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Turning garbage into profit

Jungsup “Joseph” Lee, MBA ’16, was traveling in Nigeria as a sales manager for LG Chem in 2008 when he looked at the trash-covered streets and saw a business opportunity.

“People always think this is dirty waste, but dirty waste can be gold for a business,” said Lee, who this year founded J-Squared, a company that recycles plastic waste into chemical additives used in the production of new plastic products.

For several years, Lee’s idea had remained dormant as he went to work as a project manager for POSCO, a major Korean steel company. There, he participated in a number of steel mill projects in Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Ukraine, gaining business development skills and deepening his desire to become an entrepreneur.

Lee wanted to learn more before starting his own company. “I didn’t have any idea how to develop and execute a business. I was a sales and marketing guy,” he said. “That’s why I applied to MIT Sloan. I thought of this as a stepping stone to becoming an entrepreneur.”

MIT has proven to be a supportive environment. Funding and fellowships allowed Lee to travel to Africa to lay the groundwork for his business. He received an MIT Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship Fellowship (2012–2014), an MIT Public Service Center Fellowship (2013), and an MIT Sloan Social Impact Fellowship (2013).

Lee also found two business partners at MIT: SunMin Hwang, MArch ’14, who provided system design expertise, and Peter Kang, SM ’10, PhD ’14, who developed the water filtration technology that differentiates J-Squared in the crowded recycling market.

“Water quality in Nigeria is not that great,” Lee said, noting that using cleaner water will help J-Squared manufacture cleaner plastic products. “So I thought, let’s work with an MIT person who specializes in water filtration. That’s one area where I needed help.”

Lee took a leave of absence from MIT Sloan to spend a year building a partnership with a Nigerian plastics distribution company. He returned to campus this fall and plans to graduate in February.

Lee continues working to establish a market for J-Squared’s product, a base-chemical additive for plastics production that is made of recycled materials.

“The recycled material is of very high quality. That’s where my company differentiates itself,” he said.

Currently, Lee imports the additive into Nigeria monthly, but his goal is to establish a manufacturing plant in the country in 2016. He then plans to source waste from 200 local garbage collection facilities. Ultimately, he said, he hopes to improve Nigeria’s whole waste management system and create sustainable jobs for local Nigerians.

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