Youth Border Startup Wins $5,000 in Sustainability Pitch Contest

May 1, 2020

NOGECO, founded by youth from Ambos Nogales was awarded for their innovative startup which diverts food waste from their community.


Students from Ambos Nogales (Nogales, AZ and Nogales, Sonora), celebrated on Friday, April 24, 2020 as they heard the news of winning $5,000 in a local virtual event called Shift Day. Shift Day was sponsored by the University of Arizona Eller College of Management, Tech Core and McGuire Center For Entrepreneurship. Shift Day was launched on Wednesday, April 22—Earth Day’s 50th Anniversary. The event welcomed impact-driven youth who are creating sustainable solutions to climate change to pitch their startups for the opportunity to win a cash prize.

NOGECO is a team of seven middle, high school and early college students coming from Nogales and Rio Rico. Their collaboration was fostered by Startup Unidos, a regionally recognized organization promoting innovation without borders and the University of Arizona Office of Sustainability Compost Cats, who guided the NOGECO team through workshops, focusing on economic, environmental and social sustainability as-well-as providing student mentorship throughout the developmental process, exploring different approaches to mitigating food waste at the border. NOGECO is addressing a serious issue in Nogales—food waste. With 60 percent of America’s fresh fruits and vegetables passing through Nogales from Mexico, there is a reported 60 million pounds of food waste every year that ends up in the local landfill.

NOGECO’s solution? Converting tomatoes into organic and eco-friendly beauty products, and this is just the start. Their long-term goal is supporting the creation of a composting center, ultimately diverting more food waste, creating jobs and helping alleviate poverty. “With the help of Eller Tech Core, we designed Shift Day to be an opportunity for students to reconnect virtually in the middle of this pandemic and focus on something positive—building and launching solutions to help our community and the world work and live more sustainably. It was no surprise that NOGECO took the first place spot. They showed up to Shift Day with a ton of energy and optimism. I’m excited that the prize money will be used to help NOGECO take their project to the next level, get some of their first products to the market and start to generate revenue—not to mention redirect valuable food that would have otherwise gone to waste in a landfill” said Shane Reiser, founder of For The World, the organization that planned and facilitated Shift Day.

NOGECO plans on using the funds to prototype and test their beauty product made with organic tomatoes, build their web store and launch their product. The group refers to themselves as co-founders “who are all passionate about creating innovative solutions to outdated problems.”

“I was super excited and honored to win the prize. My team and I are looking forward to take this to the next step,” said Sergio Astorga, an 19-years-old pre-law undergraduate student at Arizona who handles legal and compliance matters for NOGECO.

“It was super cool and exciting! I think I yelled with excitement for five minutes when we found out! It really put into perspective for me how real this project we’ve created is. And how much my family cares,” said Mina Talavera, 13-years-old, social impact officer at NOGECO and 7th grade student at Little Red Schoolhouse.

“This experience has been incredible for my daughter. Her confidence has grown exponentially and given her something to be really proud of. As the youngest member of the group, Mina has a real sense of responsibility to her peers and this project. I could not be more proud of all of these kids for working so hard and taking it so seriously,” said Nisa Talavera, mother of Mina Talavera, 13-years-old, social impact officer at NOGECO.

“For me, winning the prize wasn’t the best part, it was being able to see support from so many people, and the community pulling together to support the youth. Having us win with more than eight hundred votes, gives me more hope than ever that we’ll be able to make an impact in our city,” said Vivian Probst, 17-years-old, brand and marketing director at NOGECO and junior at Nogales High School.


NOGECO is a startup based in Nogales, Arizona originally developed as a project of WASTE NOT: Borderlands Innovations in Food Waste Management that engages young people in exploring the issues surrounding that surplus through ethnographic research, hands-on workshops and entrepreneurial education. WASTE NOT is a collaboration between VozFrontera (Southwest Folklife Alliance, an affiliate of the University of Arizona, Startup Unidos (SU) and the UArizona Office of Sustainability. The program creates opportunities for youth to see themselves as problem solvers in their own community.

About Startup Unidos:

Since 2017, Startup Unidos cultivates collaboration, innovation and entrepreneurship in border communities throughout the Arizona-Sonora region through ground-level programming that nurtures emerging companies, assists growing firms, builds the workforce of the future and supports partner organizations in reaching underserved pockets of the community.