Solupal was founded in the fall of 2017 as part of the new LaunchX Clubs program at Mounds View High School in Minnesota. After one of our team members noticed the high level of plastic waste that was being generated in the clothing boutique that she works in, we realized that even a small clothing store generates a substantial amount of waste each day and we couldn’t even begin to imagine how much large retail stores produce.
We learned that new technology in the casing of laundry detergent pods reduces waste by dissolving directly into the load and we wanted to apply this concept to our product. Solupal bags are made from polyvinyl alcohol (PVA), which is a water-soluble and eco-friendly material. By including PVA in our bags, we have been able to harness the full potential of a material that is typically used in more obscure settings such as hospitals. PVA is biodegradable and fully dissolves in water, contributing zero waste and no harm to the environment. By bringing this material to the consumer market in the form of shopping bags, we were able to fully harness the qualities of PVA in a way that would help eliminate the excessive quantities of plastic waste produced.
Over the course of just 6 months, we developed a water-soluble shopping bag that acts as an alternative to the traditional plastic shopping bag. Solupal bags are 100% biodegradable, eco-friendly, and non-toxic. They are provided to shoppers at checkout - just like a regular shopping bag. They are easily accessible and, of course, they also serve the essential purpose of any bag: to transport goods from point A to point B.
We have partnered with a local sustainable boutique, Spoils of Wear, who recently used Solupal bags in their VIP spring charity fashion show. Along with that, we currently have 3 clients and over 6 customers interested in incorporating Solupal bags into their businesses. We have won a total of $975 in prize money from a number of entrepreneurship competitions, including first place at both the MCEE Entrepreneurship Trade Show and the Junior Achievement of the Upper Midwest Company of the Year competition. We are currently reinvesting this money into the company to further develop our MVP and drive down our per-unit costs.
Our team is composed of 4 passionate entrepreneurs, and each of us has found our niche within the company, which has really helped us to meet our objectives as a team.
Michael Cao is the CEO and Financial Lead, bringing leadership and organization to the team with his experience as a LaunchX Summer Program alumni. He is responsible for maintaining a coordinated team culture and smooth internal communication.
Diana Zhu is the CMO, responsible for handling client acquisition through outreach with potential customers.
Vicky Li is the CDO, bringing experience in professional video production and large-scale event organization. At Solupal, she is in charge of creating our brand guidelines and design elements for our marketing materials.
Lauren Lee is the COO and Customer Relations Lead, handling day-to-day operations and maintaining effective communication with each of our clients.
Lessons from LaunchX
Throughout the product development process, our team found it was more beneficial to start with a specific application of the product, rather than trying to capture a wide range of applications. In our case, we initially wanted to innovate on the packaging for all types of clothing but found it was difficult to alter the stores’ existing supply chains and we had very little initial traction. Because of this, we chose to pivot to produce a single product: shopping bags.
It is vital to narrow down your customers to a specific persona; in our case, environmentally sustainable boutiques were the most receptive to our product, even though our MVP was being offered at quite a high price. By visiting stores in person, we were able to obtain valuable feedback and knowledge regarding the priorities and challenges of our customers, and this enabled us to better cater our product to their needs.
Advice for New Entrepreneurs
The first step of gaining traction is to understand who exactly your customer is and how your product or service meets their burning need. It is best to find a small group of people who really need your product, rather than trying to appeal to a large group of people who only slightly need your product.
It is also important to make concrete agendas before meetings - by establishing at least one or two regular meeting times each week, you help to keep track of everyone’s progress, ensure that each team member is held accountable, and keep your eyes firmly set on the company's goals and objectives. It is also important to establish distinct roles for each team member so that everyone knows exactly what they are responsible for. Having a relatively small team was hugely beneficial to us as it eliminated the tendency for people to push responsibilities onto other team members.
Creating a strong brand image is something that is often overlooked, but is extremely important in order to demonstrate professionalism when meeting with clients and customers. When visiting clients, we provided them with lots of marketing materials, ensuring that everything we handed out aligned with our brand guidelines and desired image. When potential customers see our brand materials, they are immediately reminded of the quality of our product and the forward-looking mission of our company.
Be confident in your idea. When marketing our water-soluble bags, we knew that people might be confused by our product as the material we use is relatively unknown, so it was crucial for us to be able to explain it effectively to the general public. Sometimes pitching our product led to some moments of awkwardness and discomfort, but in order to build our network and market our product effectively, we couldn’t afford to be shy. As an entrepreneur, it is crucial that you have conversations with your customers, investors, and especially your team, very early on in the process about how you want to run the company and the potential challenges that lie ahead. But most importantly, you must wholeheartedly believe that your company can succeed because otherwise, it will be impossible to get others to believe that too. Confidence is key!