When Monika Dharia ’19 was looking for rain gear product lines at Duke, she realized there weren’t any eco-friendly options for ponchos—the only products on the market were disposable and petroleum-based.
As someone passionate about creating economic solutions for environmental problems, Dharia saw an opportunity. In her Social Innovation course, she was already thinking about how to make social impact by combining environmental engineering (her major), economics (her minor), and entrepreneurship.
Dharia realized she could combine her engineering skills and economic knowledge to create a real-world solution to plastic pollution: a high-quality, affordable poncho made of recycled craft material. Months of research led her to design the EcoRain poncho, made using 100% recyclable bioplastic.
Originally she wanted to create her own ponchos just for Duke, but she realized she could turn it into a business—and thus, GreenGear Supply Company was born. Dharia met cofounder Russell Heller through their Bain & Company internship in the summer of 2018; he brought to the company an environmental background and experience working with sustainable business models.
Participating in the Melissa and Doug Entrepreneurs Program helped Dharia develop GreenGear’s business model—and learn to listen to her own instincts. “When you’re developing your own idea, you are your own CEO,” she says. “So not every piece of advice is one you need to take, but you should just take it all in and trust your own ambitions and experiences to make those future decisions.”
Those decisions are paying off—GreenGear won Yale’s Sabin Sustainable Venture Prize earlier this month (Heller is a Yale student, making GreenGear eligible to compete) from a field of other impressive companies. One seeks to change the fashion industry by improving the experience for secondhand children’s clothing, one is focused on providing capital for schools and affordable housing units to use solar energy, and another is working to build self-sustaining electric powertrain systems for Class 8 semi trucks.
Dharia plans to move to Boston after graduation to work for Bain & Company while also working on GreenGear, with the aim of doing market and customer research prior to shifting into a full-time role developing and scaling the company. She envisions expanding GreenGear’s product line to include eco-friendly phone cases, water bottles, hiking utensils, and beyond.
When it comes to advice for fellow students, Dharia emphasizes the potential to effect real change. “One of my favorite things [at Duke] has been just having conversations with other people about potential real-life solutions,” she says. “I really would recommend that everybody get involved with social entrepreneurship in some way. Whether that be through Duke Engage or a social entrepreneurship course, it is just such a valuable experience and helps you see the bigger problems that are out there.”