Privahini Bradoo

Tertiary education:

• University of Auckland - BTech Biomedical Sciences (1998-2001)

• University of Auckland - PhD, Neurogenetics and Drug Discovery (2002-2005)

• Harvard Business School - MBA and Fulbright Platinum Entrepreneurship Fellow (2006-2008).

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Privahini Bradoo is working to help solve the world's waste problems through her company which aims to extract reusable metals from electronic waste.

Bradoo is the chief executive of BlueOak, a company she co-founded in 2010 with Bryce Goodman at the Nasa Ames campus in California. The startup company is targeting the 40 million tonnes of discarded computers and mobile phones (e-waste) every year to process at specially built mini-refineries to extract the precious materials, reducing the need to mine.

BlueOak raised more than US$35 million ($44.5 million) last year in two funding rounds in the US, which included funding from venture capital firm KPCB, to build its first refinery in Arkansas with the company on track to be in production by late this year.

US-based Bradoo moved to New Zealand at the age of 16, leaving her family and friends behind in Oman. Having visited New Zealand several times previously, she said New Zealand felt right for her and, deciding from a young age that she wanted to study biotechnology, Bradoo enrolled at the University of Auckland as one of its youngest students.

"It just felt like a really good combination of going to a really high quality university in the particular field I was interested in, combined with wonderful people and a good fit," Bradoo said. "It felt like I'd come home in a way that's really hard to describe, but my time in New Zealand was the best time of my life."

The then 16-year-old completed a four-year Bachelor of Technology with first class honours in just over three years through the university semesters as well as summer school, and finished her PhD in neuroscience by the age of 24. During her time at the university's Liggins Institute she discovered a new gene for brain repair in mice. Bradoo said the research was difficult but that the challenge suited her personality.

"I think it was a lot harder than I thought it would be initially because I was looking for a very specific gene and if I didn't find it, I wouldn't have had much to write about," Bradoo said. "I was fortunate that it did work out, and I loved that project, I like being busy and challenging myself."

Bradoo attributes a lot of her success to this PhD project and to the skills she gained while completing it, as well as to the university's entrepreneurship programme Spark and in particular it's founding father Geoff Whitcher, who she credits with a lot of her success.

"I think inherently I'm driven by things that create positive social change but one person in particular that really helped shape my journey in New Zealand was Geoff Whitcher," Bradoo said. "He was basically the founding father of Spark but he was really an amazing mentor, and having that mentor at an early stage can really help. He was instrumental in that for me.

"Getting through a PhD programme, there are moments of serendipity, there are moments of chance that are in your favour but most of all, you kind of have to be persistent and patient, and have a long-term view without losing that attention to detail, which are also key attributes for running a startup," she said.

In 2006 Bradoo was awarded the $100,000 Fulbright-Platinum Triangle scholarship, which allowed her to complete her MBA at Harvard University. Following this, she worked in the commercialisation and business development team at Kiwi company Lanzatech and Microvi in San Francisco - both clean-tech companies - before deciding to develop BlueOak in 2010.

"I was on the faculty at Singularity University and I was driving a project on up-cycling, so creating value from waste, and I met my co-founder Bryce Goodman, who posed the question about what do we do with all of the e-waste, and particularly being in Silicon Valley, this seemed like a major issue," Bradoo said.

In the last decade, e-waste has become one of the fastest growing waste sources globally, but Bradoo said what struck her was the amount of high value metal that was going into electronics and how little of it was being recycled.

"It did not make sense to us to dig another hole when we had already gone through the process of mining it all in the first place and when we have so much of these materials available above ground already," she said.

According to Bradoo, the exponential growth in e-waste has only occurred in the last five to 10 years, something she said was likely to result in the recycling of minerals from e-waste becoming much more common in the future.

"As long as we keep growing the number of devices, which I think will definitely keep happening, then there will be a need to make sure we are sustainably recovering value from these resources."

Bradoo said just 20 per cent of waste was recycled in the electronics industry , compared with the automotive industry which was around 90 to 95 per cent.

Soaring Kiwis

A series on high-achieving New Zealanders with a low profile here doing big things overseas
Saturday
Shane Legg: A computer programmer and co-founder of DeepMind Technologies which was sold to Google for as much as $1b.
Today
Privahini Bradoo: Chief executive and founder of BlueOak, recycling and mining precious materials from e-waste.
Coming up
Craig Nevill-Manning: Head of engineering at Google, co-creator of Google Maps.