Global fellowship title for eco-friendly cleaning entrepreneur

Following six months of intense scrutiny into London-based Seep as part of the award’s gruelling selection process, founder Laura Harnett has become one of only 33 women worldwide (and one of three in Europe) to secure a place on this year’s Cartier fellowship.

She was awarded the prestigious title in China’s leading city for innovation and entrepreneurship, Shenzhen on May 22 for the plastic-free cleaning tools business she founded during lockdown.

This global programme to support female founders includes leadership development with INSTEAD business school and a $30k prize. The initiative was set up by Cartier in 2006 and aims to drive change by empowering women impact entrepreneurs. It is a global award split across nine regions, Europe being one, that recognises and helps to fund talented entrepreneurs who use their business as a force for good. 

Seep was founded by Laura during the pandemic as she was frustrated by the amount of plastic in the cleaning aisle and knew that there was a better alternative. Now a Certified B Corp, Seep’s mission is to eliminate one billion plastic cleaning products from landfills by 2030. The company estimates that it has diverted 3.5 million items (10.1 tons of waste) from landfills since its launch. Seep offers a line of zero-plastic, high-quality cleaning accessories made from natural renewable sources like wood pulp, plant-based viscose, maize and bamboo. 

Laura never planned to become an entrepreneur but said that setting up her own business later in life has been the best thing she ever did. 

“I was devastated to be diagnosed with breast cancer when I was just 39 years old,” she said. “I was very fortunate to fully recover after a few years, but that experience meant that I totally lost my fear of failure. After battling cancer, I knew that I could do anything.  

“I always felt that start-ups were just for young people. But then I read a Harvard Business Review article that completely debunked that myth. It said that when you look at the most successful firms, the average founder age goes up, and that overall, evidence shows that successful entrepreneurs tend to be middle aged.

“The biggest reason new businesses fail is because there’s no need for that product or service. More important than age or experience is to find a true gap in the market.”

Seep has a product range of 10 eco-friendly, plastic free and biodegradable cleaning tools including cloths, sponges, bin bags, rubber gloves and copper scourers. 

Wingee Sing, from Cartier, said:

“The Cartier Women’s Initiative has been driving change by empowering women impact entrepreneurs for the past 17 years, and our commitment is unwavering. Throughout this time, while providing financial and human capital to grow these impactful businesses, we found that the biggest part of our work is to create opportunities for role models and sisterhood. 

“By investing in women entrepreneurs, the Cartier Women’s Initiative recognises and grants the work of these changemakers. We provide the necessary skills and knowledge to support entrepreneurship and its community creates space for connections between the hearts and minds of entrepreneurs and between entrepreneurs and their supporters. 

“Every year we have the chance to hear from thousands of entrepreneurs from around the world through their applications, our community and ecosystem engagement events.” 

Seep has an all-women team of five and also won sustainable brand of the year in The Start-up 100 earlier this year.

Seep is an award-winning start-up bringing pioneering products to a dusty cleaning category, continuing to rethink traditional materials and innovate.

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