Written by Samantha Panger, Founder of LoFi Recycling Studio
Starting our business during the pandemic was not anticipated nor ideal. We have tried to use this as a time to focus on growing the business in small steps and focus on product development. Initially we were excited about the community component of an open-source manufacturing process and the potential to teach classes about DIY plastic waste recycling and although that has not been possible, we have learned a lot about our business through running it in isolation.
We have recently been motivated to create new products and promote LoFi through online customer interaction, but before we had customers, we were very fortunate to have participated in the 2020 Tarmac Accelerator. The community of other start-ups dealing with the pandemic and the mentorship of Bart Bohn and Suzanne Corley at 3M really helped us push through some of our early disappointments, develop a product we are excited about, and create a solid foundation that we can expand on in the future.
We started LoFi because we wanted to actively work on a problem we both feel strongly about which is the magnitude of plastic waste in our society. We felt that we could start small and if we could change even a little of the process, divert some plastic, raise awareness that would be a good start. Initially we thought we would be able to work on LoFi while I kept my day job. However, I immediately lost my work at the start of the pandemic which, if there could be a silver lining to the situation, allowed for more time to develop LoFi and our [RE]verse Pitch.
The seed funding from the [RE]verse pitch has carried our company through this first year without us using our savings to support it as we figure out how to build a self-sustaining business, because of this buffer, we were able to make mistakes and learn from them. We built manufacturing components only to realize that we were not going to be able to make our products that way in our garage as we had hoped because of safety concerns. That felt like an expensive lesson and starting over can be demoralizing, especially in the context of 2020. LoFi would not have come this far if we didn’t have weekly check ins and accountability with Tarmac.
We developed the direction of the pivot, but the Tarmac community really helped motivate us to keep working on the problem when it felt hard and impossible and helped us see our process and product with fresh eyes allowing some of the rules and structure we had imposed on our business to fall away. For example, we wanted to make our product out of only recycled plastic, but by shifting our process we were able to capture other waste streams like old paint and expired make-up in addition to our PVC source material without harmful off-gassing. By being able to clearly articulate our goals to others, “To divert PVC manufacturing waste and raise awareness of the usefulness and beauty of recycled materials”, we were able to enhance the process of how we achieved these goals through flexibility and the support of wonderful mentors.
To say that this year has been hard is an understatement. However, I am grateful that even within this year of isolation and hardship there has been moments of community, the ability to start new things, and make connections with new people even if none of it looks like it used to or turned out how we may have envisioned.
“We started LoFi because we wanted to actively work on a problem we both feel strongly about which is the magnitude of plastic waste in our society.”
“To say that this year has been hard is an understatement. However, I am grateful that even within this year of isolation and hardship there has been moments of community, the ability to start new things, and make connections with new people even if none of it looks like it used to or turned out how we may have envisioned.”