Michael Mnatsakanian Puts Sustainability in a Box

Photo courtesy of Michael Mnatsakanian.

While most might go through a day disposing over two pounds of waste that ultimately ends up in a landfill, one UCSD student is managing to live close to zero waste and is now trying to spread the sustainable lifestyle through his startup: Sustaina(bin)ity.

Michael Mnatsakanian, a fifth year Chemical Engineering major, created a monthly subscription box company called Sustaina(bin)ity in early January. The service delivers goods to help subscribers gradually transition into a more sustainable lifestyle. The company offers reusable products, such as reusable utensils and a Chico snack bag, in boxes called Sustaino-Bins.

As the Vice President of Finance for Engineers for a Sustainable World, and as someone who strives to live close to zero waste, Mnatsakanian initially created the startup company to help others curb their carbon footprint.

“I often heard members attempting to change their behavior and live a more sustainable lifestyle, but they would eventually give up and get frustrated with the lack of direct information available and the convoluted marketing tactics utilized by companies,” Mnatsakanian said.

The very first package is an Introductory Sustaino-Bin which contains important single-use alternatives, such as a steel 3-in-1 utensil, a reusable Chico snack bag,and a bamboo straw, all of which come in a reusable produce bag.

Each box contains about five to six curated items that are specifically targeted toward a specific area of the subscriber’s daily life, such as eating out or grocery shopping, to ease the transition.

In addition to the subscription packages, the company also plans to offer do-it-yourself packages, which come  with ingredients and instructions to create products such as deodorant, toothpaste, and facial soaps. The goal, Mnatsakanian says, is to educate consumers about the impact of the ingredients in the products they use daily.

Sustaina(bin)ity started selling boxes two months ago to a sustainability organization at UCSD and is now selling to a second company, which is still in the development stages. Mnatsakanian is in the process of creating his team and a year-long subscription plan, as well as partnering with vendors to make Sustaino-Bins more affordable.

Mnatsakanian used several resources at UCSD to pitch his ideas to sponsors and receive mentorship from other business professionals. Two months ago, he took part in the Ignite Pitch Competition, an event hosted at UCSD where students from universities in the San Diego region pitch their ideas to entrepreneurs. There, he received professional advice and created more awareness about his company, which resulted in more members joining his company.

The Basement, a program at UCSD that provides students with space and entrepreneurial mentorship, also provided him with advising  from business mentors, such as Silvia Mah, an entrepreneur and the Curriculum Designer & Strategic Developer at the Basement. Mah provided him guidance in preparing for the pitch competition and figuring out his company’s direction.

“The best advice I can offer to overcoming the confusing beginning stages of a startup is to continue working, even if you don’t know what direction you need to go,” Mnatsakanian said. “Just put in the work hours and something good will come out of that.”

Natalie Lam is a staff writer for The Triton.