Obeo: Building a business from waste

“Building a business can be a lonely and isolating pursuit. Origin8 enabled us to access an invaluable network of expertise and moral support” Kate Purcell, Obeo Co-Founder

Launched in 2014 by co-founders Kate Purcell and Liz Fingleton, Obeo is a 100% compostable kitchen container designed to address issues experienced when segregating and disposing of food waste such as the presence of maggots, flies, foul odours and the inherent fuss associated with cleaning traditional compost bins. Obeo was conceived by Purcell during her Masters in Sustainable Design at NCAD. Both NCAD and Enterprise Ireland were quick to see the commercial value of Purcell’s early prototypes and, after joining forces with Fingleton, Obeo became one of the first projects to be taken on by NCAD’s newly established Origin8 innovation hub.

During the subsequent year and a half, Origin8 provided studio space and design expertise, serving as an incubation centre for the entrepreneurial pair. As well as exposing Purcell and Fingleton to a network of experienced designers and academics, Origin8 also acted as gateway to funding, enabling this student project to become a commercial, working prototype. NCAD arranged for Purcell and Fingleton to attend the UCD Nova business accelerator course - a five week intensive introduction to the ins and outs of starting a new business which proved instrumental to Obeo’s success. Soon after in fact, Purcell and Fingleton succeed in securing both a manufacturer and their first big client.

Reflecting on her time with Origin8, Purcell observed that their proximity to other startups also operating within NCAD such as Gazelle, along with exposure to a network of design expertise, provided invaluable moral support and helped her and Fingleton to “maintain a semblance of sanity”. Her key lesson from the experience remains not to underestimate how long it takes to get an idea to market. Having initially anticipated getting Obeo on to shelves within six months, this ultimately took a year and a half. With this in mind Purcell remarked that “it’s one thing to have a good idea with commercial potential but taking that idea to market requires serious perseverance, tenacity and time.”

Despite Obeo’s success, in 2018 Purcell and Fingleton were faced with the unwelcome prospect of closing their doors as costs had grown to outweigh income. However, on announcing this news, the pair received an immediate and overwhelming response; over 350 emails flooded in from loyal customers imploring the pair to reconsider. Following advice from their former UCD Nova mentor, the duo launched a Kickstarter-style campaign in July 2018 inviting customers to pre-order a year’s supply of Obeo cartons, thus providing funds to continue production. In an unequivocal display of support, over half the target amount was reached in just two days. In the wake of this success, Purcell and Fingleton remodelled the Obeo business plan with a view to shifting to an online-only model.