A lot of people want to help make the world a better place, through volunteer work, service trips, or working with a non-profit. However, more and more social entrepreneurs are looking for ways to combine “doing good” with profit. Wishing you had the time and money to save the world? Follow the example of these 6 entrepreneurs, and take a few hours or a few weeks to give back free of charge – who knows what will come of it?
At this point, TOMS Shoes isn’t just a do-gooder company – they’re a brand with an incredibly strong identity tied to social good. However, back in 2006, Blake Mycoskie was still trying to figure out his own brand identity when he took a trip to Argentina. Having led four entrepreneurial start-ups at age 29, Blake had headed to Argentina to relax. However, when he ran into a volunteer at a shoe drive, he was struck with a way to combine the selling potential of the comfortable alpargata and the needs of impoverished Argentine children, with the buy-one-give-one philosophy that made TOMS famous. TOMS’s straightforward way of thinking took off, selling 10,000 shoes in 2006, its first year of business. By 2010, TOMS had reached the 1,000,000 shoes donated mark, and is showing no sign of slowing down.
TOMS shoes isn’t the only company profiting off of the “one for one” business model. Heather Hasson returned from an undergrad trip to Ho Chi Minh City helping Vietnamese children attend school with the seeds of what would become FIGS – Fashion Inspired Global Sophistication, not the fruit – planted in her mind. Traveling throughout Africa and meeting children who were unable to attend school because they lacked a school uniform allowed the idea to grow. Now, Hasson is the CEO and Creative Director of FIGS, and creator of the Threads for Threads Initiative. For every classy necktie FIGS sells, a child in Tanzania or Kenya gets a school uniform. The dual draw of helping kids and quality accessories have allowed FIGS to rise in prominence, getting attention and praise from Elle Canada, Ralph Lauren, and the Wall Street Journal.
For Alex Mittal, inspiration hit while doing the heavy lifting portion of giving back, building a water system in Honduras on an Engineers without Boarders trip in 2005. Here, Mittal saw an opportunity to make sure the developing world was able to access not only water, but clean water. Returning to school at University of Pennsylvania, Mittal and some friends developed the first-ever plastic water pipe that removed bacteria both on the pipe’s inner surface and top. Soon after, they founded Innova Materials, a company that would evolve into Innova Dynamics, dedicated to providing sustainable technological solutions. Their range has only extended, as Innova Dynamics covers technology ranging from from a US army contract for advanced materials to fellow Penn alum’s self-filtering water bottle.
Another Penn Engineers Without Boarders success story comes from Jay Parekh, who worked with fellow Penn student Aakash Mathur to found Hydros Bottles after his work with rural water projects. At around 4AM one night/early morning, Parekh’s volunteer experience and Marthu’s social enterprise knowledge collided with the panicked feeling of an upcoming deadline, to form the idea to sell a self-filtering water bottle. This bottle would not only be sustainable but also raise money for global water projects: the Hydros Bottle, a 16 oz. BPA free bottle with a built in filter. The Hydros Bottle has now developed into a win-win-win business situation: the buyer saves money from avoiding overpriced bottled water, the waste caused by empty plastic water bottles decreases, and clean water reaches the Cameroonian village of Gundom, all while Hydros Bottles makes a profit.
Kristin Groos Richmond and Kirsten Saenz Tobey
both had plenty of experience in business and nonprofits prior to founding Revolution Foods in 2005. The for-profit organization drew not only from the business school classmates’ entrepreneur know-how, but also Richmond’s Vice Presidency at the education non-profit RISE and Tobey’s work evaluating school feeding programs in Ghana. Revolution Foods aims to get kids healthy by offering schools and individuals the chance to purchase nutritious meals and health education.Today, Revolution Foods Inc. has dished up over 33 million healthy meals – and made $50 million in revenue, reaching number 2 on the list of fastest growing inner city businesses.
Volunteering at a local community center didn’t originally seem like a path for economic success for Notre Dame alumni Xavier Helgesen and Christopher “Kreese” Fuchs. However, the duo’s found their idea to sell used and unwanted books online taking on a new life due to their experiences with the Robinson Community Learning Center. Since its beginnings as a single book drive in 2002, Better World Books has become a full fledged socially and environmentally responsible business that sells reused or recycled books, while donating money and books for non-profits. Their business model rests of the triple bottom line: profiting through promotion of social good, environmental sustainability, and economic success. With over 6 million books donated, 85 million reused or recycled and earning an annual revenue of over $55 million in 2011, Better World Books seems to be achieving all three.
Leave a Comment
You must be logged in to post a comment.