On April 20, IIT graduate student Kate Jakubas took first place in the Quinlan Social Enterprise Competition at Loyola University Chicago for her company Meliora K, which provides household cleaning products made using simple, non-toxic ingredients.
A master’s student in environmental engineering, Kate refined her business plan in the IIT Stuart School of Business course, “BUS 510: Building an Innovative and Sustainable Business.” Recently added to the curriculum, BUS 510 is a foundational course designed to expose students to the basics of starting, growing and running a profitable business, and doing so in an environmentally and socially sustainable fashion.
Kate had her initial idea after hearing about advocacy group Women’s Voices for the Earth and their campaign to reformulate Tide detergent to remove a known carcinogen from the formula. Following the campaign closely, Kate started making her own detergent using a recipe she found online that used simple, clean ingredients and no industrial chemicals. Initially, she focused on getting her family and friends to try her product, but saw an opportunity to take the idea to the next level.
“I developed a mini-business plan as part of the BUS 510 course, and found that I really liked the idea and wanted to develop it further,” says Kate. “I thought the competition would be a good opportunity to get some more feedback on the idea.”
With the help of faculty in the BUS 510 course, including Professor M. Krishna Erramilli, Assistant Professor Weslynne Ashton, and PhD student Weiquan Cheng, she refined her business plan and signed up for the Quinlan Social Enterprise Competition.
Competing against 15 other businesses in the first round, followed by five finalists, Kate earned the first prize award of $5,000. She plans to use the funding to incorporate her business as an LLC or Benefit Corporation under recent Illinois legislation.
Working with a team including her mom and sister, Kate’s goal is to have as many people use safe, non-toxic cleaning products as possible — even if they make their own instead of buying them from Meliora K. “When we launch, we will sell our cleaning products, but we’ll also print the recipes we use on every box,” says Kate. “The ingredients are easy to find, and our customers can even make it themselves if they want. We want to educate people about the ingredients that are used in cleaning products so they can learn how to reduce their exposure to toxic materials.”
While pursuing her engineering degree, Kate also took MBA 501: Accounting for Strategic Decision Making as an elective to further develop her business skills. “My background is mostly technical, and I had never really studied business before,” says Kate. “It was important to me to improve my business skills through electives wherever I could.”
Kate will receive her M.S. in Environmental Engineering and Water Management from IIT Armour College of Engineering in May, and currently works as a Regulatory Specialist at SRAM Corporation in Chicago. To learn more about Meliora K, visit http://www.meliorak.com.