Cal alum creates innovative eco-friendly company


Cal alum David Crinnion founded a start up that produces eco-friendly, biodegradable plastic made of algae. His experiences in the iQuest program helped him become a CEO.

Siddhant Gupta, Managing Editor

David Crinnion has started a company that produces biodegradable, environmentally-friendly plastic. 

The catch? It’s made of algae.

A 2014 Cal High graduate, Crinnion founded Algotek in 2017 during his senior year at the University of Oregon. 

Algotek is a research and development for-profit that uses dehydrated algae, broken down to its molecular state of a white powder, as the feedstock for the plastic.  

This revolutionary plastic dissolves if left in water for two weeks, precluding it from harming plants, animals, or ending up in the Great Pacific garbage patch.  

“We are trying to make money off of saving the world – that’s the new market right now,” Crinnion said. “The world needs to be protected but you need to treat it as a business, otherwise you can’t get investors and you can’t make it happen.”

The plastic design was based on the Ooho edible water orbs, which are plastic bubble-shaped water bottles. Algotek plastic is completely edible, which is a major selling point for Crinnion, who said he eats it when he has pitch competitions to prove how safe it is to potential investors.

Brian Coburn, who teaches AP Environmental Science and AP Chemistry at Cal, said the disadvantage of regular plastic is that it’s made of oil and does not biodegrade, which is why the use of algae to create biodegradable plastic is truly revolutionary. He also noted that this new method of making plastic is extremely effective because of the abundance of algae and it’s more environmentally friendly than even tree-based cellulose plastic.

Crinnion has always had a passion for the environment and sustainability that stemmed from Boy Scouts. He loved the outdoors and conservation quickly became a passion of his. At home, he had a mini solar panel that he used to power a few of his gadgets, and tried to convince his mom to give him the money he was saving by using the panels.

“I definitely think Cal High had a lot to structure what I was doing moving forward,” Crinnion said. “There were a lot of hardworking people and influential teachers that challenged us to think different and try harder.”

Although Crinnion ran track and field and sang for choir at Cal, his most memorable activities were Careers in Teaching and iQuest, where he interned at Blue Sky Marketing. Both programs were taught at the time by retired teacher Cindy Bonagura.

“David had this great idea to build a garbage can that opens from the bottom,” Bonagora recalled. “He was always interested in making a product, marketing, and entrepreneurship. He always wanted to own his own company, and that’s what he did.”

Bonagora’s most memorable moment of Crinnion in her classes was after he started interning at Blue Sky and was extremely enthusiastic about having learned about Constant Contact, a marketing software the company used.

“Any time I see the words Constant Contact, I remember David,” Bonagora said. “He was a great kid. He made an impact in iQuest and made an impact at the University of Oregon.”

For the second semester of iQuest during his senior year, Crinnion worked on his own projects and ideas.

“I spent a long time trying to see if I could develop something that could help with sustainability, but it was high school,” Crinnion said.

Crinnion’s teacher mentor throughout iQuest was Ted Levy, who also taught him freshman English.

“He was an extremely engaged, hard working, and motivated young man,” Levy said. “He also was an excellent leader, a quiet leader.”

Crinnion believes that Cal helped him become the CEO of his start up. 

“It was something I thought I wanted to achieve but I never really knew what I could achieve,” Crinnion said. “But iQuest was definitely an important factor that helped drive my passion and choose my major.” 

While in college, Crinnion had an interest in entrepreneurship and also took many classes for green chemistry.

In his green chemistry classes, professors would often add additional information, such as the science behind Ooho water bottles. After finishing all of the green chemistry classes, Crinnion sought additional material from his professors and began researching the use of algae in plastic. From the knowledge he gained, an idea started to materalize through Oregon’s entrepeneurship school.

“We got really lucky to have done it in school because the amount of resources for entrepreneurship is through the roof: mentors, professors, funding,” Crinnion said. 

In the summer of 2017, Crinnion met two other students at Oregon’s Student Invention Immersion Week, bringing together the three principal minds behind Algotek. The team of of three won second place in the InventOR competition for college innovators in June 2018.  Algotek was borne out of this group’s succeses and is steadily expanding.  Algotek is partnered with one company that produces its plastic and has a handful of clients.

Crinnion recommends students interested in sustainability or business take advantage of Cal’s iQuest program and any internship opportunities.

“If you put in the work, you can make something work,” Crinnion said. “You’re in high school, college seems scary, or whatever the next adventure is.  Whatever decision you make is the right decision.”