Following a career at NASA as an astronaut health and life support systems engineer, Dr Kyle C Grant completed a DPhil in Synthetic Biology at the University of Oxford. After became increasingly frustrated with the awful laundry facilities at the university, Kyle founded Oxwash, then a student laundry service, with a spray-painted deliveroo backpack. With the rapid growth in both B2C and B2B clients, it was critical to build a solution that held true to Kyle’s core sustainability principles. Thus the first pilot Oxwash ‘lagoon’ was engineered and brought online in Oxford. Kyle has been recognised for his innovative leadership and entrepreneurship by Forbes 30-under-30 and Barclays Entrepreneur, plus selected for the prestigious University of Oxford: Oxford Foundry Elevate program.
Here Dr Kyle shares his entrepreneurship journey, inspiration and what he’s learnt along the way.
Could you tell us about the company?
Did you know washing our clothes is rapidly polluting our planet, and us? We founded Oxwash with the explicit goal of proving that we can wash clothes and textiles with no net impact on our ecosystems and communities. It’s a huge challenge but as engineers, scientists and human beings facing down climate collapse, we’re determined to meet the challenge head on.
At Oxwash we offer sustainable on-demand laundry and dry cleaning by using wet cleaning technology, a process suitable for items labelled “dry-clean only” that is kinder to our clothes and our planet.
Wet cleaning is a professional cleaning method that uses only water and biodegradable detergents and, in contrast to traditional dry cleaning, avoids the use of chemical solvents such as perchloroethylene or “perc”.
How did the idea come to you for the company?
I got the idea for a laundry business when I was at uni. It was my turn to wash the team rugby kit but frustratingly every machine in the uni laundry was broken. I sent a message to my teammates and asked, who had a free machine that I could borrow, and they all said ‘no’.
I thought, here’s a great business idea, there’s an enormous volume of students in Oxford and none of them could do their laundry properly. So armed with a backpack and a bike I started collecting and washing clothes for my fellow students.
How did you achieve awareness?
Launching the brand amongst the student community allowed us to build a reputation and loyal customer base quickly through word of mouth. We worked really hard to engage with the local community through events, reviews, social media, and PR. Just two years after we launched our Oxford Lagoon, we had second and third premises in Cambridge and London. Since then we have continued to serve B2C customers, with over 10,000 customers signed up to our service, but we have also been able to serve hundreds of B2B clients, and gain brand awareness through strategic fashion partnerships such as with Hurr.
How have you been able to gain funding and grow?
Yes, we’ve been through a few successful rounds of funding. In 2018/19 we secured £350K in a pre-seed investment round. Then in 2020 we secured £1.75M seed investment from Reckitt Benckiser, TrueSight Ventures, Biz Stone (co-founder of Twitter), Paul Forster (founder of Indeed.com), Founders Factory, Oxford Technology Management, Force Over Mass Capital, Syndicate Room and other angel investors including Serge Chiaramonte and Srin Madipalli (ex-Airbnb).
In June 2021 we secured £2.08m from committed investors such as Holly and Sam Branson, together with Pinterest and Beyond Meat investors – Future Positive Capital The latest was in Nov 2021 when we achieved £500,000 in equity investment through a public crowdfunder.
What are the key successes?
Aside from our high growth and investment, we are most proud of our successes in our sustainability initiatives. In 2021, despite the ongoing pandemic, we’re proud to have saved: 27,823 kg of CO2, 744,000 litres of drinking water and 22 billion microplastics from entering the ocean. We’ve also been working hard on our wider impact, with 41 jobs created and a 96% reduction in detergent toxicity.
What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?
Our main challenge is informing people about just how harmful traditional dry cleaning is to our ecosystem, and encouraging behavioural change in the fast-fashion industry. Through our partnerships with sustainable fashion brands and services like Whering, Sojo, Re_Considered and more, we hope to keep the conversation around sustainable fashion growing.
What are your plans now/for the future?
Having just launched our sustainable wet cleaning service nationwide, we are currently working on building our customer base across the UK. We intend to grow primarily through expanding our team, and investing in our proprietary technology that powers our logistics and our lagoons. Our processes, technology and focus on sustainability are what makes us unique, and we plan to work on this continually to ensure our systems are world class.
What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?
Just get started! The biggest step to starting the next unicorn is just that, starting the journey. Don’t plan to the nth degree, get out into the market and see if your thesis and product survives ‘contact with the enemy’ as our Head of Tech likes to say
Can you share your top 5-10 tips for entrepreneurial success?
Iterate and fail fast. Focus on the team first, then the customer, then the investor. Expect from your team what you expect from yourself, you can achieve a lot but you are only human.
Who are the 5 people who inspire you the most?
My “green hero” is Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia and his unwavering mission to build the most sustainable, ethical clothing brand on the planet. It’s a testament to his unwillingness to compromise that Patagonia has evolved into a brand, synonymous with responsible consumption within the fashion industry.
Mum and Dad – Incredible role models who spent most of their lives saving animals and teaching me to respect nature.
Elon Musk – Ultimate focus yields ultimate results. The man is a visionary and a huge inspiration.
Rosalind Franklin – The true discoverer of DNA and sacrificed her own life (from radiation poisoning) to get the results to prove the structure of DNA.
What are your favourite inspirational /motivational quotes?
‘Ad astra per aspera’ – Through hardships to the stars as well as ‘Nothing risked, nothing gained’
What are your social handles and website links so our readers can connect with you?
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