Beyond the Blue Bins

Posted 2020-04-14
Jaclyn McPhadden co-founded Canada’s largest network of smart recycling containers while at UBC Sauder
  • During UBC Sauder’s Part-Time MBA program (now the Professional MBA) Jaclyn McPhadden co-founded RecycleSmart.

  • Like many industry disruptors, she and her team faced major obstacles getting their startup off the ground
  • Now RecycleSmart operates the largest network of smart containers across Canada and has big plans for the next five years


Founding RecycleSmart

Jaclyn McPhadden is no stranger to unchartered territory. For five years she was an expedition leader in the Arctic and Antarctic, an experience that prepared her well for being a founder.

“I’ve always gravitated toward things that are kind of risky, but exhilarating and exciting,” she says. “I’ve always been willing to lead the charge, to stick my neck out and do what it takes.”

McPhadden’s innate drive to break through boundaries led her to co-found RecycleSmart, a Vancouver-based startup that uses smart technology to get real-time data on a company’s recyclable waste. By using smart bins with sensors, RecycleSmart enables a company’s waste to be collected when containers are full – and only when they’re full. RecycleSmart is also able to give a company a better idea of their big picture through the data they collect. All of which streamlines logistics, reducing costs and environmental impact along the way.

McPhadden started RecycleSmart while at the UBC Sauder School of Business, pursuing what was then known as the Part-Time MBA, now the Professional MBA.

“I was trying to start a business while working full-time and pursuing my MBA part-time. There were times when it was overwhelming, but I remember thinking ‘This is the best decision I ever made,’” she says.



Jaclyn as an expedition leader during her time in the Arctic and Antarctic


Laying the groundwork at UBC Sauder

McPhadden describes her UBC Sauder professors as “inspiring, engaging, and very good at what they do.” Many of their lessons influence her leadership style to this day.

“Daniel Skarlicki always told us to celebrate all our wins – big and small – as part of leadership and change management,” she says. “We’ve done that every step of the way at RecycleSmart and that’s helped us foster a collaborative environment.”

McPhadden came to UBC Sauder from a biology undergraduate program where she describes herself as having been “business illiterate.” She says she completely transformed during her time at UBC Sauder, broadening her business acumen as well as her professional network.

“The secret is: Find out what you’re really good at and find people who complement you,” she says.




Early challenges

Like many founders who are revolutionizing an industry, McPhadden faced early opposition when trying to get RecycleSmart off the ground.

“When we were looking for financing in the very beginning, we went to every single bank looking for a small operating loan to help us grow,” she says. “Every single one said no.”

Their big break came in the form of a loan they received from a not-for-profit organization now called Futurepreneur Canada. Not only did it give them the seed money they needed, it gave them the opportunity to work with a mentor. That was in 2010 and they’re still working together.

“Our mentor been a lifeline in so many situations,” McPhadden says.




In hypergrowth mode

Today, RecycleSmart is expanding rapidly. And they’re not slowing down.

“We’ve been in hypergrowth mode for five years now,” McPhadden says. “From 2012 to 2017 it was a five thousand per cent growth in revenue and we’re still on that pace.”

That in and of itself has brought challenges.

“As we’ve paved the way, the surrounding industry hasn’t grown as fast as we have,” she says. “Because we’re operating in a niche industry, some of the things that other businesses take for granted – like finding compatible software and basic IT infrastructure – has been a challenge.”

Still, by creating an environment where her team doesn’t simply accept the status quo is paying off.

“Our revenue goals for the next five years are ambitious,” she says. “UBC Sauder gave me the foundation to make them happen.”