By Paul Schlienz
You’ve never seen anything like the Slurp-C straw. It’s a two-piece silicone straw that separates and snaps back together, much like a sandwich bag, allowing the straw to be taken apart for a complete cleaning of its interior and exterior.
And with single-use plastic straw bans appearing throughout the United States, these first-ever, 100-percent reusable, environmentally friendly straws made of silicone could not have appeared at a more opportune time, according to Bayleigh Walburn, one of Slurp-C’s two co-owners.
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“We decided to develop this product because we knew that Seattle was going to ban the use of plastic straws, which it did in July 2018,” Walburn said. “We knew this policy was migrating out to other places like Florida, California and New Mexico, and it’s just going to continue to migrate elsewhere.”
Entrepreneurship always came naturally to Walburn, who remembers selling apples from a tree in her yard and making money shoveling leaves from neighbors’ yards as a child in Wichita, Kan. Later, her leadership abilities were recognized when she became a manager at McDonald’s. She feels her work background plus her college experience prepared her well as a co-owner of Slurp-C.
Walburn’s business partner, Phil Darrin, came to Slurp-C from a very different background.
“I’m an ex-carpenter,” Darrin said. “I’ve done everything from building simple stuff to designing million-dollar yachts.”
Thus, once he connected with Walburn at Green River College, his design skills became a crucial factor in the creation of the Slurp-C straw.
Darrin and Walburn were working on bachelor’s degrees in marketing and entrepreneurship at Green River’s Kent campus. Along with two other students, they formed a team to develop and market a new product for a class project, which turned out to be the Slurp-C straw.
Once the straw was developed, the team wowed an audience of local investors with their product and presentation, winning top honors in their cohort of students.
“The magic of Slurp-C stems from the diversity of the team that created the product,” said Tim Broxholm, director of Green River College’s business, marketing and entrepreneurship program. “While one student had a unique technical aptitude to design the product, another student was a social media maven, while others demonstrated fearlessness, grit, grind and hustle to get out market and sell the product. When you combine these skills with passion and perseverance you increase the likelihood of success.”
Indeed, from the start, there were already indications that the product would be a big success.
“In the two-and-a-half months following our presentation, we sold more than $6,000, which is quite a bit when you’re talking about straws,” said Darrin said.
In addition to having the right product at the right time, Darrin and Walburn also wanted to develop an item that would contribute to a cleaner environment.
“Plastic straws are a small thing, but they’re a big environmental problem around the world,” Darrin said. “There are more than 500 million straws used daily in the United States alone. If you think about that number, it’s astronomical. Every time you get a drink at a restaurant, you get a cup and straw with it. And you think of how many other people are doing that each day – it adds up very quickly.”
And much of this throw-away plastic will end up in landfills or, even worse, in natural environments like the world’s oceans, according to the National Geographic Society.
By contrast, Slurp-C’s straws are made of biodegradable silicone.
“If silicone does end up in the environment, it’s not going to hurt anything,” Darrin said. “It breaks down naturally over time.”
Darrin and Walburn are now hard at work selling their straws on their website and promoting Slurp-C at events like the Washington Hospitality Association’s Seattle Hospitality Summit, Earth Fest at South Seattle College, the South Sound Sustainability Expo and the Northwest Women’s Show. Slurp-C has also attracted interest from celebrities like “Dancing with the Stars’” Lindsay Arnold and actor/TV personality Mario Lopez.
In the meantime, Slurp-C established a partnership with a factory to produce the straws in large quantity, which will enable the company to serve a wider range of customers.
“We are excited to see where these entrepreneurs take the product,” Broxholm said. “The product in its current state can serve a wide array of customers. It’s also exciting to see the role the product can play in helping businesses and consumers be more sustainable. Even more exciting than the initial product is the opportunity for the company to leverage the utility of the design and technology in other applications and industries. We are excited to see where they take Slurp-C and how they build their company.”
Photo courtesy of Slurp-C.