Changing your startup in a global pandemic

By Josepha Dietrich

A new plant-based detergent startup has changed its business model to meet the growing hygiene demands during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kurin Organics is one of 10 startups taking part in UQ's Ventures’ accelerator program, ilab. The founders are UQ graduate Ian Ling (Bachelor of Business Management '18) and UQ researcher Dr Kok Leong Chong, a biochemist at the UQ Centre for Clinical Research who specialises in DNA damage diseases’.

They came on board with a subscription-based designer laundry detergent that is customisable, plant-based, and 100 per cent biodegradable.

An image of Kurin Organics founders Dr Kok Leong Chong and Ian Ling.

Kurin Organics founders Dr Kok Leong Chong and Ian Ling.

Kurin Organics founders Dr Kok Leong Chong and Ian Ling.

But once the pandemic hit, everything changed.

When social restrictions were in full force, Dr Chong and Ling found it hard to buy the ingredients Kurin Organics used to make laundry detergents, making it impossible to continue early-stage production as bigger companies were stockpiling to make sure they could meet consumer demand.

Instead, they focused on what the community needed at the time, and what they could do to help.

The answer? Hand soaps.

“Hand sanitiser was in demand, but supply of raw materials for production was short,” Ling said.

“So, to avoid alcohol-based sanitisers, we came up with hand soaps or hand wash.

An image of Kurin Organics products.

“Within two weeks, we formulated a trial batch. It’s a brilliant product and I'm proud to stand by it.

“In our second week, we borrowed lighting from friends who are photographers and organised a photoshoot for branding.

"We printed labels and stuck them on bottles. We then started manufacturing our first batch in the small storage space we rented.”

An image of Dr Chong and female friend putting labels on bottles in a small warehouse space.

Dr Chong and a friend labelling Kurin Organics' first batch of hand wash.

Dr Chong and a friend labelling Kurin Organics' first batch of hand wash.

Ling said Kurin Organics has also had a positive impact on international students, such as those from the UQ Singapore Students’ Society (UQSSS).

“We did a number of social media posts about our products recently and the UQSSS contacted us wanting to buy hand wash to include in welfare packages for international students who couldn’t return home because of travel restrictions," Ling said.

Kurin Organics then decided to match every bottle purchased by the UQSSS to support the community and help flatten the curve.

14 students from Singapore smiling to camera. One young woman has a mask pulled down under her chin.

Students from the UQ Singapore Students' Society.

Students from the UQ Singapore Students' Society.

“Now, more than ever, every community needs to support one another to make sure we don’t get sick. This is our small part of making sure we help control the spread of this virus.”
Kurin Organics co-founder Ian Ling

While Kurin Organics has seen some short-term success, Ling predicts the business will to continue to pivot as community needs change over the coming months.

“We will morph into whatever the world needs us to be,” Ling said.

“We've built a customer base through our antibacterial hand soaps. So, when we finally get the time to focus on our original product, detergent, we already have a following.

"It’ll be easier to market our products to customers due to the credibility behind the brand that we’re building with the hand soaps.”

UQ's Ventures program is open to everyone – from new students to PhD students and alumni. To learn more and to see what's on, visit UQ's Ventures website.

Do you have a great story to share about a UQ graduate creating change in a time of need?

Let us know by leaving a comment below (your comments here are governed by Facebook Terms of Service and UQ Social Media Terms of Use).