Each week, staff writer Paul Wood talks with a different high-tech difference-maker. This week, meet AARTHI MAHESH, a University of Illinois sophomore who serves as project manager of Stay Glassy, which recycles used glass bottles to create quality products that will benefit others. It has a partnership with the Developmental Services Center to create job opportunities for underemployed community members in Champaign-Urbana.
What year in school are you and what is your major?
I am a sophomore majoring in psychology (concentration in behavioral neuroscience) and minoring in computer science.
What does Stay Glassy do?
Stay Glassy hopes to achieve two goals: to reduce glass waste and create job opportunities for underserved community members in Champaign-Urbana. This project aims to produce stylish, upcycled products including soy wax candles and personalized glasses. By taking old glass bottles produced from university waste, we can divert glass waste from landfills and minimize production energy and carbon emissions necessary to create new glass products. As a result of our partnership with SC, employment is a direct output as well. Employment of these individuals with disabilities will provide a subsidized income, tangible work skills, and a basic understanding of business management.
How did you become interested in startups that benefit the community?
I have always been passionate about social issues and the empowerment of marginalized communities; however, volunteering frequently throughout high school helped me realize it wasn’t a long-term solution. In a discussion class during my senior year, I was asked to write a paper on one solution to eradicate as many issues as possible in Somalia. When I started researching, I discovered micro-financing. I began to realize that my desire to aid underprivileged communities could be more successful if viewed through an economic perspective because this framework promotes sustainability. Since then, I have grown extremely interested in the intersection between social, cultural and environmental issues and business concepts. Social entrepreneurship provides solutions that have a real and lasting impact on people’s lives.
Who else is on the team?
I have an absolutely incredible team and this project continues to flourish because of them. Stay Glassy is managed by me and Josh Gitogo, an executive manager for several other projects in Illinois Enactus. I am also lucky enough to work with two very talented project associates: Grace O’Malley and Jack Sitta.
The project will help economically disadvantaged individuals learn technical and entrepreneurial skills while providing them a safe space for personal development. Do you have a physical location?
Stay Glassy utilizes the Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab to store our upcycling tools, etch glasses and fully create our wonderful products.
What tools do you use in upcycling? How did you learn to do this?
We mainly use a metal scraper to remove labels off of glass bottles, a wet tile saw to cut parts of the glass off, and sandpaper to smooth it all out. Our upcycling process was developed through trial and error over the past few years. We are constantly trying to improve the efficiency and simplicity of our process so that it can be easily replicated.
Do you have an estimate for how much glass waste this will save?
Around 300 bottles a semester.
What’s your best advice for someone who’s starting up?
Conduct a very thorough needs analysis and be flexible. Sometimes, directly talking to people and experts in the community proves to be a great resource alongside of online research. I would also recommend really fleshing out your ideas and being very open to feedback. Changes to the original plan indicate adjustment and improvement.
TECH TIDBITS ... from AARTHI MAHESH
Do you have a favorite thing to follow on social media, or an app you really love? I watch a lot of TED talks in my free time because I think they’re super interesting and expand my perspective greatly. My favorite ones explain the psychology behind emotions such as happiness, and how we can actively improve ourselves by analyzing these underlying processes.
On Facebook, I follow ... I mostly look through groups, my favorites being Subtle Curry Traits and Cool Dog Group. I love seeing so many people globally share similar experiences and interests, regardless of where they come from or what identity they carry.
Do you have an entrepreneur hero? Shivani Siroya, the founder and CEO of Tala. She created this company to provide mobile financial tracking tools and flexible financing for businesses in underserved communities globally. The app also assists with microlending, making it very sustainable overall. I really admire her work ethic and determination, especially being a woman of color.