While studying at Quest University, Juan Pablo Alcocer’s Question was, “How can one create and develop a green business?” Today, he is providing an answer to that question by launching his own green business, Casa Akaw, building a sustainable housing community for surfers and digital nomads in Mexico.
Casa Akaw consists of 18 tiny homes set in the rural surfing village of Playa La Saladita. It offers a haven of recreational opportunity both to the modern remote workforce and to those for whom surfing is a lifestyle.
As an avid surfer himself, Alcocer’s philosophy is to turn eco-friendly ethics into a lifestyle.
“I believe that through outdoor recreation people can cultivate sustainable values,” Alcocer said. “Through surfing, we can reconnect ourselves with nature to better understand and respect the world around us.”
Part of Casa Akaw’s model of sustainability involves collaborating with the local community. Alcocer hopes to provide an alternative to hotel corporations that turn public beachfront into exclusive tourist zones, a process that is described as “tropicalization.”
“In many places in the world we have become so disconnected from nature that we don’t respect it anymore,” Alcocer said. “Through the surfing community, we can raise awareness about a lot of environmental issues that are happening around the world.”
Building homes with a small ecological footprint is an integral part of the vision for Casa Akaw. While eco-activist campaigns often focus on adding challenging environmental responsibilities to our lives, Alcocer’s goal is to link environmentalism back to fun instead of framing it as a burden or a chore.
“It’s about finding a balance between being environmentally conscious and compromising comfort,” he said. “We want to tie it back to minimalism without giving up the essential comforts.”
With an eye toward both sustainability and livability, Alcocer’s team conceived to build homes out of upcycled shipping containers. Playfully dubbed “surf shacks,” the 20- and 40-feet steel converted shipping containers are built at a warehouse and outfitted with electricity, plumbing, and modern finishes on-site at Casa Akaw.
“Everything gets assembled like Legos,” Alcocer said.
Casa Akaw partnered with an architecture company from Spain to refine the details of the modular construction and received EDGE Green Building certification from the International Finance Corporation
(IFC). The surf shacks are insulated for the hot climate and are intended for long-term ownership.
Alcocer said that optimizing space for the surf shacks has been the most challenging aspect of the building process.
“A container is like a ship,” he said, “every inch counts.”
Alcocer projects to finish production of the surf shacks by September of this year.
Laying Foundations at Quest
Situated on the tropical shores of the Pacific Ocean close to the equator, Casa Akaw is a year-round destination with great surf during all seasons.
Roughly 5,000 kilometres up the coast nestled in the pacific mountains of Howe Sound, Alcocer first conceived of the idea of starting a green business as a student at Quest University.
Alcocer said that the experimental learning style he enjoyed at Quest laid the foundation for becoming an entrepreneur and launching his sustainable business.
“The interdisciplinary education Quest gave me was the perfect fit for entrepreneurship and starting your own business,” he said.
Developing the concept for Casa Akaw required intensive collaboration with a wide range of experts, including architects, engineers, biologists, and financial advisors. Alcocer said that his education at Quest prepared him for partnerships across a wide range of business disciplines.
“Because you get so many different scopes and points of view, I can get along with the full range of people I have to interact with,” he said.
The opportunity to design your own curriculum at Quest obviously appealed to Alcocer’s business sensibilities.
“I think it is a well-rounded education,” he said. “It allows you to move around the world, specializing in what you’re really interested in—Quest is tailor-made.”
As Casa Akaw presents an answer to the question first posed during Alcocer’s Keystone, he is partnering with Quest again by involving current students in the project.
Third-year students Isabelle Lafazains and Isaac Schmidt travelled to Playa La Saladita during their Experiential Learning block to get hands-on learning on what is involved in launching a green start-up.
Lafazains and Schmidt helped Alcocer with social media marketing, investor presentations, designing brochures, and analyzing what green initiatives they could add to the complex—all while catching some world-class surf.
Using the flexible remote learning opportunities offered by Quest, Lafazains and Schmidt gained direct experience in a startup environment.
“We got first-hand experience and came away with both a new set of skills navigating a startup environment as well as knowledge of what it takes for a business to grow from nothing to potentially something new and exciting,” they said.
The Experiential Learning Block at Quest is designed to offer students the opportunity to explore the world and receive cross-cultural exposure while incorporating meaningful learning.
Lafazains and Schmidt said that they would encourage all students to take an Experiential Learning Block if they can.
“It is such a great opportunity to work in whatever you are interested in,” they said. “If you see something that excites you, go for it!”
Juan Paul Alcocer wants to offer a way to rebalance modern life by strengthening our connection with nature.
Casa Akaw is just the beginning—it is the first community of what he envisions as a network of remote locations offering access to outdoor recreation to digital nomads.
But before he starts to expand his green business, he might go catch some surf.
To find out more about Casa Akaw, visit casaakaw.com
Learn more about Quest University’s Experiential Learning Block