Mugshare Entrepreneur Shares Her Story

By Iciar Fernandez

Passionate about sustainability and climate action, Melanie Chanona is part of the team behind Mugshare, a student-led initiative that works on a circular sharing model, where mugs can be washed and reused by different people. The concept is easy, you pay a $2 deposit and you get your coffee to go in a travel mug instead of a single-use cup. Once you are done refueling your caffeine levels, you return the cup to any participating business and get your two dollars back.

AMS Melanie Chanona

More than two million single-use cups go to waste every single week in Vancouver alone. Mugshare was born as a simple idea, and it is now actively bringing this number down by the minute. We met with Melanie to learn more about how is it even possible to run such an incredible project with no prior business experience, and while being a student. She had some pretty awesome insights to share.

  • Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m a PhD student here at UBC. I study Arctic Oceanography. I am also really passionate about sustainability, and climate action, so that was actually where I sort of got involved with Mugshare, by joining Common Energy, the student-run club on campus, and they just create this really great community of sustainability-centered individuals, and I have gotten involved with tons of cool projects doing that.

  • What is your idea and how did you come up with it?

Mugshare works on a deposit-drink-return system. So, instead of buying your own reusable mug or having to remember it, you can use one of our reusable mugs at any of our participating cafes. It provides a really easy alternative to single use disposable coffee cups. You don’t have to worry about washing it or remembering it, just pay a $2 deposit and you get it back when you return the mug to any participating location. Mugshare is currently at 10 locations on campus, but we are also off campus with 22 locations in total. Some of the ones that people are most excited about are Blue Chip, in the Nest, which were one of our first pilot cafes; Loafe; JJBean, which has their UBC location as well as two other locations on campus. We are looking to sign other 2 partners in Vancouver, and UBC Okanagan just started this month as well!

  • How did eHub help you get started?

This idea of UBC as a living lab is really cool! There are so many opportunities that we got, eHub being one of them, that exist because we are student-run and we are in this environment. There is no way we could have started this out in like, a basement in East Van or something. It just wouldn’t have happened.

We participated in the RBC Get Seeded event, co-run by eHub. The financial was a great appeal, but we were also looking for networking exposure, and to get practice speaking about our product and sharing it with other people in the community was a no-brainer for us. Sometimes you just need to get that first hook, to say ‘this is something that the public wants, this is a valuable idea and we want to make it be a reality’. I would say that is probably one of the biggest benefits of using a service like eHub. They helped me getting my foot in the door and having something to share with other people.

  • What are the three key things that you learnt from your experience?
  1. I would like to highlight the importance of working with a really incredible team of people that you trust and that inspire you. Our team is phenomenal and they are fun to work with, and I think that is key to us actually wanting to put in all these extra hours while we are all separately involved in our own day jobs.
  2. Sticking to your values is important as well. Starting your own business is a lot of work, so if you don’t really believe in what you are doing and the impact that it is going to have in people’s lives then it is really hard to keep that motivation up when you are putting in these extra hours. For us, the sustainability and trying to redesign this infrastructure around single use cups and seeing that as a niche that we could really impact.
  3. Being really open-minded and flexible is key. You start off with this idea that you haven’t tested in the market at all, you just think it sounds good – but you learn so much from your peers, from early users and customers, partners, and just being open-minded to that feedback so that you can adapt your program to solve the problem that you actually want to solve instead of the problem that you think you are solving.
  • What advice can you give to other students with transformative ideas?

I’m going to recycle a piece of advice that I got from an amazing entrepreneur I saw at a conference, Michelle Romanov. She said that you should talk to other entrepreneurs, because they are the ones that will encourage you to try these ideas out, and to believe that they are really possible. Whereas other people that are less entrepreneurial-minded may tell you all the reasons why all your ideas may fail. So if you surround yourself with these people who encourage you and make you believe that these things can happen. I think this has most definitely been one of our greatest pieces of success, just really believing that we can do it and that we should be doing it’’

Do you also have an idea and don’t know where to start? Check the eHub page to find out more. And next time you get a coffee – make sure to ask for mugshare!