Maneesha Wijesinghe, founder of Kola Project


Photo of Maneesha Wijesinghe

Kola Project‘s mission is to modernize consumer retail to be waste-free and customer-centric. We want to improve the existing outdated retail model with a modernized approach, with increased transparency, continuous customer relationships (Retail-as-a-Service), waste-free circular and decentralized supply chains.

What is your background? What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
I started Kola Project in 2019 as a non-profit endeavour to raise awareness of the consumer waste crisis. However, during my work, I realized that although raising public awareness of the crisis and educating consumers on good waste management practises is helpful, it does not address the root cause of the waste crisis – traditional retail model and mass manufacturing of cheap goods. Therefore, I pivoted Kola Project into a social enterprise focusing on providing consumers with a waste-free retail experience.

As an early-stage startup, I realise Kola Project has the advantage of researching and developing waste-free supply chain solutions and creating a business model around it – an edge large established businesses do not have. Ultimately, I would like to provide the supply chain solutions we develop as blueprints for other consumer retail startups until waste-free supply chains become the new normal.

What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
Kola Project Logo

Entrepreneurship goes beyond making profits. As an entrepreneur, you’ll inevitably have access to an audience believing in you and your company. Entrepreneurship is using that place of privilege to further the causes that will improve humanity and the world.

How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
The consumer perspective is experiencing a massive shift. Consumers are becoming more and more conscious of their purchasing decisions. This will only get stronger when the millennial and gen-z demographics make up the majority of the market. The customer research I have done and third party research from companies such as Nielsen only confirmed these findings, making me realize that now is the time for a retail business model that aligns with shifting consumer needs.

What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
Ability to persevere when faced with uncertainty or obstacles
Ability to empathize and consult with customers and stakeholders
Humility to accept advice and change mindset when needed

What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
Having the freedom to pursue a goal that I’m truly passionate about

What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
I am inspired by Sharon White, Chairman of the John Lewis Partnership. Her story of migrating to the UK, being a minority POC the entirety of her career, yet persisting, breaking barriers, and now becoming one of the most powerful women in the UK is truly inspirational.

If you had 5 minutes with the above individual/ company/organization, what would you want to ask or discuss?
I will ask her how she pushed through when everything seems to be working against her.

What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
Kola Project is not launched yet. Therefore, the most satisfying moment thus far was the affirmation I got from every single person that knows Kola Project about how timely and needed such a concept is.

What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
I learnt to scale down when needed. Sometimes it is easier to let your ambitions and excitement get ahead of you because as a startup, you want to do everything as fast as you can. However, I am learning to better ground myself and slow down when needed to proceed successfully.

How have you funded your ideas?
Currently, it is self-funded with a seed funding round planned for Spring 2021.

What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
The university and the surrounding community can be instrumental for any startup from providing mentors, advisors, to customer research. Also, the comprehensive list of clubs and students bodies within the university with quite the cachet is key as there is always a place for you to integrate yourself and your startup.

If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?
Enterprising Oxford, Foundry, Oxford Guild, Oxford Accelerator, OX1

Any last words of advice?
Take the risk and do what you really want to do, because life is too short 🙂