From engineering to business: Student Entrepreneurship for a Circular Economy of Plastics

Ngoc Anh Hoang, Program Associate of the Ida C. & Morris Falk Foundation
27/01/22

In Vietnam, student-focused competitions to foster innovative thinking and solutions finding are gradually becoming a norm, especially in higher education institutes. We see it as a good sign for the much-needed upstream, circular shift in the economy that helps us meet the needs of a growing population while complying with environmental targets and resulting in better social outcomes. 

Yet, rarely do we see those ideas turned into actual entrepreneurial ventures with tangible impacts. Innovation challenge is an outlet for ideation and creativity, the first steps in the entrepreneurial journey. And it must not stop there.

Uncovering more and more ideas are also the first steps in our support journey to turn those impactful entrepreneurial ideas into tangible upstream solutions. At the ICM Falk Foundation, we wish to become the missing link between high-potential student innovators and support organizations such as KisStartup. Through such connections, students can receive adequate mentorship and funding to concretise their circular innovation projects. 

In our quest to support innovative, circular solutions to address plastics waste, we funneled two high-potential upstream solutions from the Bach Khoa Innovation competition to C-Plastics Incubator 2021, an incubation program where the engineering students could explore the world of entrepreneurship and build a sustained business strategy for their circular products.

This post is a follow-up interview with our two aforementioned grantees: Edifilm & The Blastic within our grant to KisImpact and their program C-Plastics Incubator 2021.

Interview with Edifilm & The Blastic

Transcript

Question 1: Why did you decide to join C-plastics? What did you hope to gain from the program?

Huong Hoang Minh, The Blastic: Actually, we didn’t expect much about the achievement at the beginning. That was the first time we have gone for this field. As you may know, we have no clue about business and economics. Therefore, we were curious to know about the process of product development from lab scale to pilot scale or even industrial scale, and the way to sale a product.

Vi Mac, Edifilm: Thanks to the introduction of Ms. Tiphanie, my team knew about the C-plastics program. After reading the relevant information about this program, we believed that C-plastics would be greatly helpful for the development of Edifilm. All our team members are engineering students and we don’t have much experience in doing business and launching new products to the market. Therefore, our initial expectations are to gain business knowledge and to learn how to start and develop a business. Learning is the main goal.

Question 2: Now that C-plastics has come to an end, have your expectations been met?

Huong Hoang Minh, The Blastic: It’s beyond all our expectations. Let me briefly describe our transformation during the programme. We kick off with only two members and uncertain product. We were still confused about the product while the others were finding their customers or completing their business model. That’s something called peer pressure. Fortunately, our coach, miss Thảo, was encouraged us during that difficult time, so we suffered from it and won 1st place in C-plastics.

Vi Mac, Edifilm: After over 3 months of joining the C-plastics program, all our first expectations have been met. We improved a lot in terms of knowledge and soft skills. Every week, we had practical homework? and coaching sessions, which helped us have better orientation, and know about what we had to do next. We had to spend more time working together, so we got to know each other better (characteristics, working styles). Besides, our presentation skills have improved a lot because we needed to present our progress? to our coaches weekly

Question 3: What was the most valuable takeaway from this incubation program? How would it benefit your project in the immediate and also long term?

Huong Hoang Minh, The Blastic: Organize and categorize tasks: We used to work without planning and depend on our emotion. However, after this programme, we learned how to list out and get our priorities right.

Tuong Pham, Edifilm: The most valuable takeaway that we’ve had from the program is the way to brainstorm and implement to commercialize the product as soon as possible. At the beginning of the program, our project received feedbacks about its weakness as well as its non-logical implementation. Thanks to Kisstartup, we seemed to start it from scratch by learning how to test the market, figure out customers insight, and establish a business model which focuses on specific factors relating to the market and our target audiences. In order to control the work progress, we were receiving different KPIs for each week during 4 months, which helps a lot in building and maintaining the intensity of work that we need to ensure to get the product ready quickly. Instead of doing a school-sized project, we formed a more serious and strategic working style with the project they are pursuing, we know how to build short and long-term plans for the development of the product. Therefore, this is the greatest value that Kissstartup has brought to us.

Question 4: As part of the program, you have been engaging with consumers and manufacturers. How would you describe their attitude and motivations toward green products?

Huong Hoang Minh, The Blastic: The demands of using green products are larger than I thought. It is surprised me that even the middle-aged group still have awareness of protecting the environment and eco-friendly products. In some groups on social media, they share the experience about this area a lot. However, I found that the price of product is the biggest problem prevent them from using the environmentally friendly products.

An Nguyen, Edifilm: We were pleasantly delighted to receive support and interest from a significant number of people, including large international corporations. All of the clients and manufacturers who have contacted us are really excited about this product and want to try it right away because they have been looking for an alternative to plastic in their packaging for a long time. Honestly, we didn't think the project could go this far, nor did we intend to start a business. On average, we receive 10 inbox messages a day on our fanpage asking about the product and its launch time, this helps us realize that the dream of the finished product is no longer just Edifilm's, but also. belongs to a lot of consumers out there, so that they can be less dependent on conventional plastics. This is the reason why Edifilm is trying to perfect the product quickly so that it can be released to the market soon. 

Question 5: How do you envision the change that your project can make?

Han Phan, The Blastic: The goal of our project is to make changes in the consciousness thereby the use of people for non-degradable bags, especially in tree planting, which supposes to help the green of our planet.

Quynh Nguyen, Edifilm: To envision the change that our project can make, we surveyed the market to evaluate customer interest by directly interviewing more than 300 people in the age group of 20-35 years old (target customers determined by us). The results we received were positive because the majority of respondents wanted to use environmentally friendly products even though they were a bit more expensive.

Question 6: What is the team's next step after C-Plastics?

Quynh Nguyen, Edifilm:

  • In the next 3-6 months, we will continue to develop and research the product and then bring it for quality testing. In addition, the group still posts interactive media posts for the page while waiting for the product to come to the market.
  • In the next 6 months - 1 year, we plan to launch the product and have consumers review.

Han Phan, The Blastic:

After the journey with C-plastic, we decided to hand over this project for a younger and more energetic group of students. Because, right now, our group has only two members, which are all final year students, always occupied with the workload of graduation thesis and the afterwards occupational oritentation. Therefore, this assignment helps the project not only can continue but also to have a more creative and enthusiastic spirit with the same goal of making positive social impact.


The Ida C. & Morris Falk Foundation wants to empower Vietnamese students and more particularly engineering students who have great innovative ideas to step up and reach out in order to be equipped with impact business knowledge and be able to adequately address the waste and pollution challenges in their home country.

Join us in our mission to support circular entrepreneurship and innovation for a sustainable future. Reach out to us at contact@icmfalkfoundation.org if you have a solution to tackle the waste problem in ASEAN!