News+Stories: How did you come to study “Environmental Systems Sciences / Natural Sciences – Technology (USW NAWI-TECH)” at TU Graz?
Ivan Knechtl: After finishing my bachelor’s studies in Chemical Engineering in Maribor, where I come from, I felt obligated to use my knowledge of chemistry and chemical engineering skills to make a positive impact in environmental chemistry. I wanted to develop strategies and measures for environmental and climate protection. Additionally, I sought to gain new knowledge outside of my comfort zone and try studying abroad. TU Graz seemed like a perfect choice. The perfect mixture of amazing teaching staff and the great culture in the city of Graz and at the University made me feel at home.
Have you always been interested in the natural sciences, even earlier, at school?
Ivan Knechtl: Let me think… I got inspired by others at a very young age. I was always fascinated by the knowledge, wisdom and creative thinking from the people around me. I caught myself thinking: “How do you know this?”, “I wish I could understand it in such detail and smoothness. This is so cool.” Far from the fact that I “know” something even now. However, what I learned is that if you try to understand things and processes in any field to some depth and combine them into systems, life is just a lot easier. If you want to test yourself in depth, try answering as many “why’s”as possible in a row (laughs).
Wat I learned is that if you try to understand things and processes in any field to some depth and combine them into systems, life is just a lot easier.
What would you tell someone who doesn't know what to do after leaving school?
Ivan Knechtl: I would say, just come up with three things you see yourself doing in one year or five years. Write them down. Keep them. If you’re not ready now. Okay. Try to think out loud what is expected of the position, job, persona you have selected. Break it down into features that are easy to define and mark those that you already have – fully or partially. Come up with the way to acquire the others. Sometimes this will lead you to carry on with your studies, sometimes you will start a job or a business. In any case, you will have a goal – no matter how small – and it will drive you towards success. One step at a time. Congratulations! Drop me a message if it worked – ivan. @milkywaste.eu
In any case, you will have a goal – no matter how small – and it will drive you towards success. One step at a time. Congratulations!
Your steps led you to found the start-up “Milkywaste” at a very young age. Was this your goal?
Ivan Knechtl: I want to take action, as do many millennials. My bold approach started in 2017 as I participated in Climate-KIC’s Climathon event in Maribor. I had missed the application deadline for my Master’s degree programme at TU Graz, so I had to wait for a year. I used the opportunity to develop my skills in understanding climate systems as a participant in the practical programme of Climate-KIC, the EU's main climate innovation initiative. The Climathon event showed me weaknesses in the climate system we live in and the silent challenges which are slowly getting bigger and cannot be ignored. With this in mind and together with my colleagues, we looked at challenges on a systemic level and combined it with my knowledge gained as a chemical engineer to start the Milkywaste story.
So you started “Milkywaste” when you came to understand how we weaken the climate system?
Ivan Knechtl: At Milkywaste we are transforming the packaging industry by introducing a new generation of edible bioplastics, generated from dairy waste. Our material can dissolve in hot water or can be composted. With this we stop throwing away packaging quickly after use and directly reduce harmful microplastic and plastic waste. In the future, all flexible packaging will be smart and will disappear as soon as it is no longer needed. Exciting times to come and I am proud to be part of it.
What are the drivers behind your personal development?
Ivan Knechtl: To summarize the drivers that I tend to follow somewhat unconsciously, I can recognize four things that always pop up: genuine curiosity, problem solving, performing to the best of my abilities and the “awesomeness” factor.
Ivan Knechtl: Yes! You know that feeling when you look back and say: “That was cool. Such an amazing journey.” I often find myself watching or reading various kinds of work I did five to ten years ago and thinking “How did I come up with such an interesting approach?”. For me it doesn’t really matter if others don’t see it as I do. This is just my own genuine way to keep myself motivated.
Apart from your studies, what about your hobbies?
Ivan Knechtl: I really like playing guitar – electric and acoustic as well as ukulele – and working as an audio engineer, and I enjoy creating music with fellow musicians. The last session that we recorded was a cover of House of Gold in the Onesie outfit in my home studio. I also very much enjoy creating video content, building computers from scratch or repairing them, playing coop video games, playing volleyball and football, going running, and brewing beer, which is slowly becoming a business rather than a hobby – we will see.
How do you manage all your activities?
Ivan Knechtl: Honestly, this global health situation due to Covid-19 that forced us to work from home, eliminated traveling and made jumping from classroom to business meeting in just few minutes possible. This way it was a lot easier for me to be present at all the activities.
Tip: There are some tips and tricks I learned about being well organized and in good mental shape: Google Calendar or Microsoft Outlook, the Wim Hof Method and High Intensity Interval Trainings (HIIT) – not a lot effort but a lot of impact.
Is there time left over for your studies?
As for my studies, I tend to listen very actively at lectures. By doing so, I spare a lot of time that would be needed to study by myself. Another good question would be if there is any time left over for vacations – there isn’t (grins). On the other hand an active weekend can also make me feel relaxed.