Plastic pollution is a growing problem in the United States and globally. Even before the plastic waste washes onto our shores, it disrupts natural ecosystems and harms wildlife significantly. Many companies are actively working to reduce the amount of single use plastic consumed by their employees, but navigating how to do so can be daunting. SeaStraws, a Business-to-Business-to-Consumer (B2B2C) sustainable products company, makes it easy.
This week I interviewed the founders: Chief Sustainability Officer Sophie Kennedy (CAS ‘19), CEO Antonio DiMeglio (Stern ‘20), and Creative Director Echo Chen (Gallatin ‘20).
How did you meet?
Echo: Antonio and I met working at a Coffee startup two years ago where he was working on sales and I was doing creative and social media. We got to know each other and found out that we work well together. At the end of my contract there, Antonio approached me with the idea for SeaStraws. Because sustainability is important to me and I love doing creative work, it was a perfect fit.
Antonio: Sophie and I met studying abroad in Florence where we did climate change research together at the EU.
How did the idea for SeaStraws come about?
Antonio: My background is in hospitality. My first job was at the New York Hilton in the catering department. I did big events there and learned what it was like to do purchasing from a large organization’s perspective. Then I worked at Luxbeverage, where I learned how to sell from the perspective of a small business. That made me very startup literate. I grew up going to the Jersey shore, so I was always aware of the issue of plastic pollution and wanted to start a business around that.
How did you come up with the name?
Echo: SEA stands for sustainability, education, and advocacy. We are not only interested in the sustainability of our product, but also in educating our customers at all levels (businesses and individuals) and in encouraging them to advocate for what they believe in.
What is Seastraws doing specifically to enable conversation through education and advocacy?
Echo: On our social media platforms we post about rallies and protests for our followers to attend. Further, we work with our nonprofit partners Surfrider Foundation, Oceanic Global, and The River Project to promote environmental education and involvement to our supporters. Most of the events that we plug are in New York; however, we sometimes connect customers to things in California, Miami, and Texas.
Talk about your audience.
Antonio: SeaStraws has a Business-to-Business-to-Consumer (B2B2C) model which means we must balance out the end user as well as the businesses that we sell to.
Echo: On our social channels our main audience is between the ages of 25 and upper 30s. Additionally, we have a number of younger followers and have worked with kids on school projects about pollution and enironmentalism.
What do you think is the trickiest part of your business or your industry?
Antonio: The trickiest part is trying to run a B2B2C business model which is innovative, but hasn’t proved out. It’s a balancing act trying to market a B2B company as a B2C. And because there is little to no research on the return of such a business there is experimentation and risk involved, but I think that gets better with time.
Tell me about a challenge you have overcome and how you did so.
Antonio: SeaStraws bring products to people that they haven’t seen before. We are a straw company and we have a great formulation for a straw. However, the next big thing in the sustainability market is cutlery which many of our customers and distributors requested that we provide. So we went through a thorough process of finding manufacturers to work with and ended up finding one that makes Birchwood cutlery which has the highest sustainability certification of wood products. We are now moving forward with that.
What are your Summer Launchpad highlights?
Sophie: The workshops have been amazing. Through them and with help from the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute staff, I have been able to learn a great deal about sales, which I had limited experience in.
You've touched on this a bit already, but what makes this work meaningful to you all, individually?
Antonio: As a kid I knew I wanted to work in the restaurant industry. That’s a hard living to make because the business requires long hours with little pay. I find it's meaningful to do the work I'm doing now, in the restaurant business but with a social aspect. I find meaning in helping the environment and providing people with products they’ve never seen.
Echo: SeaStraws gives me the ability to use my creative background to make a positive impact. Sometimes art can seem selfish, but designing for good and knowing that the work I'm doing is helping people become more educated and opt into a sustainable lifestyle makes this meaningful for me. As a kid, I loved Earth Day and used to paint the Earth Day mural at school. This feels like a big-kid version of that.
Sophie: I grew up in a house that didn’t recycle. In my work, I found microplastic fibers in a coral larvae sample which made me realize how prominent plastic pollution is and that we need sustainable solutions to fix it. It’s transformative to see how much big change we can affect through smaller, simple changes.
SeaStraws calls their work a family affair and are lucky to have each other. The team describes Antonio as a determined leader, Sophie as a fighter and a people person, and Echo as the spirit of the company and a creator.
Go green with SeaStraws!