As the 2013-2014 McCloskey Business Plan Competition comes to a close, we would like to introduce five socially-minded enterprises that caught our interest this year. From a brick-making joint venture to gluten-free cafés, these ideas and their creators proved that opportunities for impact come in many forms. We hope they inspire you!
Dominique Higgins and Marissa Kinsley, both senior Entrepreneurship majors at the University of Notre Dame, co-founded Frelsi (“free” in Icelandic), a fast casual bakery café offering gluten free, allergen, vegan and vegetarian options. Frelsi began as a culmination of the team’s personal experiences. In living with food allergies, they said, they have become highly conscious and alarmed by what is going into food; not just the allergens, but also all the chemicals, preservatives, antibiotics, and general junk. In their research, many Americans are beginning to feel the same way. More people are eating simple, natural, and allergen free food and feeling better because of it. However, restaurants have been slow to meet this demand. Their approach is to meet the problem at the root cause: the facility and the ingredients. By operating as a completely gluten free, dairy free, and peanut free facility and using natural, organic, and local ingredients, they aim to provide these individuals a convenient, healthy food option that they can freely enjoy. Though still in its infant stages, the team has developed a full menu, and, thanks to the feedback and seed funding received from the McCloskey competition (First State Bank Banking Award), plans to start small: with market tests and a catering operation. Three to five years down the line, expect to see the first Frelsi café opening in California.
SPOUTS of Water
SPOUTS of Water is a non-profit venture dedicated to providing clean water to the 12 million Ugandans currently lacking this basic human necessity through the production and distribution of affordable, effective and locally sourced ceramic water filters. Annie McCarthy, a current Notre Dame senior with a major in Political Science, serves as the vice president of SPOUTS, and Billy Raseman, a current Notre Dame Engineering senior, will take over as country director in Uganda this June. SPOUTS was founded in 2011 by Harvard Engineering student Kathy Ku, and the organization will expand its production facilities this summer and begin distributing its filters on a large scale through both NGOs and third-party retailers. SPOUTS was awarded the Sutherland Family People’s Choice Award for Best Presentation at the McCloskey Business Competition, and the funds from this award will go toward updating and improving factory equipment to support larger scale production. Thanks to these funds, as well as an additional $38,000 raised at the Rice Business Competition this April, SPOUTS expects to become financially self-sustaining after just one year of business, and plans to expand in the future to reach as many people as possible in Uganda and beyond.
Reading for Life
Alesha Seroczynski (Ph.D., 1999) is the founder and executive director of Reading for Life. Her background in Developmental and Counseling Psychology, coupled with her longstanding interests in literature and philosophy, led her to the idea that great stories could inspire disenfranchised youth to make better life choices. Over the past 10 years, Alesha has developed Reading for Life into a 501(c)3 that has served over 300 juvenile offenders in St. Joseph County. In small groups with trained mentors, youth meet to read and discuss novels, journal, and reflect on personal life applications. Mentors guide the conversations around the classic virtues espoused by Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, and through the stories youth find new perspectives, build empathy, and begin to change their life trajectories. Reading for Life combats recidivism by giving youth the character tools they need to build better lives, and 97% of RFL graduates have no further re-offense. Reading for Life Inc. was awarded the Klau Family Award for Greatest Social Impact in the 2013-2014 McCloskey Competition. The presenting team included Alesha, Amy Jobst, and Notre Dame undergraduate students, senior IT Management major Mara Stolee and sophomore Tommy Flaim. This award will help Reading for Life to develop the curriculum and infrastructure necessary to begin franchising the Reading for Life model to justice centers and youth-serving organizations around the country. Reading for Life Inc. hopes to become one of the leading programs for at-risk youth and to have close to 30 partner sites in the next five years.
Blue City Tea
Blue City Tea addresses the severe inequality and hardship faced by low-caste women in India. It grew out of a Kellogg Institute internship experience that John Gibbons, a Notre Dame senior, had in Jodhpur, India over the summer of 2012. When he returned to Notre Dame that fall, he began to seriously pursue the project with the guidance and support of Professors Melissa Paulsen and Frank Belatti. It wasn’t until Ryan Fish, another Notre Dame senior, joined the project that BCT started to truly become a feasible plan for a self-sustaining social enterprise. The team planned to employ marginalized Indian women by building a line of high quality restaurants catering to international tourists. Blue City Tea’s approach to helping low-caste women is simple: economic empowerment paired with opportunities for NGO-linked programs. Restaurants will be staffed and managed by formerly marginalized women, who will share in the restaurants profits in addition to receiving a steady income. The McCloskey Competition helped John and Ryan concentrate on developing the plan and making it financially-viable, as well as opened up a wealth of resources including advisers and networking opportunities. While BCT did not make it past the semifinals of the McCloskey Competition, John and Ryan intend to start it in the late spring of 2015, planning to expand to 23 branches in its first 7 years.
South Bend Bricks
John Henry, a first year MBA student at Notre Dame, and his team of architecture professors and other licensed architects hope to bring a unique clay block conducive to many construction types to the American market . The building industry’s increasing need for sustainable, easily-adaptable, and economical building materials creates a timely opportunity to introduce these bricks into the domestic market, especially as trends shift toward density and ecologically responsible construction practices. South Bend Bricks approaches this problem with the plan to build a joint venture, and the team sees themselves as a catalyst for connecting these different groups. Important parties that they’ve connected with so far include members of the brick manufacturing industry, construction trade, civil authorities, and European advocacy groups. Their next step is to loop back with their board of advisers to discuss a plan of attack before reaching out to UK brick manufacturers of this product to explore licensing opportunities. The McCloskey Competition helped give their team direction and a structure to try solving this problem. It also provided the urgency and connections that eventually put them in touch with Belden Bricks, the manufacturer who makes most of Notre Dame’s bricks. South Bend Bricks was honored to reach the semifinals of the McCloskey Business Plan Competition and to be offered several months of free space at Innovation Park.