For This Group of U-M Students, The Best Ideas Really Do Come In The Shower

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“I think all of my ideas come in the shower,” said Kristin Steiner, MBA/MS ʼ16, co-founder of fulFILL, a new startup rolling out in Ann Arbor this fall.

“But this one definitely did.”

The average person creates 4.4 pounds of waste every day, according to the EPA, and Steiner, along with co-founder Brittany Szczepanik, MS/MEng ʼ17; and contributor Michael Barg, MBA/MS ʼ17, are hoping to make a dent in that figure.

“I went to throw away my shampoo bottle and thought it was crazy that most of the physical mass of this product I’m just throwing away,” Steiner said.

fulFILL, which bills itself as a delivery service for household goods, is looking to reduce packaging waste by bringing refills of your favorite shampoo, body wash, lotions, and more directly to your door, poured right into the bottle you already own.

fulFILL will refill your favorite products

And so far, fulFILL is a hit.

Ever since first getting seed money from the Erb Institute’s Cool Projects grant program, the team has been on a tear through business competitions (placing in four), launch events, and pilot groups for the last year.

Most recently, the team won the Judges’ Choice award in the Climate Colab Waste Management competition, an international competition awarding the best ideas to address global climate change.

And sustainability has been at the heart of fulFILL from the very beginning.

“We are not fully utilizing the value of the products and the packaging we’re buying,” said Barg. “A big part of this business is looking at the environmental perspective. Is it sustainable, how much water are we using, etc. The key thing here is waste reduction.”

“The thing is, recycling is also pretty energy- and water-intensive,” said Steiner. “So I thought there has to be a way to just refill the products we already have.

“It’s like the old milkman service, but with a modern twist.”

fulFILL officially launched in September of this year, offering refill services to a pilot group of customers in the Zaragon West apartment building in Ann Arbor. They’re hoping to expand this winter into other apartment communities as they refine and work on scalability and expansion of services to household goods, non-perishable food items, and more.

It’s a challenge the team said they feel more than ready to meet.

“Part of me is like, there is no way I’d ever start a business while also in school,” Steiner said. “I’m just doing so much stuff. But being here at Ross and the Erb Institute, there are so many opportunities for funding and so many resources to help us succeed. It was kind of a no brainer.”

“Yeah, the timing of this is actually really crucial,” Barg agreed. “While we’re here we not only have access to contests and funding opportunities, but also logistics and people who can brainstorm and help us grow. We’re perfectly positioned to take advantage of things that will help us reach the next level.”

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