A graduate's business aims to remove plastic from cafés

Jo Mohan holds a metal keg in front of a view of the sea

Read how university graduate Jo Mohan started a business to reduce plastic waste.

Jo Mohan is the chief executive officer of a start-up that offers a sustainable alternative to plastic milk bottles – just a year after her university studies.

Building her team through Venture Up

Jo started her business through Venture Up, a start-up support programme for young entrepreneurs sponsored by the Ministry of Youth Development.

She shared her idea of getting rid of plastic milk bottles, and inspired participants Nick Jackson and Luka Licul to join her.

The team looked for alternatives to plastic bottles. They didn’t like what they saw – glass bottles and plastic bladders – so they asked themselves, “What’s something that’s already being used around New Zealand?”

They modelled their idea on stainless steel kegs used in the beer industry.

“We did go for a pint the first night – that may have influenced it!”

From trial to a full business

Jo’s team learned from Venture Up that the first step to a successful business is to find out if there is a market for what you’re trying to do.

“It’s important – otherwise you can fixate on your solution, and not on whether other people will think it’s a great idea.

“We talked to about 100 people – we walked up and down Wellington asking cafés what they thought about plastic waste.” 

The team’s research showed there could be a market for providing milk in kegs instead of plastic bottles. The next step was to see if the idea would work in practice. They established Spout Alternatives as a trial, providing cafes with milk in kegs directly from dairy farms.

Spout Alternatives are now ready to fully establish their business with three cafés already signed up.

“It’s a bit daunting,” says Jo. “We have a couple of grants and personal investment, but to scale we need a fair bit of money! We’re putting together information packs for potential investors now.”

The most important skill for entrepreneurs

Jo says entrepreneurs need to understand their customers.

People talk about resilience, but having empathy with your customers is most important.

“That’s how you come up with real-life solutions. You have to put yourself in the eye of the farmer, for instance, and see how the solution could help them in the long run.”

Help from mentors to prevent burnout

At first, Jo ran her start-up alongside a full-time job, but realised she needed to devote more time to the business. So her team decided she would work full time at Spout and live on her savings.

“I do think it’s important to commit – I want to fully go for it and not later regret that I didn’t try hard enough.”

With the help of a mentor, she learned how to manage her time and not get burned out.

“I’ve definitely got my time management skills sorted. I’m the one leading the team – that’s something I’ve been learning to get used to.”

Jo's passion for her project keeps her going.

“I know I’m actively making a change for the community and the environment.”

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Updated 29 Nov 2019