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When she was 21, straight out of university, Ellenor McIntosh founded Twipes with co-founder Alborz Bozorgi. The company, in her words, makes ‘water dispersal biodegradable wet wipes. They breakdown in three hours, unlike others that are flushable and which disappear from view but don’t break down.’
That’s obviously a laudable product, in a world full of fatbergs, drainage systems blocked by man-made waste and plastic in the oceans. The company is also a great example of what GenZ can do. They’re walking the walk as well as talking the talk.
Two things brought the company to life. The first was Ellenor’s life-long commitment to helping the environment. As she says: ‘I’ve always been a bit of a freak when it comes to recycling and looking after the environment even when I was younger. I look like a hoarder! Twipes came at a point where I was asking what can I do, how can I help. It was about helping the environment but also educating people about the non-flushables that already exist.’
The second thing was breakfast at a friend’s house. ‘How the idea began was we were having breakfast with a friend of ours and he said he’d blocked the toilet. It was one of those eye-opening things, like, oh you’ve blocked your toilet three times this year. And it’s only February - what have you been doing!’
Time for Twipes. Ellenor is a born and bred Londoner with Jamaican parents, although the Cockney accent of her childhood is long gone. She’s now 26, female and black – was any of that a help or a hindrance?
‘I’ve never seen any of that as a help or a hindrance. A lot of people carry things like that on their shoulders, whereas I carry them like clips to a cape!
‘That’s who I am. I am a business woman who is a scientist who is an eco warrior, that’s me in a nutshell. People suggest things I am and I just say yes to all of them. When you start a company you become everything, the CEO, the manager, the CFO, the person who wipes the tables, who goes into the factory, you become all of those things at once.’
In a time of increasing concern about plastic waste and personal hygiene, Twipes looks to be in a strong position moving forward. So what advice could she give a GenZ budding entrepreneur like she used to be? Firstly, who or what you are doesn’t matter. Nor does age.
‘You go to networking events and a lot of people can’t believe you run a company and a lot of that is to do with my age. “You run a business? How?” Sometimes I ask myself the same question!
‘Coming in at the age I came into business at, there was huge Imposter Syndrome that plagued me for years. I’d go into meetings thinking “Oh my god, I’m the only one having these feelings” but no, actually, everyone has it.
‘I think it’s a positive going in at my age but I do see a lot of older entrepreneurs and they’ve had 15 years in the corporate world and I ask them "Do you think that is the right way to go?" And they go "I wish I’d done it the way you did it because I spent 15 years in a job I didn’t enjoy or I was working for somebody else." Coming in with these fresh ideas, there are some people stuck in their ways - but I didn’t spend 15 years working, going home, repeat.
‘Just ask for help, if anyone wants to do a business idea, it doesn’t matter what age you are, what your background is, where you come from – just do it. Don’t be afraid of feedback. A lot of people are afraid to discuss their ideas because they’re afraid of what people might say. Negative feedback is the best feedback you’re going to get because it makes you think.
‘You have to ask for help, have to ask your network. Speak to people and don’t be afraid to reach out and don’t be afraid of rejection. And…I sound like such a hypocrite! That was me at 21, I was scared of rejection, of people stealing my ideas. No-one cares. No-one cares, they go "that’s nice" then their eyes glaze over.
‘What I’ve found with GenZ they are so incredibly switched on about everything, about how they want their future to go. GenZs really plan for the future: their future and that of future generations.’
Twipes runs on a subscription model, and they’re reopening after Covid in September so check out the website at: www.twipes.eu
As Ellenor says: ‘You don’t have to change your behaviour, but change your product.’
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Ellenor McIntosh, co-founder of Twipes, is an award-winning Forbes ‘30 Under 30’