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Founder Spotlight: Mike Newman (Returnity Innovations)

 

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This article was originally published by https://www.vegpreneur.org/blog/mike-newman
 

Meet Mike Newman


Company:
Returnity Innovations

Returnity Innovations is the pioneer in the elimination of single use shipping packaging and delivery. Returnity builds out solutions and empowers the systems necessary for the shipping and delivery of reusable packaging, allowing companies to shift to the new circular economy.

Startup Stage:
Angel funded

 

Location:
Brooklyn, New York, USA

When did you launch the business? 

2014

What led you to where you are today?

I’ve been working on supply chain and sustainability long enough to be considered an overnight success. Though great ideas and change often feel like strikes of lightning, for me it was the culmination of 20 years of work building a base of expertise in environmental policy and grassroots activism (the Sierra Club), start-ups (stkr.it, Climb) and reverse logistics and supply chain (ReCellular). My work as CEO of Returnity is the perfect intersection of those previous experiences in sustainability, supply chain and systems change for major corporations.

What do you wish you knew before embarking on your entrepreneurial journey? 

It is easy to dream of all the markets you can disrupt with your big idea – and to think it wise to place a bunch of small bets on all of them to increase the odds something makes it. In my experience, this strategy always backfires. At my first start-up, we kept throwing our technology at new categories – but it just resulted in a lack of focus and inadequate resources to make anything successful. Not picking a priority is just as bad as picking the wrong one.

What is the most difficult decision you've had to make regarding your business so far? 

The pandemic has impacted every industry, including ours; Efforts to tackle the plastic waste problem were certainly affected by Covid-19. The week before the pandemic hit, we celebrated a major sales win together as a team - only to see that contract canceled due to the virus. A key choice for us was to decide on priorities and timelines in parallel. We knew we didn't want to have layoffs if at all possible - but that wasn't going to be possible forever. By picking a timeline to sustain through, we knew as a team what kind of sacrifices we had to make as individuals to make sure we could see through that window. And as revenue started to recover during the summer, we could celebrate together as a team. Amid major loss and change, there are opportunities emerging for innovation, such as our partnership to coat packaging with Polygiene's ViralOff antimicrobial solvent. Consumers have experienced firsthand the value that e-commerce offers when purchasing in-store became more difficult. We are committed to the elimination of single-use shipping packaging and delivery, disrupting the wasteful, expensive, and environmentally harmful shipping packaging market.

What can you help the VEGPRENEUR community with?

Returnity can help the VEGPRENEUR community understand the importance of building infrastructure to integrate reusable packaging and create circularity, especially in situations that do not present themselves as obvious opportunities.

How can the VEGPRENEUR community help you?

This community can keep on blazing forward with their sustainable plant-based businesses, sharing insight into how they tackle the shipping packaging waste that inevitably comes along with growing brands. If they don't have a plan in place, then we hope they'll reach out to understand how we can help them reduce packaging expenses and provide a financial return, improved user experience, reduction of workplace injuries, and, most importantly, significant reductions in resource consumption.

Fun fact about you: 

Getting my MBA from the University of Michigan gave me the opportunity to take advantage of a lot of non-traditional programs so that while my colleagues were at JP Morgan or P&G, I was working from Nairobi trying to help a small non-profit in whatever way I could. Ultimately my biggest take-away was how arrogant it was to think we could come in and do much of anything in 6 weeks; it was an amazing group of smart and dedicated people doing the best they could under difficult operational circumstances to create change in their community. We quickly understood that classroom learning was of limited value in that effort; I'm afraid we probably learned much more than we shared!

Anything else you would like to share?

By now everybody should be acutely aware of our climate crisis. Oftentimes, we lose focus on the bigger picture and think that addressing plastic straws - or even shipping packaging - is how we fix our problems. Those things matter, but real change is going to be difficult and touch our entire society - and we need entrepreneurs to lead the charge. If you care about social and economic issues, you care about sustainability, because you will never make progress without addressing our underlying resource use problems.

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