I never dreamt of becoming an entrepreneur. I always imagined an entrepreneur’s life to be filled with long, stressful days constantly in promoting mode, while being fully aware that 90% of startups fail.1
It wasn’t until one day–when throwing away an empty bottle of shampoo–that I envisioned a different way to consume household products: a social venture called fulFILL. At that moment I realized, becoming an entrepreneur was now inevitable.
While tossing the bottle, I paused, appreciating the sheer volume of the product I was about to discard. Technically, I threw it in the recycling bin, which only 34% of people do.2 Then I thought about how recycling also has its flaws.
First of all, it’s cumbersome and confusing for consumers. For instance, a waste audit conducted by the Ross School of Business in the spring of 2015 at the University of Michigan found that over 50% of the contents from the building’s 30 garbage cans should have either been recycled or composted.3 Furthermore, the recycling process is energy intensive and it is difficult for waste management businesses to generate a profit. fulFILL is a solution to common plastic waste by focusing on the reuse portion of the reduce-reuse-recycle initiative.
Borrowing from the 1940’s milkman service model, we refill containers conveniently at your doorstep. Customers order their favorite brands of shampoo, lotion, soap, etc., place their empty containers on their doorstep, and we refill them. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average American contributes 4.4 pounds of waste every day and plastics are the third largest contributor at 30%.2 Landfills require vast amounts of land, disrupt local habitat, and produce harmful toxins such as methane and leachate.4 Additionally, the price of your typical household product includes a 10-40% markup for packaging.
fulFILL is a refill service for household products that seeks to lower these alarming numbers by encouraging a lasting behavioral change that is sustainable, affordable, and convenient. In providing household and beauty products at an affordable price and delivering them, fulFILL also enables all residents to engage in the sustainability conversation, particularly the lower-income and low-mobility communities. These communities have often been left out of this dialogue under the guise that environmental responsibility equates to higher product prices and, in many cases, this is true. However, by purchasing our products in bulk sizes from distributors, fulFILL is able to resell at a lower price compared to the local drugstore, therefore inviting all income levels to shop sustainably.
With our mission and revenue model in mind, The fulFill team set out to raise capital, better understand our customers, and test out our business with a pilot run. The funding from our Erb Cool Project allowed us to attend Startup Weekend Detroit where we pitched our business to a group of startup experts/accelerators and entrepreneur hopefuls. It was here that we met a talented web designer who was excited by our idea and was able to launch the first draft of our website in two days. We surveyed roughly 170 residents and gained valuable insight into customer purchasing frequency, brand preferences, and commitment to sustainability. We also received valuable advice on pricing and negotiating with Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) manufacturers.
Shortly after placing second at Startup Weekend, we learned that we also received a small grant from the Dow Interdisciplinary Award. This allowed us to purchase products, containers, and modest marketing materials. In order to take part in the climate discussion, we entered the MIT Climate CoLab competition, a global competition to create proposals and solutions to climate change. fulFILL was fortunate enough to make it to the final round and won the Judges Choice Award in the Waste Management category.
Eight months after the idea was born, co-founder Brittany Szczepanik (dual MS SNRE / MSE CoE, seen on the right in the above photo) and I are proud to call ourselves social entrepreneurs and to constantly be promoting our business. We are passionate about our mission – to lower our individual waste contribution, one bottle at a time – and we thrive on the daily challenges that come with launching a startup. Now officially open for business, we are in the midst of marketing to densely populated apartment buildings and senior citizen communities in Ann Arbor. Look for fulFILL, coming to your doorstep soon!
1 Forbes. Jan 2015. “90% Of Startups Fail: Here’s What You Need To Know About The 10%”
2 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 2011. “Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2010.”
3 University of Michigan Planet Blue. Feb 2015. “Ross School of Business Waste Audit and Waste Education Day”
4 Environment Victoria. “The problem with landfill.”
With her 8+ years of project management and sustainable engineering expertise Kristin is interested in becoming a leader in the clean technology industry. Combining her previous work experience, her business acumen from the Ross School of Business, and her technical expertise from the School of Natural Resources and Environment she hopes to be instrumental in finding business strategies or managing innovative products in the renewable energy space.