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Chicago Booth MBA Fights Plastic Pollution With Her Social Enterprise

Nicole Doucet’s Green Sheep Water sells water in recyclable aluminum bottles and donates a percentage of each sale towards ocean cleanup efforts

By  Marco De Novellis

Wed Apr 12 2017

1,500 plastic bottles are used in the US every single second. 70% never make it to a recycling bin. Instead, most go to landfills and end up in our oceans. In fact, scientists estimate that there’s a mass of plastic the size of Texas floating in the Pacific Ocean.

These figures inspired Nicole Doucet to take the leap and start her own social enterprise. In 2011, she came up with the idea for Green Sheep Water, which sells still and sparkling water in recyclable aluminum bottles, and donates a percentage of each sale to ocean cleanup efforts.

In 2014, she launched her nascent business and decided to develop it while pursuing a full-time MBA at Chicago Booth, ranked among the top 20 MBA programs in the world for entrepreneurship by the Financial Times. Chicago Booth’s New Venture Challenge (NVC) startup accelerator has helped to fund over 140 successful businesses including multi-billion dollar food-delivery platform GrubHub.

Since graduating, Nicole’s expanded her business across nine states and used the school’s mammoth alumni network – 51,000 graduates spread out across 108 countries worldwide – to gain access to mentors, business contacts, and investors.

She says her MBA experience at Chicago Booth has helped her become a better entrepreneur.

How did the idea to start up Green Sheep Water come about?

My co-founder and I watched a documentary on ocean plastic pollution and were really saddened by the amount of plastic bottles that make their way to the ocean. Although reusable bottles and tap water are the most sustainable option, the reality is that people value convenience so the bottled water category keeps growing each year.

We felt that a more pragmatic solution was needed; one that would greatly reduce the environmental impact of the packaging while still maintaining that convenience. We looked into a lot of materials, and aluminum was so much better than everything else. Our aluminum bottles get recycled more often than any other packaging material including plastic, glass, and even cartons.

Where are you at right now? What do you hope to achieve? 

We launched our still water two years ago and a sparkling version this past year. We’re still small, but our products are now sold in nine states and we’re growing very quickly. We’re hoping we’ll continue to increase our presence in places that are looking to make an impact by stepping away from plastic containers.

Why did you decide to pursue an MBA at Chicago Booth?

I’ve been an entrepreneur since I graduated from college and, although entrepreneurship has taught me many valuable lessons, I felt like the MBA coursework would teach me other skills that would help me run my startup better. Attending a top school would also give me access to a great network and improve my credibility with potential investors.

Chicago Booth was a perfect fit. Its entrepreneurship courses are incredible and immediately applicable, and the school has put a lot of emphasis in supporting entrepreneurs. I was also drawn to Booth’s flexible curriculum since it allowed me to choose courses that were relevant to what was going on at work. The location was perfect for me: not only is Chicago an amazing city, but our entire production is Midwest-based, so it was very convenient for work reasons as well.

How have you profited from your MBA experience?

My MBA has given me access to an amazing network of peers, as well as new investors. My professors have also been an invaluable source of advice. My coursework has been very relevant to what I do and I think that it’s allowed me to make better business decisions. 

What should applicants think about when deciding to do an MBA?

I would say that finding a school where you have a good cultural fit is important. Your classmates will probably be one of the most valuable aspects of your MBA experience.