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How TEDxToronto Became A Positive Force For Good

09/27/2013 12:16 EDT | Updated 11/27/2013 05:12 EST

TEDxToronto marked its 5th anniversary at Koerner Hall at The Royal Conservatory of Music this week. Since its humble beginnings in 2009 - the TEDx movement in Toronto has grown tremendously with a slew of impressive speakers and sold out crowds.

Jon F. Dwyer was such a speaker from last year and this year was on a panel with Dr Joe Cafazzo, another past speaker, discussing how TEDxToronto has inspired him. I had a chance to catch up with Dwyer as he reflected on his TEDx experience as well as his body of work.

You were a very passionate and well received speaker at TEDxToronto 2012. Tell me about yourself.

I'm a 29-year-old proud product of Scarborough, as you may have noticed by the shirt worn during my talk. I'm the founder and CEO of flax energy, an agricultural firm focusing on the food, fuel, and animal feed and vitamin markets. A lover of history and economics, I try my best to lead our company in the direction of sustainability and growth all the while being mindful of the precedent set by those before me; taking ideas and methodologies from the past and melding them with the capabilities modernity has afforded us, will allow us better understand the way forward.

I'm recently married to my best friend Lindsay, a grade 5 teachers, and our dog Charlie out-smarts me with remarkable consistency. It's problematic.

In your talk, you reflected "what it would mean for the world if we can add a layer of richness to all of our most basic staples in life?" Share with me your experience.

Last year's topic of alchemy lent itself beautifully to what we do at Flax energy, insofar as we look to alchemise (I think I made that word up) existing products, textiles and commodities to find solutions to our most basic problems. The goal is not to disrupt or change the way in which people consume, interact and ultimately behave. The "layer of richness" I referred to is the endless opportunity for products from the past, such as flax, to influence innovation by producing economically viable products that mimic the applications of existing essentials such as fuel, food and water.

The ability to create abundant, high-utility based products that reward consumers with what is conceivably a "better product", all the while costing and behaving the same as existing, non-sustainable products, is at the crux of sustainability and will prove to be the economic model of the future.

As a student - you were credited for creating "a thesis investigating agricultural solutions to the food vs. fuel dilemma" that led to the Flax Energy Food, Fuel & Feed Model. Tell me more about this.

We actually began as a company seeking to manufacture biodiesel from used coffee grinds. I was studying International Economics and Finance at Ryerson, and dedicated my time to discovering non-food-grade applications for the renewable fuel industry. The manufacture of biodiesel relies on a fat, or lipid ingredient source. Coffee beans, like soy, canola and flax, contain oils which can be converted into biodiesel; the fuel itself can run in any Diesel engines without any modification. Coffee ground oil is a waste item, since the grounds are deposited as garbage after their use, so it doesn't affect the food stream by removing precious items from the consumer market, consequently increasing the commoditized value of food staples; we saw this with corn-based ethanol.

The coffee to biodiesel business proved exceptionally inefficient and ultimately failed. From our mistakes, we examined the results of our due diligence, and found that the process worked, but the feedstock, or the "ingredient" wasn't the best choice. We then spent our time looking for an agricultural answer to our question.

Canada is the largest flax grower in the world, producing 56% of the global yield. Flax oil is known as unstable or highly oxidative oil, and consequently has very limited cooking applications. Flax oil was used to make linoleum flooring and linseed based paint...the Latin term for flax seed is linseed, hence the name "Lin-oleum".

So, with the industrial precedent established, we explored the flax industry, developed a technology that manufactures the oil into biodiesel, and began to understand the huge value of the residual products. A flax seed is constituted by 40% oil and 60% meal. We use the oil for fuel, vitamins and baking applications, and the remaining meal for animal feed and flax flour. The use of flax based ingredients in the food and animal feed industry creates high Omega3 products such as omega3 eggs, milk, beef, chicken and pork, and breads, pasta and a multitude of other items for human consumption.

You are also a noted author of - Michael Burke as well as co-author of An Evening With Robert Service. Tell me about these books.

Co-written with my father, Michael Burke tells the story of our family on my father's side, who came to Fogo Island, Newfoundland from Ireland in the 1750's. My great grandfather many times over then sailed back to Ireland in the late 1840's during the Irish Famine, in order to recoup a portion of money lodged by his grandfather with a local land owner...some 100 years prior. The only evidence of the transaction was a 100 year old piece of paper, hand written, detailing the lodging of funds, acknowledged by 2 men who had long since passed away. The story which unfolds is a fascinating piece of history and was an incredible experience which allowed both of us better understand where we came from.

An Evening With Robert Service, also co-written with my father Frank Dwyer, is a one-man play staring Adam Brazier and directed by David Ferry. Robert Service, a Scottish-Canadian poet is one of the most influential story tellers in Canadian history.

Where do you see yourself in the next decade?

Working relentlessly to continue to grow Flax Energy, or developing new markets that serve to aid the betterment of the environment in which we live, and the people who live in it. To that extent, I also hope I'm not in politics as the lethargy of public office seems only to stifle ones creativity.