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Instagram isn’t the first app that comes to mind when you think about sustainability, but you can’t deny its popularity. That’s why it became team ReMaskit’s platform of choice at Junction 2023 when they set out to tackle — and win — the challenge Resource Revolution, Now by Aalto University. I had the pleasure of chatting with four of the team members — Daria Kazmina, Hussain Pettiwala, Jay Malave and Simon Farshid — about their solution, Junction experience and thoughts on entrepreneurship and sustainability. The fifth team member, Imed-Eddine Haouli, couldn’t attend the interview, but his work on the solution speaks for itself.

It was important to us that the challenge was going for some kind of impact.

Like so many winning teams at Junction, ReMaskit is quite experienced. This might have been their first Junction Main Event, but they all had other hackathons and startups already under their belts. As the biggest hackathon in Europe, it seemed like a natural next step for them. Hussain and Jay — who are both pursuing a degree in computer engineering — knew each other from their home university in Mumbai. On Discord, they saw a message by Daria, who was looking for team members. They decided to contact her, bringing her experience in business, international team management and analytics to the team. They were later joined by Simon — an information systems student and programmer since 12 — and Imed-Eddine — a PhD student in Artificial Intelligence — and their team was ready to take on any challenge.

Team ReMaskit standing in front of a Junction logo

Jay, Daria, Simon and Hussain attended their first Junction in 2023, but they’re all experienced hackathon goers.

The challenge they chose was about revolutionizing how we use our scarce critical raw materials, many of which are imported to Europe from geopolitically unstable countries. Despite their rarity, these materials are a necessity for a green transition. The challenge was provided by Aalto University, and AVP helped with formulating it and recruiting the best mentors from the Aalto research community. “It was important to us that the challenge was going for some kind of impact, so we were excited for this one,” Simon says. Hussain quickly came up with a rough first idea that aligned with the team’s skill set, and so they got to work.

Their solution is an Instagram filter that uses clever technology — such as Google MLKit and OpenAI GPT-4 — to identify what an object is made of and how to recycle it properly. The user is then given directions to the nearest recycling stations, insights into the importance of recycling and even points that can be redeemed as perks from partner companies. By helping people recycle critical raw materials such as lithium and cobalt more efficiently, ReMaskit’s solution can reduce the need to produce and import them.

Two days might seem like a short time to develop an idea and create a working prototype, but that’s what Junction is all about. “If you have great people and a great idea, anything can be done in two days,” Daria says. Hussain and Jay also emphasize the importance of the right team, where everyone shares the same vision and work can be appropriately divided between team members. Besides a good team, hard work is also required. “We worked until 2–3 AM. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, but I think it shows our dedication,” Simon says. Ultimately, it paid off — ReMaskit finished their prototype and won the Aalto University challenge. 

Entrepreneurship has the power to make the world a better place.

In addition to their great experience at Junction, the team also enjoyed the rest of their visit to Finland. “We heard it’s the happiest country in the world, and it lived up to the expectations. Even if the weather was a bit of a challenge,” Jay says. The team also appreciates Finland’s sustainability efforts. “Any business needs to be profitable, but in Finland, people seem to have understood that a business can be both profitable and sustainable,” Hussain says. In many other places — and, to be fair, in many Finnish companies, too — profit is still far more important. But it’s comforting to hear that the next generation of entrepreneurs worldwide wants to make a difference. “With the right package of making an impact and solving real customer needs, entrepreneurship has the power to make the world a better place,” Jay says.