Success Stories

A Bioluminescent Journey

When Paige Whitehead, Founder of Nyoka Design Labs, first explored her interest in microbiology, she had no idea it would be the first step toward making a measurable impact on the planet.

Many of us feel overwhelmed by the state of the environment and feel like we have no power to make a positive change. Paige Whitehead of Nyoka Design Labs can relate. An avid festival-goer who loves to dance, Paige had an “aha moment” at a recent Shambhala Music Festival in Nelson, B.C. This 500-acre farm in the West Kootenay Mountains was littered with non-biodegradable glow sticks following the annual electronic music festival. Paige was determined to solve this problem of excessive plastic and chemical waste. “I found that focusing just on one problem, and actually moving forward with small steps to solve that problem has been so healing for me because instead of worrying about everything and the whole world, you know, you get to kind of put your blinders on, and think about what you can achieve in your own life,” she says.

With a background in Microbiology, Environmental Science and Permaculture Design - alongside a childhood fascination with bioluminescence - she arrived at a solution: A non-toxic and biodegradable glow stick.

Let’s talk about the business

Following this discovery, Paige founded Nyoka Design Labs with Co-Founder Yamila Franco. Together they made their mark by creating the world's first earth-friendly glow stick, The Nyoka Light Wand. “[It’s] a light source that is powered with bioluminescent enzymes. So, if you've ever gone swimming in the ocean, and you've seen it glow, or seen fireflies floating around, that's the technology that we're using to create a light source that is completely earth-friendly, biodegradable, and non-toxic,” Paige explains.

Paige traces her inspiration for the business back to her fondest memories from her childhood. “I remember my first time swimming in the bioluminescent ocean... And then my high-school chemistry teacher told me about the Microbiology program, and just learning about that, I didn't know at the time, but it changed the course of my whole life. And so I ended up going to university and studying Environmental Studies and Microbiology. And that eventually gave me enough knowledge to move forward to create the Light Wand, and now we're a whole design lab… We're working on another alternative to glow sticks, as well as some really amazing technology with biochar, carbon sequestration and soil remediation,” she reveals. “We're moving products forward that [are also] earth-friendly alternatives to what is, kind of, currently available today,” Paige continues with excitement.

A typical day in Paige’s life

There are no typical days at Nyoka Design Labs, largely because every day is completely different. This is all part of its charm. After checking in with her co-founder, tending to tasks, and attending meetings, Paige connects with her team. “This business has now grown from just myself to me and my co-founder. And now we have a team of six full-time people working on bringing this technology forward. And it's just been such an incredible journey. And so, you know, a year ago, I would just get right to work. Whereas now, I'll do more things like checking in with team members, delegating tasks, you know, talking about research plans, and talking to stakeholders... It's been an amazing evolution,” she says.

While each day is a new one, Paige shares what makes working as a team so rewarding from one day to the next. “One of my favorite parts about working with the team is just how creative and amazing everybody is that I work with; and I feel so fortunate that our team is just so awesome. I learn so much from everyone on our team every day,” she reveals.

Bioluminescent Light Wand

[Image description: A hand holding up a glowing Nyoka Light Wand in the dark]

3 ways partnering with Community Futures BC helped Paige thrive

  1. Intellectual property strategy
  2. Personal coaching
  3. Employment policy

How the business has impacted her life

During her university years, Paige had lost her sense of purpose. “For a while, I was really lost and had no idea what I wanted to do. And knowing about all the challenges we're facing as a society, I was honestly so depressed and didn't feel like I would have any power to change any of the things that I saw as being so harmful for our planet,” she explains.

It was when Paige took some time off to do other work that things started to turn around for her. She worked in a lab as a research assistant, in academia, and then for a sustainable landscaping solutions company. This was how she got introduced to the green business sector and clean tech. “It took me a while to find what really met kind of my skills and my interests with what the world needed,” she says.  

Paige has seen her business as a transformative force in her life. She also credits this transformation to the measurable impact she is making on the environment. “You can work so hard and actually see the impacts you're having and, like, calculate it,” she beams. “It completely changed my life… I didn't know how powerful it would feel to know that the products you're selling are actually helping the environment,” she adds.

“Now I'm working on this every day, I basically feel like I'm living my dream... It blows my mind every day that this is what I get to do… It's just so amazing to feel like, you know, you found that in your life, and are able to put your time towards something valuable.” she says with a warm smile. 

How Paige overcame barriers on her entrepreneurial journey

For many years, Paige felt isolated and struggled with her health. After dropping out of university, she felt she lost hope. “Life was bad for a while. And at the time, I didn't know if there was another side… I just feel really lucky that I am at a place where I can kind of be hopeful again...” she says as she empathizes with other entrepreneurs and professionals who face barriers and struggle with feelings of isolation.

To keep her hopes high, Paige knew that she needed to ask for help, so she turned to Community Futures. They provided her with funding for consultation work. “I remember at first, I was like, ‘Oh, consultation work, like, I actually need to get real work done.’ And I was so wrong, so wrong about that,” she laughs.

Through Community Futures, Paige began working with a few different consultants. An Intellectual Property consultant helped with Nyoka’s patent strategy, informing how they move forward with investors. Another consultant was a Business Coach. “As an entrepreneur with different abilities, I know I've struggled a lot with self-confidence... Sometimes my differing abilities do impact me day to day, and I've started to reframe that, working with my coach... I would say, even in the past three months, I've noticed my confidence and my own belief in myself has really blossomed. And that's all been possible because of Community Futures… The value of this work that I’ve been able to do thanks to Community Futures has absolutely expanded what’s possible for Nokia Design Labs,” she divulges.

Paige feels empowered and confident in her abilities to overcome obstacles that come her way. “Because of all the work that I've been able to get help with, [I feel like] I'm better set up for success, you know, 100 times over than what I would have been without some of the amazing help that I've been able to receive,” she says with gratitude.

Bioluminescenet Waving Hand

[Image description: A woman scientist waving a bioluminescent Nyoka Light Wand in a laboratory and another scientist smiling, looking on behind her.]

What Paige learned about her business amid the pandemic

The pandemic pulled the rug out from under so many businesses. Social distancing, and the cancellation of countless events and festivals had an impact on the work that the team at Nyoka Design Labs was doing. “Our whole primary market, festivals and events, just stopped because of the pandemic. At first, it was earth-shattering, but we always had in mind building towards a more technical market, which uses glow sticks for industrial use, such as fishing, humanitarian aid, etc.” By focusing her networking and outreach efforts specifically in these sectors, Paige was able to leverage government hiring grants to build a team, turning this unfortunate situation into a silver lining.

The exact moment she felt the most proud her your business

“In our team meeting this morning! Transitioning from lone founder to working with a team has been incredible,” she says excitedly. Paige says that when she sees the team working together, caring deeply about their work, arguing for the benefit of our business, it blows her mind. “I'm looking forward to the next few years and the impact we'll have together,” she says with pride.

Advice to other entrepreneurs

Paige has lots of great advice for fellow entrepreneurs, however, it doesn’t follow the school of thought that many are exposed to through TV shows like Shark Tank or Dragon’s Den. “For any entrepreneur or dreamer, or someone with an idea, especially if you are facing challenges like a disability, the thing that's helped me the most, and I'm no master at this, I work on this every day, is just believing in yourself.... And maybe you can’t be that 80-hour-a-week entrepreneur. But I would say that having some challenges has made me actually a better business owner, because I know I can't do everything myself,” she shares.

Paige understands that many people with disabilities usually end up having to do a lot on their own, and she knows how challenging that can be. “I just would really hope that people can see from what I have shared that there is a way through. And it's so important to believe in yourself through that because there are resources out there. And sometimes it just takes a while to find that,” she says reassuringly.

What’s next?

“Moving forward with this [business] has been so good for my mental health and my general inspiration and hope for the future,” she says with a smile. She credits this feeling to her entrepreneurial journey, and her thoughtful, supportive community.

Paige hopes that people will share her work on social media, and tell their friends about Nyoka. Her final parting words shine like the bioluminescent ocean that first inspired her vision, “Spread the light!”

“One of the best things I've done is to invest in my personal healing through therapy and self-knowledge/self-care practices and coaching, which has enabled me to show up in a healthy, confident, and relaxed state with my team, and to better manage all of the values and personalities that come with passionate, intelligent people. Being an introvert, needing time to do 'nothing,' and being sensitive and empathetic, have time and time again shown to be some of the most useful skills I have! Would highly recommend self-work and having an accountability coach - thank you Community Futures for supporting this kind of work!”

-Paige Whitehead, Founder, Nyoka Design Lab



Community Futures British Columbia
33163 2nd Ave
Mission, BC  V2V 6T8

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