News | Mupe is June's Featured Business of the Month
19 June 2017
George Foot won a Shell LiveWIRE Smarter Future Award in May 2016 for his business Mupe, which he started whilst studying for his PhD.
Mupe have developed a process to repurpose waste seashells, that are thrown away by industry, into a sustainable and naturally organic exfoliant, which reduces the need for microplastics that can damage the environment.
Seashell waste is a massive issue in developed and developing countries. It is estimated that 8 million tonnes are thrown away each year. At the same time, there is a growing microplastics problem, whereby every time a plastic based exfoliant is used, up to 100,000 microbeads could be released into the environment. These small plastic beads are causing widespread ecological damage. Mupe tackles both of these problems by using the seashell waste as an alternative to commonly used microplastics.
Shell LiveWIRE sat down with George Foot to catch up with him and to see what's next for Mupe.
What was the inspiration behind Mupe?
Whilst working on my PhD at the British Antarctic Survey I was part of a group of PhD students studying a range of environmental and ecological topics. Many students were researching seashells and marine organisms and how they are responding to ecological change, which involved the use of seashells in their research. After the experiments these shells were often discarded and we began to research the topic and found that this was something that was not done by a very small subset of PhD students, but a massive global problem.
It was as we were refining our idea that the problem of microplastics was starting to be increasingly covered by research journals and mainstream media. After further discussion and research, we saw how these two problems could be solved with one simple product: a seashell exfoliant.
How did you get into entrepreneurship? Did you always want to go into business for yourself?
I never really had a desire to get into business. The only entrepreneurial thing I had done before was sell chicken eggs as a child – and I was terrible – my pricing strategy was off, as were the eggs. Most of my spare time at university was often spent watching TV or playing rugby.
My big break, as it were, came during a rugby match where I ruptured several ligaments and broke some bones in my knee. I had a lengthy time at home whilst I recovered, which gave me plenty of time to think about what to do with my life. I was wondering who would employ me once I graduated, and the list was pretty short, so I wondered if I could employ myself instead.
What challenges have you faced since founding your business?
So far, I’ve faced lots of challenges the majority of these are probably not unique to Mupe. Most of the challenges are related, in some way, to securing adequate finance to support the venture. Shell were key in giving us the funding to develop the first product line. We are now at a point where we can release a product, but will require a fresh round of financing to market the product effectively and begin to scale the process.
I do however, find solace in being at a point where we can look to scale. It was quite a challenge just trying to manufacture the seashell exfoliant, there are multiple manufacturing and legislative hurdles you don’t really envisage when you are writing your idea on paper. Some of these have included: specialist machinery, EU legislation, premises and people.
Another of my challenges was finding companies to work with me as the cosmetics industry predominantly caters for the large companies, who can afford large minimum order quantities (MOQs) upwards of 10,000. This wasn’t possible to us on our limited budget. Luckily, we managed to find some super people in Dorset to help us along the way.
I suppose the final challenge is more personal. Being a student and running a company takes up a lot of time – and there are only 24 hours in a day. It’s a massive balancing act between research, business and friends and family. I don’t think I have hit the right work-life balance yet, but it’s something I am working on.
What is your biggest (or proudest) achievement with the business so far?
Winning Shell LiveWIRE, of course! Through Mupe, I also managed to gain a place on the Forbes 30 under 30 list – which was a massive achievement. However, since meeting the other recipients on the list (who were all really inspiring to meet) I feel more pressure on myself to up my game!
You won a Shell LiveWIRE Award in 2016, how have things changed for you since then?
We’re very close to launching our first product and I’m super excited. To get here we’ve had to invest in some machinery for processing the exfoliant and overcome a series of problems. In my naivety, at the start of the project I thought it would be simple, however, the universe hardly ever aligns on its own, and the bigger the challenge the more celestial force you and your friends need to exert. I am certainly less blasé about how easy it will be.
What’s next for Mupe?
We need to generate some Mupe flavoured hype. This will include finding some kind souls to follow us on social media, so if you’re reading this, well done for getting this far, could you also be so kind to follow us on social media – we don’t have much content yet but will be making some super fun posts for you to interact with soon (just search @mupebody on any mainstream social media, or click here: https://www.instagram.com/mupebody/).
We will also be looking for
victims volunteers and customers to give us their feedback on our first product line. We use British grown oils in addition to our Dorset seashells – making our product naturally organic and British. We will be letting people know how to get involved through our social media platforms.
We will then be looking to grow the business. There are a couple of steps I would like to achieve:
- Find some awesome people to join the Mupe team
- Invest in scaling the exfoliator production
- Develop some new product lines and improve the current one.
Entrepreneurs drive innovation. How do you think this can be used to help create a smarter future?
I think a smarter future is about creating a future where we lower our impact on the world by improving, and not degrading, people's quality of life. How could we, for example, boil water for our coffee and drive to work without using fossil fuels, and in the same time? We’ll need more efficient cars and kettles and also need more renewable sources of energy production and storage.
This will only happen through innovation. Previous Shell LiveWIRE winners are great examples of this. bio-bean, for instance, use our waste coffee grounds to produce coffee grounds into biodiesel – our coffee will be powering us and our cars! That’s a smarter future (/present).
What advice would you give to aspiring young entrepreneurs?
Work out what you are good at, what you enjoy, and do it.
Got a Smart Idea for a Business?
Do you have a smart business idea that will provide a solution to the world’s future transport, food, energy, or natural resource challenges, or make our urban environments cleaner and more sustainable places to work and live in? If so you can apply online now for funding!