After learning more about recycling and issues surrounding plastic waste and pollution, environmental supporter Yasemin Ugurlu wanted to make more of a difference. So, in March 2021, she founded Reboot Eco, a refill shop that supplies sustainable, zero-waste household cleaners and bath products.

Yasemin and her startup began making waves, and in June 2021, the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce named her MEWS Entrepreneur of the Year. MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price learned more about Yasemin’s startup journey.

NAN PRICE: Have you always been entrepreneurial or known you wanted to start a business?

YASEMIN UGURLU: Yes and no. I have always been relatively independent in my way of doing and thinking about things. My father started his own business, so I grew up in that type of environment. But it wasn’t specifically my plan to start a business.

More recently, I’ve found that I wish things were done differently in certain industries. And, after a couple of decades of work and life experience, I feel more confident that I’m not just naively thinking I can do something better, but realizing maybe I can make a difference and do things differently to improve the state of things.

NAN: How did you turn your passion for sustainability and zero-waste products into a business?

YASEMIN: The more I learned through watching documentaries and reading articles, the more I wondered: How did we get here? What’s happening? What can we do differently?

Through my research, I found out that things like laundry detergent containers and shampoo bottles aren’t always recyclable in regular recycling streams. I was trying to identify existing solutions. On a more global scale, I found solutions on other continents that involve zero-waste stores. The refill concept is familiar here in the states for things like bulk nuts and grains, but we don’t have that option available for things like household cleaners and bath products.

Over the past couple of years, more stores are popping up around the United States that offer zero-waste and refill options. So, I’m not inventing the concepts. They exist. I’m just bringing them to our state, to our region, to our neck of the woods.

I’m taking a concept that exists in other areas of the world and expanding on it. I want to create awareness about these solutions and support businesses that offer refill products and products in sustainable, plastic-free packaging. I want to expand on the concept and make it more inclusive, approachable, and accessible for everyone.

NAN: How have you utilized local resources as you’ve been building your business?

YASEMIN: In Connecticut, many services, programs, and resources exist for small businesses and entrepreneurs. Especially as we start to transition to a post COVID-19 world, there’s so much support with more of a focus on the economy. I think it’s given us a greater appreciation for local economies and the importance of small businesses, which help keep the local economies going.

The Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce is a wonderful resource. The MEWS+, their small business support system and co-working space, is also incredible. I participated in the MEWS+ small business incubator program this spring. It connected participants with all kinds of useful resources and helped us get an overview about the importance of all kinds of business-related things from accounting to social media and more—aspects that small business owners may not be aware of if they’re just starting out.

The Connecticut Small Business Development Center (CTSBDC) is also amazing. I’ve been working with one of their business advisors who I met through the MEWS+ program. The resource exists through state and federal funding, so small business owners can benefit from this all-encompassing general information.

There’s a lot to consider and to do when you’re starting a small business, but it’s made so much simpler by these experts. And why not use the help that’s available for free to small businesses, because the success of small businesses benefits everyone. Our success means everyone’s success.

NAN: Congratulations on your Entrepreneur of the Year award. What does being an entrepreneur mean to you?

YASEMIN: It was a complete honor, and to be honest, a surprise. I’ve just started this business, so I’m barely considering myself an entrepreneur yet! But the Middlesex Chamber and the MEWS+ program recognized my ambition. And they home in on things like mission and the effort right off the bat. They identified these things, both the mission of what I’m doing and the work I’ve put in so far, and deemed me an appropriate choice.

It’s an honor and a privilege to represent other local entrepreneurs, some, like me, who have popped up over the last year. They’re brilliant people doing brilliant work.

I wouldn’t even begin to know how to define an entrepreneur. I think it could include anyone willing to break the mold, take a risk, and pursue their dreams. I still don’t know how I fit the definition of Entrepreneur of the Year! I’m so appreciative of the honor and the recognition. It can be challenging sometimes, so to get that recognition gives a boost that I’ll be riding for a while.

NAN: What are your future goals?

YASEMIN: This summer season, I’ve been participating in farmers markets in a bunch of different communities to spread the word and create recognition. My plan has always been to eventually have a brick-and-mortar—and that timeline is speeding up quickly because the demand is there.

More people are learning about the harms of plastic, how we need to reduce waste, and how solutions are attainable and accessible. They’re so excited about what I’m offering but they want to be able to find me somewhere all the time and hunting me down at a farmer’s market doesn’t necessarily work for everyone.

So, I’m working on opening a brick-and-mortar retail space somewhere in the Middletown or the Hartford area as soon as possible. I’ve been looking into funding options. Support exists, and I have so many wonderful supporters already through customers. The network Reboot Eco has is so supportive. There are so many programs and initiatives we want to expand on and the donations and financial support we receive is crucial to accomplishing that.

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