People of Central: Meenakshi Cheella

Story by Breanna Prince

Photo by Breanna Prince

Among her favorite activities, graduate student Meenakshi Cheella enjoys spending time in nature and walking around campus. 

When she arrived at Central Michigan University, she realized there are many leaves. 

“This is my first time coming to the United States and I got to see the leaves, they are very beautiful during the fall season,” she said.

As Cheella was walking around campus, she thought the leaves could be a good use for something. Which is how she came about her business called SustainaBowl. 

“When the season is over, there are a bunch of leaves everywhere,” she said. “ I thought why can’t we use it for something because we are getting paper from trees, so why can’t we just use these leaves from the trees and make useful products.” 

Photo by Meenakshi Cheelle

SustainaBowl first started out with creating plates and bowls out of leaves. Cheella really came about her idea and business after hearing about the Make-A-Pitch competition that Isabella Bank Institute for Entrepreneurship on CMU campus, holds every fall semester, which is where student entrepreneurs pitch their business idea, for a chance to win money and awards.

At the Make-A-Pitch competition, she had many people loving her idea and won an audience choice award. 

“I got to see there are many people actually liking this idea,” she said. “ From then, I started to work on creating more products and that’s how we made these products.” 

Cheella created her products right in her dorm. She gathers leaves and starts the process of creating her product. 

“First we soak the leaves, then the next step is heating, and then remove the pulp from it, then grind it into a paste, then mix it with water,” she said.

Photo by Meenakshi Cheelle

Currently, Cheella is in the process of creating ink out of the leaves, to create a color paint. 

“Once we start heating, we actually get ink from those leaves,” she said.

Cheella plans on bringing her business to the New Venture Challenge, which IBIE holds every spring semester. There students can pitch their idea, show off their business and be able to win cash prizes. 

Cheella is participating in the Social Mission category, where she has the chance to win up to  $20,000 all around. 

Photo by Meenakshi Cheelle

“NVC has become a platform where I learned from experienced entrepreneurs, received feedback on my business idea, and also hoping to get funding for my business,” she said.

“I have enjoyed every step of the journey, from pitching my idea to making it to the finals and have learned a lot along the way. NVC workshops and the opportunity to connect with other entrepreneurs was really nice and I’m grateful for the support and guidance from Prof. John and the NVC team.”