as you venture on the journey of being an entrepreneur?

My mom and my aunt are my biggest support system. I talk to them every day. I also have an incredible advisor who has completely respected my decision to learn more about this field. He's incredibly understanding, gives great advice, and allows me to work on the company outside of the lab. I also have my co-founder. We got into this together and I think that without her I wouldn't be able to do it all. She's amazing!

I feel that having that kind of support, so you're not alone in innovating, is critical. There's someone else who's willing to fight everything that comes against you. That’s powerful. 

Did you consider yourself entrepreneurial?

I never considered myself an entrepreneur before. I didn't know that I could do it. I feel like it caught me by surprise. It's something that I wanted to try and as I started going to different competitions I found that maybe I could be an entrepreneur. What is interesting is that the more I do in this business world, the more I realize that the entrepreneurial skills and mindset were inside me all along.

I tend to not be overconfident. I feel like when we are overconfident, we believe that we're the best at everything and that mindset doesn't let us grow. I acknowledge that there is always room for improvement and I try to learn and grow every day to become a better entrepreneur. 

Sunday Afternoon Nirvana: Reading at the park with a nice book.
Spirit Animal: A dog. I love how loyal they are. It doesn't matter if things are going wrong, they always remind you of how calm you can be and how you can face challenges with a good attitude.
Breakfast of Champions: Cereal—it's fast and gets you wherever you want to go really quick. It's my day-to-day thing because I’m used to getting up at the last minute and don’t have time for a complicated breakfast. I love it!

Alex Gordon