Mylen Yamamoto Gives the Chopstick a Much-Needed Update

On a flight to Asia in spring 2015, Mylen Yamamoto was finding it particularly challenging to eat with chopsticks. She didn’t have a secure place to put them between bites and they kept rolling off the seat tray. Her frustrations – coupled with many hours to ponder solutions – sparked the idea for a new startup called Cropsticks. Cropsticks is an eco-friendly and innovative line of disposable chopsticks that offers a fresh way to separate and set down your chopsticks: just snap the back end off, set it down on the table and use it as a rest. Voila! 

Mylen hopes to teach an entrepreneurship course at LMU in the near future.

At the time, Mylen was working as assistant director of the Fred Kiesner Center for Entrepreneurship at LMU. (She has since stepped down to work on Cropsticks full time.) With little knowledge of how to develop an idea into an actual product, she leveraged her network of faculty, staff and students at LMU.

“I had no idea how to make a product before this experience,” said Mylen. “But the resources today make it possible for someone like me. I was really fortunate to be working at LMU which has everything you could ever need to start a business.”

The first thing she needed to do was validate her idea. Mylen spoke to Professor Jason D’Mello’s entrepreneurship class and gave students a 3-D printed prototype which was well received. Next, she conducted her own market research and discovered that 83% of people loved the concept. Now that her idea was validated, Mylen needed to raise capital. Professor D’Mello encouraged her to launch a Kickstarter campaign which proved to be highly successful. She reached her funding goal of $20,000 in only a month! The money raised went toward securing the patent, manufacturing costs and product development.

What Mylen really likes about Cropsticks is that they’re good for the planet. An estimated 45% of disposable chopsticks are made from wood. Every year in China, the equivalent of 3.8 million trees are destroyed to manufacture those chopsticks, the New York Times reported in 2011. Cropsticks, on the other hand, are made from 100% bamboo which is a more sustainable option since bamboo grows quickly and absorbs carbon dioxide. As her venture grows, her goal is to donate a portion of profits to sustainable farming to grow healthy, organic crops.

Mylen is spending the summer in her native Hawaii enrolled in a fourth-month accelerator program for startups called XLR8UH. She is currently in talks with a several restaurants in Hawaii to bring Cropsticks to a wider audience. The Cropsticks team – which also includes Jay Chang, Ron Tansingco (Mylen’s fiancé), Chul Lee and Shannon Takeba – is also ambitious about diversifying their products and making them even more eco-friendly.

Now that Mylen is a full-fledged entrepreneur, her advice to students or anyone interested in starting a business is to do a lot of market research, reach out to at least 10 people in your network for validation, find out how much it’ll actually cost to get made, and utilize the press. Cropsticks is already generating buzz and has been featured in a number of media outlets such as the Huffington Post, NBC News, Next Shark, Hawaii Magazine, ABC and more.

“I am so grateful to the faculty, staff and students who were super supportive during this whole process,” said Mylen. “Cropsticks honestly wouldn’t exist without LMU.”

Cropsticks will be available for purchase soon at http://www.cropsticks.co/.