Welcome to our interview series where we speak with purpose-driven business owners and ecopreneurs from around the globe. Every few weeks, we’ll dive into their journeys, learn about their wins and challenges, and the resources they couldn’t do without.
Prepare to be inspired and learn something new!
Today’s guest is Simona Paganetto from I’M PLASTIC FREE.
Please tell us a little bit about who you are, your background, and what you did before starting your own business?
My name is Simona, I have an Italian background, but left Italy in 1998 to study in Germany and then work in Switzerland for 15 years until in 2013 I decided to migrate to Australia to follow my husband and my own family. Now, I’m Australian as well.
Before starting my own business I worked 10 years in the Medical Devices industry for two US multinationals and jetsetted around the world working with orthopedic surgeons and engineers to build and launch orthopedic devices from the idea up to global market launch. I liked the idea to help restore people’s mobility and increase their quality of life. For me, it has always been more than just having a job, it is also passion for what you do and what helps you get out of bed every single day for most of your life!
What inspired you to create a purpose-driven company and how did you come up with the business idea?
In 2014 I had just left my promising career in the Swiss MedTech sector to migrate to Australia to follow my husband and have a family, I was living in one of the most beautiful areas of the world, Airlie Beach and the gorgeous Whitsunday Islands in Queensland…
I started volunteering for Eco Barge Clean Seas, a local marine conservation organization, to clean up marine debris from the stunning islands of the Whitsundays … and that’s when I started to realize how the plastic issue was under reported at the time and how plastic is pervasive in our society to the point that we are ingesting it without really knowing the consequences.
A few years and attempts later and one more child, ‘I’m Plastic Free Marketplace’ was born in a bid to help people reduce their plastic and waste footprint with trusted sustainable products and information in a one stop online marketplace.
In your experience, what are the main challenges of starting and running a green business?
It depends how innovative is the green business and who this business is targeting, but generally I noticed over the years there has been a lot of competition on many start-up businesses wanting to tackle many environmental issues and with the pandemic in the way, it has been more and more difficult to raise awareness, sensibilise people around your cause, reach a critical mass of followers/ prospects and monetize your project, to be able to continue it successfully.
What is your business mission & purpose and why?
Can you imagine a world with less dependence on plastic?
We can… and we’ll fight for it… for the future of our children!
This is our vision and also our why. We want to look in the eyes of our young children in 20 years knowing we did everything we possibly could to raise awareness about the plastic crisis and to do our bit to change this and be part of the solution. We imagine a future where all materials and products are treated with value, a future where the circular economy has become an integral part of our society, a much less wasteful and consumerist society.
How does your work address societal and/or environmental issues?
Plastic has been a great invention but we have over-abused this material. It is now literally everywhere, it’s not just in the ocean, it’s in the soil, it’s in our food, in our drinks, it’s in the air we breathe. Researchers are still studying the effects of us humans ingesting plastic. In the future we’ll see more and more studies about this topic. Our goal is to raise awareness about plastic pollution and to raise awareness about how plastic affects our health. In a nutshell, we help people live with less plastic waste.
What are the most common mistakes you see green businesses make?
I can only speak for the ones I made, i.e. starting a scalable business by yourself thinking it’d be easy to build a team later on, while it’s actually the opposite. Thinking it’ll be easy to speak to the non-converted, while it’s actually very hard to reach the people that aren’t already eco-friendly and already do their part. Instead, these people sometimes have more criticism for your business than others.
Is there anything that you do outside of your business that is driven by similar (sustainability) objectives?
I have been volunteering for many local environmental organizations like Waste Free NT, Sea Shepherd, AUSMAP Australian Microplastic Assessment Project, Keep Top End Coasts Healthy, Environment Centre NT etc.
How do you grow and scale your business, and what are the main growth constraints and opportunities?
My current goal is to build a team, which is absolutely necessary in order to scale a 3rd party vendor marketplace like www.implasticfree.com. Therefore, I’m currently recruiting for two co-founders. Ideally one of them should be based in the USA, in order to make this project truly global and build the North American market. Should any reader be interested, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Some of the main growth constraints are the fact that social media advertising has become really expensive now, so start-ups need to be really creative now in order to get their brand name known on a shoestring budget.
What green businesses/sectors do you see growing the fastest right now and/or will become mainstream within the next 10 years?
Oh, there are so many! Apart from the plastic free / zero waste movement, there are many other green business markets that are growing, just think about the carbon capture market, the tree planting, the electric vehicle market, the ocean economy, the circular economy, the new agri-business including kelp planting etc etc. The world will look very different in 10 years from now!
In your opinion, what are the top skills necessary to be a successful eco-entrepreneur?
Resilience, passion, and experience. Like in everything there is a learning curve to go through when you start your entrepreneur journey. One of the most important skills is the ability to obtain expert advice from other experienced entrepreneurs in your industry.
Any “lessons learned” or advice you can share with aspiring or current green business owners?
Yes, I’d have as many that I could write a book about this. Don’t let the passion make you “business blind” Passion is great but you need to treat your project as a “for-purpose-business”. If you struggle with monetization, your project will not be able to continue no matter how strong your passion is! As mentioned above, another lesson learned is don’t be happy with general advice but look for expert advice within your industry, from people that have built something similar to yours before!
What inspires you every day to wake up and keep going?
The passion of making a difference in people’s lives and do something good for humanity.
Simona brings more than 15 years of sales and marketing experience, including a decade serving in international brand management roles of Swiss based medical technology multinationals. Most recently, she founded I’m Plastic Free, an innovative start-up helping people reduce their plastic waste, and is, therefore, familiar with the challenges of scaling a start-up business. Originally from Italy, she speaks six languages and is a great addition to any growing and globally focused organization.