Interview with Harrison Hall, Founder of OneCup and Winner of Pitching for Success 2018

Eliminating single use coffee cups with a ‘borrow a cup’ model

·      Sum yourself up in one sentence

Myself? I’d say I’m a passionate individual who loves to try and solve problems.

·      Tell me about the problem you are trying to solve?

In the UK alone, 2.5 billion plastic paper cups are thrown away each year and of those, only 1-2% are recycled. Consumers still believe that by putting these cups in the correct bins, they will be recycled, but that’s not the case as there aren’t enough specialist recycling facilities in the UK.

·      What does OneCup stand for in three words?

Innovative waste management.

·      What did you win at Venturefest last year?

I was lucky enough to win £1,000 funding in the Pitching for Success competition

·      What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever done as an entrepreneur?

When I first started up, I took photographs of big bags of rubbish because I couldn’t believe how many cups were being bought, taken ten metres away and binned!

·      How did OneCup begin and why?

OneCup started when I was a student last year at Oxford Brookes University. I went into a University café which was trialling a new bring your own reusable cup scheme – or pay a pound for a new one. Being a hippy kind of person who cares about the environment, I should have been delighted, but I didn’t need another cup and couldn’t carry it home. I distinctly remember telling the poor guy behind the counter, “I’ve just borrowed this book from the library why can’t I borrow a reusable cup and hand it back?” And the idea for OneCup was born.

·      How does OneCup work?

It works through a smart phone app which locates participating cafés. Customers then scan a QR code when they order a hot drink, which is served in a OneCup from the café. They carry the cup with them until they are ready to hand it back to either the same café, a different one – or at a drop off location.

·      How many times have you pitched and lost?

Never! I’ve pitched in front of people three times and won £4,500 in total, but I’ve had many written applications rejected! The feedback is that I need to clarify how to monetise the idea, which is a fair question.

·      What did you do with the first funding you won?

One year ago, I used £500 from Oxford Brookes University enterprise support programme to buy 50 or 100 reusable cups and some dirt cheap RFID chips, like you have in credit cards, for a couple of quid off Amazon.  I literally  glued those onto the lids of the cups to create my own library-based, cup borrowing system on the laptop.

·      How has your initial idea moved and changed?

I’m the first one to say that I’m trying and failing and trying and failing different options to try and solve this problem.

·      Where are your cafes?

We have done a number of trials at Oxford Brookes University and at one café we were able to increase reusable sales from 6 to 52% so it proves it does work.

·      What’s your superpower as an entrepreneur?

Superpower? I’m quite good at blagging stuff and I enjoy answering questions on the spot when I’m pitching!

·      What’s the best bit of advice you’ve ever had in business?

If you don’t ask you don’t get – and take every opportunity. A lot of people are afraid to try in case they fail but you always fail if you don’t try. I’ve also had a lot of support from Brookes Enterprise Support programme.

·      What are your next steps?

We are looking for more potential customers and interested companies who want to do trial runs with OneCup and we are working on that.

·      Where would you like OneCup to be in three years time?

In three years I would like to be operating in a number of large business and educational campuses where OneCup is being used every single day and we will be looking at extending the range into other areas.

·      Looking back, what’s the one thing you would do differently?

I would come up with a more detailed business plan at the start. At first I thought every idea I had was brilliant – as an entrepreneur you have to realise very quickly that every single idea has weaknesses and you have to be very critical of yourself I would say.

·      What piece of advice would you give to a wannabe entrepreneur?

Don’t just start a company. Try and find the problem that speaks to you and then try and solve that with your business.

·      Who is your business hero?

It’s probably a cliché, but Richard Branson, as he is dyslexic like me and he actually uses dyslexia as an advantage in business, which I’m trying to do as well.

·      What do you want people to do now they know about OneCup?

We want anyone working in a campus café to talk to us about how they could work with us now or in the future.  We’d like everyone to download our app, go to our website follow us on twitter @onecupworld,  facebook, as OneCup.world or email [email protected].

·      What’s your final last message to coffee drinkers?

For now, try and bring your reusable cup, but if you still have to use a single-use cup make sure you put it in the right bin and don’t put anything in your cup or it gets contaminated and can’t be recycled!

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Wednesday 11th September 2019
Oxford Brookes University,
Headington Campus