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MU student produces environmentally friendly stainless steel cups

Sleek, environmentally friendly and sustainable stainless steel drinking cups adorned with the original OneCup. logo to replace disposable plastic ones. This is the solution offered by Vojtěch Toman, a student of the Faculty of Economics and Administration.

Vojtěch Toman with his stainless steel cups called One Cup.

He got the idea to make the stainless steel cups the year before last when he started noticing that he didn’t like to use plastic bags for shopping. He also reflected on the fact that the raw materials to make one plastic cup have been gradually accumulating for over about 66 million years in a process of converting dead biological matter into oil.

The oil is then extracted and piped thousands of kilometres to refineries, where it is converted into various products, including small plastic pellets that are used to make plastic cups. These cups are then thrown away after a single use.

“Then I got my hands on a stainless steel cup and learned to drink from it. I used to take it camping and on hikes. I was curious if food-grade steel cups could be imported into the Czech Republic. Plus, I was about to start my studies at the Faculty of Economics and Administration, where they would teach me something about business. So I started a project that resulted in a viable product. Thanks to loans from people close to me, I was able to get more cups and thanks to crowdfunding on Hithit, I could get them to customers,” explained Vojta.

He initially wanted to manufacture the cups in Czechia, but soon found that steel mills were not well-equipped to produce them. “That’s why we are importing the cups from China for the time being; the Chinese manufacturer offered to finish them with paint or laser engraving. But I didn’t like those options. In the end, I opted for electrolysis, where you only need to add an electric current into a solution of table salt to make the rest happen. I used my experience from secondary school, where a friend and I wrote a paper on this topic,” said Vojta.

He was also inspired by his grandfather, who uses acid to etch beautiful patterns into hunting knives, and has copied the method of using foil with carved ornaments. “In the workshops of the South Moravian Innovation Centre (JIC), I then used a laser cutter to cut my logo out of silicone, which could then be pressed onto the cup,” explained the student of Finance at the Faculty of Economics and Administration of Masaryk University.

“Stainless steel cups are great, but when paired with a stainless steel straw, it’s a sexy combination,” says Vojtěch Toman.

Putting logos on cups requires some skill, but Vojta considers electrolysis one of the most elegant solutions. He has come up with the name OneCup. in the past, choosing an English brand because he believes in globalisation.

During last year’s lockdown, he was making the original cups with occasional help from his sister. Now he’s getting help from friends in their spare time.

According to Vojta, the Hithit crowdfunding campaign was crucial for the launch of the project, because many more people and end customers became aware of it. “People from business and the service sector also got in touch and we received offers to work with festivals. So far we have made three thousand smaller 350 ml cups with three-decilitre mark. We’ve given away a tenth of this number plus another hundred 500 ml cups to our supporters at Hithit. The 500 ml cups have caught on and we will be offering them at festivals as well,” he said, adding he would have to adjust the volume of the bigger cup a bit. “Maybe we’ll make 600 ml cups to leave some room for the beer head,” said the 20-year-old student, who considers himself a stickler for design.

He wanted to get the smaller cups out to people in Brno at the Christmas markets last year, but his plans were thwarted by the Covid-19 pandemic. That’s why he tried to distribute them to bars and cafés during this year’s summer holidays. “We’ll be happy to send a sample to whoever is interested. They’ll know to get back to us if they need more. I think Brno is great in this respect because people here are really welcoming and open to innovation and new things. I think Brno is quite a progressive city where young entrepreneurs like me will always find a niche,” Vojta pointed out.

Considering plans for the future and how many stainless OneCups he would like to get out to people, he mostly talks about festivals and larger events. There is also a big contract coming up, but he doesn’t want to divulge too much yet because it is still under negotiation.

If the business takes off, Vojta says he would probably handle the production of low-volume orders for smaller bars and cafés, as well as cups bought by individual customers through the e-shop, himself. “However, if we were talking about thousands or more cups, it would be more convenient to switch to laser engraving. It would no longer pass through our hands three times, but maybe only twice,” muses the young entrepreneur.

He also offers stainless steel straws with the cups, which have a small seagull logo on them. “That would also be engraved with a laser. In my experience, you have to be very careful when designing the logo, because the seagull is tiny and working with a silicone template is tricky. It’s easy to mess it up,” added Vojta.

The straw, he said, belongs with the cup. Stainless steel straws are already offered in many bars, but Vojta doesn’t really like the combination of stainless steel straws and glass. “Stainless steel cups are great, but when paired with a stainless steel straw, it’s a sexy combination,” he said.