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Award-winning Isleworth student start-up on a mission to save the planet from plastic
Two school friends from Isleworth have won a national enterprise competition for their plastic-free online grocery store.
Co-founders Pawan Saunya, 20 and UCL student Rishi Gupta, 21, run the Zero Waste Club which sells everything from bio-degradable bamboo toothbrushes, to organic pasta, beans, cereals and baking ingredients, all presented and delivered in recycled, compostable paper packaging. For every delivery dispatched, the firm plants a new tree.
The pair have just picked up the Student Start-Up of the Year award, a national competition that is a collaboration between small business support group Enterprise Nation and youth charity The Enterprise Trust. It seeks to highlight and promote the promising businesses set up by young entrepreneurs, often whilst still studying.
Pawan says: “I studied world development at A-level and just could not believe the appalling harm that plastics are doing to the environment – and what that’s storing up for future generations.
“We looked around and there was a lot of talk about it, but no solutions. There was nothing offering consumers any convenient alternative to buying products wrapped in flexible plastics and packaging that isn’t accepted by UK councils for recycling.
“We decided to not just sit and watch the world burn. We decided to try to do something about it ourselves.”
Rishi is in the last year of his natural sciences degree, while vegan Pawan decided to defer university to work on the business. Both still live at home with their parents.
The pals met at Lampton Academy. Rishi moved to Tiffin School in Kingston to do A-levels, while Pawan went to Richmond-upon-Thames College, where he got two A*s and an A.
Together they raised the £5,000 they needed to start-up last year by working on vegan markets. That covered buying the templated website from Squarespace, which took Pawan 200 hours to build from scratch, and their first order of stock.
The company is already on-track to turn over £100,000 in its first year.
Pawan says: “Plastics don’t leave the environment. They break down into invisible micro fibres and we already know these get into the eco system and harm wildlife. They are in our water and it’s highly likely that we humans have micro plastics in our systems too. It could have something to do, for example, of the increase in cancers. We just don’t know.”
In the future, the pals want to expand the company to design and make sustainable, organic, biodegradable products that are functional and beautiful.
As part of the prize, the co-founders won £2,500 to put towards the business and a year’s free office space in London supplied by The Office Group.
Zero Waste Club were one of more than 200 student-led firms that entered the competition from around the UK. The list was whittled down to the final five, which went out the public vote.
Last year’s competition uncovered a genius scientific invention that can create water from thin air. The Imperial College graduates behind ThinAir pumped their prize money into their company and have now been awarded a place on the Climate-KIC Accelerator Programme.
Helen Booth, COO at Enterprise Trust, says: “The Student Start-Up of the Year helps deliver the important message that young people can start-up excellent businesses and that they are doing it in style and considerable number, even while studying.”