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Sustainability

Skincare start-up turns coffee grounds into pounds

How a young entrepreneur created a sustainable business success story out of the waste produced by cafes.

Her solution was to start a company that made the kind of zero-waste products she wanted to buy, at a price she could afford.

Now her firm, Scrubbee, which specialises in cruelty-free, vegan, plastic-free cosmetics, is going from strength to strength. 

Maddie, who’s 23, was working part-time in a coffee shop in Birmingham while completing a degree in global sustainable development at the University of Warwick, and was amazed at the volume of coffee grounds that were thrown away each day.

She researched different uses for the spent grounds and discovered that coffee-based skincare products had many benefits, such as fighting acne and regenerating skin cells.

“The fact that cafes were having to pay for all this waste to go to landfill when it had so many other amazing uses really got me thinking,” says Maddie.

“I’d always been super keen on repurposing things and finding different applications for them so I just started taking the coffee from the cafe and seeing what else I could do with it.”

Maddie took a cosmetics manufacturing training course and experimented with hundreds of recipes before she was satisfied with the face scrub. Finally, the product passed safety and legal checks, and she was ready to go to market.

Now Scrubbee sells four coffee-based face scrubs costing £12.99, each suited to a different skin type. As well as marketing the products through the company’s website, Scrubbee uses several other sustainability-focused online marketplaces, and four bricks-and-mortar stores in Birmingham.

Developing new products

Maddie has had to overcome the challenges of living with dyslexia, and as a result prefers face-to-face business communication to long emails.

“Dyslexia is something that people don’t really understand, but I wouldn’t say it’s been a hindrance,” says Maddie. “Running a business is actually so much better for me than working in a big company because I can delegate those things that I would otherwise struggle to do.”

As well as being supported by the NatWest Accelerator, Scrubbee recently won a graduate grant for £6,000 to help grow the business. Maddie wants to use the capital to expand the company’s product line by using other sustainable raw materials. 

“We’re interested in partners that want to work with us one-on-one and have a really true passion for sustainability” Maddie Booth, founder, Scrubbee

She has partnered with a brewery and a vineyard near Birmingham to secure the by-products needed for her new products, which will focus on other skin and hair conditions.

Maddie says: “Coffee is antibacterial so it’s really good for acne and skin breakouts, whereas wine by-products will be really high in antitoxins, so they’ll be really useful for anti-ageing and wrinkles. 

“The brewery by-products are very useful for cell regrowth and hair growth, so we’re going to be using those for hair and beard products. Whatever issues people face, we want to help them take back control.”

Sticking to the company’s core principles

Maddie was recently approached by a major online retailer which wanted to sell Scrubbee products on its website, but she refused because of the retailer’s poor sustainability credentials.

“That was a really hard offer to turn down,” she says. “It would have meant increasing the volume of business massively, but the company’s values just didn’t align with ours, so I had to say no. It wasn’t right for us.”

Maddie admits that her lack of business experience has been a challenge at times, but insists that it’s possible to grow the business organically, while sticking to the core principles the company was founded upon.

“We’ve only been in business for about a year, but we’re learning every day,” she says. “And something we’ve learned is that is that we don’t need to do things in the way a typical business is run. We’re interested in partners that want to work with us one-on-one and have a really true passion for sustainability.

“I’m really excited about the future,” she adds. “There’s so much potential.”

If you’re a high-growth business with ambitions to expand, the NatWest Accelerator programme could help. Whether you’re looking to build your team, venture into new markets or seek further investment, this could help you gain the knowledge and skills to excel in a range of business areas.

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