Turning Trash into Treasure
When Maura Maguire and Owen Ukleya signed up for SB113 Entrepreneurship and Business Innovation, they didn’t expect to dumpster dive for their A+ grade. But when tasked to come up with an innovative business idea in only a few short days, Maguire decided to focus small and figure out what could be done on campus.
“When I first moved to Clarkson University,” says Maguire, a sophomore majoring in Global Supply Chain Management, “I struggled to find a microwave and ended up going off campus to buy one. I thought: What if there was somewhere on campus that sold stuff?”
As Maguire discussed her idea with fellow students, one remarked that graduating seniors often left microwaves, small refrigerators and other large — and valuable — dorm debris in the dumpsters during finals week each year. Immediately, Maguire’s mind was in motion: Free inventory that could be acquired through a bit of dumpster diving?
“It's 100% profit and a cool idea,” says Maguire. That semester Dumpster Dorm was born. Dumpster Dorm sells gently-used items that Maguire and Ukleya acquire through donation sites on campus. That way, items, like TVs, aren’t damaged by students digging through the dumpsters. The resourceful, small business startup provides a sustainable way for incoming college students to furnish their dorms, cheaply and with recycled products.
“Dumpster Dorm saves the University $7,000 in waste removal during that one week at the end of the semester,” says Ukleya, also a sophomore majoring in Global Supply Chain Management.
Throughout the semester, Maguire, who initially worked with another student before Ukleya joined her on the project, created a business plan that the duo eventually pitched to local investors, who were brought into the classroom by her professor. They received funding for the idea from these investors and were also awarded a small grant from Clarkson's Institute for a Sustainable Environment.
While Maguire and Ukleya conceptualized the idea of Dumpster Dorm, they also relied on Clarkson University’s innovation and entrepreneurship resources, as well as other departments, to get the project off the ground.
“We worked with Erin Draper, director of the Reh Center for Entrepreneurship, and Matt Draper, executive director of the Shipley Center for Innovation,” says Maguire. “You can walk into the Reh Center or Shipley Center and say: I have an idea. Someone will sit down with you and say: Okay, let's go. How are we going to do this? It makes getting started so much easier.”
“We also worked a lot with Clarkson's Institute for a Sustainable Environment and with Tamara Risk, who helps organize orientation in the fall,” says Ukleya. “The Residence Life office also helped get our message out there by telling students in the dorms to donate items to Dumpster Dorm.”
So how does Dumpster Dorm work?
The online business, which began operations near the end of the spring semester, uses a website to list available inventory, ranging from small appliances to dorm furniture and accessories. The items are sold on a first-come, first-served basis, using reservations.
Maguire says that the fledgling business is doing pretty well. While they hope to continue to drum up support as students begin to transition back to campus, initial profits go back to their investors. Maguire and Ukleya used the borrowed funds, as well as grant money, to rent a trailer to hold their inventory, start a website and purchase tents to use as collection sites during spring move-out.
“After that, we keep what we make,” says Maguire.
As the business continues to gain attention from the Clarkson student body, Maguire and Ukleya are hopeful that Dumpster Dorm has staying power. But, even if the business does not last, the personal fulfillment gained by bringing this idea to reality has changed their perceptions of what it means to be an innovator.
“Before I came to Clarkson, I didn't think entrepreneurship was for me,” says Maguire. “I had decided I wasn't creative or innovative enough, but now I've changed my mind. It will be interesting to see whether I start my own company or go to work for someone else when I graduate.”
Ukleya agrees, “Having the opportunity to take classes on entrepreneurship helped us, regardless of whether we decide to do a startup or go corporate. That's the nice thing about Clarkson University: It offers so many opportunities. It’s amazing what you can do here.”