Ledbury Launch Fund / Meet The Finalists

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After much deliberation, we’re pleased to announce Kuli Kuli, Shine Craft Vessel Co., and Thread as our three Launch Fund finalists. While going through the Launch Fund applications, we were impressed by the viability of these three companies and the passion of the entrepreneurs who are behind them. Within each company, there is a level of innovation and a commitment to a greater cause that truly resonates with us. Once notifying the finalists, we took a moment to catch up with them to learn more about their personalities and what keeps them motivated as entrepreneurs — learning everything from how they take their coffee to what an investment of $25,000 will do for their business.

Kuli Kuli

While a Peace Corps volunteer in Niger, Lisa Curtis, had the dream of using the nutritious leaves of the moringa tree to improve the lives of women in West Africa. Out of that dream, Kuli Kuli was born. Kuli Kuli produces nutrient-dense food products, and is the first company to introduce moringa to the U.S. market. We got in touch with the company’s founder and CEO, Lisa, for more insight on Kuli Kuli from the company’s home base in Oakland, California.

Was there a defining moment when you decided to fully dedicate yourself to pursuing Kuli Kuli?

For the past four years, ever since I was in the Peace Corps, I haven’t been able to get the idea of Kuli Kuli out of my head. I kept thinking about how one of the most nutritious plants in the world, moringa, grows naturally in so many areas that suffer from malnutrition but is vastly underutilized because its not an income-generating crop. But at the same time, I knew nothing about the food world and everyone kept telling me it was crazy to quit my job to start a food company. Finally, in June 2013, my friends and I decided to let the crowd decide if we had a chance at making it as a business. We rose nearly $25,000 in 24 hours and went on to raise $53,000 total to do our first manufacturing run. I quit my day job and decided to dedicate myself full-time to making Kuli Kuli happen, even though I knew I wouldn’t have a salary again for a while.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

When I first came out of the Peace Corps I wanted to start Kuli Kuli right away. A family friend of mine told me to work at a startup for two years before trying to start my own. She told me that it would teach me what it takes to start a company and help me figure out if it was really something I wanted. I was the fourth employee at a solar finance startup called Mosaic and managed all of the marketing to grow the company from zero to over $5 million invested in solar. I learned a lot over the 2.5 years I was there and I use those lessons everyday as the CEO of Kuli Kuli.

How do you take your coffee?

I actually don’t drink coffee. I love tea but coffee is too much for me. My boyfriend says its because I’m naturally caffeinated. I tend to have quite a bit of energy.

Where was the last place you traveled?

Technically speaking Fresno, CA. I wish I could say West Africa but since funds have been tight I haven’t been back in a while. Instead I’ve been traveling all over California working with buyers, training sales reps and handing out samples to customers as we expand to new stores.

What do you enjoy the most about being an entrepreneur?

It doesn’t feel like work! People ask me how much I work and I tell them that I don’t. When you’re doing what you love it doesn’t feel like work. Every day is something new. Even the challenges are exhilarating because I know that when I overcome them I’m learning something new.

What would $25k do for your business?

$25,000 would fundamentally change our business. For the past three years my team and I have all been working on Kuli Kuli unpaid. We’re now at the point where we’ve gotten a proof of concept in that Americans want to eat moringa products. We’ve made it into 150 stores and have laid the foundation for a successful company. Now it’s time for us to scale and grow. Not only would this $25,000 grant help us fund our operations and bring our new Moringa Powder to market, we believe that we will be able to leverage it to gain matching investment capital. Ultimately, this $25,000 will go a long way towards helping us achieve our mission of improving nutrition worldwide.


 

Shine Craft Vessel Co.

Shine Craft Vessel Co. creates premium, well-designed beer growlers and will expand into barware. Jordan Childs started Shine Vessels in early 2014 to complement the national craft beer trend with reusable barware that appeals to design lovers as much as beer enthusiasts, with a portion of every sale going to food and natural resource sustainability initiatives. Jordan informs us from his, and our, hometown of Richmond, Virginia.

Was there a defining moment when you decided to fully dedicate yourself to pursuing Shine Craft Vessel Co.?

It was about a week and a half after the first batch of Vessels went on sale. My wife and I made the decision to invest our personal savings into the first production run and agreed that if they didn’t sell we’d just have some awesome gifts for friends and family for a few years. After the first few days the Vessels were on sale, we were fortunate to have some major beer and gear sites prominently feature them. From there, the company sold through the first batch, we opened a pre-order on the second run and sold over 50% before even being fully produced. It was a very inspiring time and gave me the confidence needed to know Shine Vessels had a future.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

My Dad told me at an early age that you will get far in life simply by being nice to people. It was an incredibly simple statement of wisdom but I have practiced to it for years, and it has never, ever failed me. Being willing to welcome people into your life and being grateful for what they do lets others know you respect them. I’ve been very fortunate in my life to have had some amazing opportunities to learn, travel, work with talented people and I firmly believe that trying my best to be good to people has paid karmic dividends.

Being an entrepreneur can often be a long and difficult climb. What keeps you motivated to keep going?

It’s a combination of optimism, passion for what I am making and gratitude for being fortunate enough to be able to be doing this. Those are the internal drivers, the stuff that’s in my head and heart. The other motivator is without question my wife, Kim. She supports and challenges me in so many ways and on those really low days helps put everything in perspective. She’s got entrepreneur’s spirit in her DNA and is one of the strongest people I’ve ever met; with someone like that in your camp it’s easy to stay motivated.

How do you take your coffee?

French Press. Almond Milk. No Sugar.

Where was the last place you traveled?

Before starting Shine Vessels, I worked for The LEGO Group and had the opportunity to travel to a number of really amazing places around the world. The last trip I took before leaving the company was to Prague, Vienna and Munich.

What would $25k do for your business?

Shine Craft Vessel Co. is at such an exciting point right now with all the growth the company has seen since our first batch. Because of the substantial interest and support, it’s becoming more difficult to keep up with the demand our company is experiencing. The capital from the Ledbury Launch fund would be strategically invested in assuring we have a solidified supply chain to meet current and future demand on our core offering, develop new products and make sure the proper platforms are in place for healthy growth (i.e. analytics, warehousing, shipping materials, temporary staffing needs). Up to this point, I’ve never sought outside funding but recognize the time has come to scale and being a finalist for the Ledbury Launch Fund is a perfect opportunity to accomplish the financial piece while getting feedback from the super smart and warm people at Ledbury.


Thread

While visiting Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, Ian Rosenberger noticed two things while there: an abundance of trash and a desire to work. These two problems eventually lead to the founding of Thread. Thread uses an innovative method to transform trash into textiles, which in turn, creates jobs for the people of Haiti. Here, we catch up with Ian from Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Was there a defining moment when you decided to fully dedicate yourself to pursuing Thread?

Six weeks after the earthquake, my friends and I decided to help a Haitian child I had met on a previous trip to Haiti who was dying of a tumor. His name is Tass. We raised the money we needed for the surgery, got him to the states for treatment, and afterwards brought him home to Haiti. The neighborhood Tass comes from is one of the worst around, and it’s common for young men from there to die early and violently. I realized that just dropping him off wasn’t doing much for Tass, and that the entire exercise was a pretty presumptuous and self-gratifying unless we stuck with him until he didn’t need us anymore. That begged the question, what does it mean for the poor to not need help? In having lots of conversations with the poor themselves, we realized that poverty really ends with decent, dignified, nine to five employment. Unfortunately in Haiti, jobs are hard to come by so we decided to create some. I had written in my journal after my very first trip, “If Haiti can turn trash into money=good”.  We googled it, decided we could make fabric better than everybody else out there, and Thread was born. I quit my job two weeks later.

Are you reading anything good at the moment?

Yes. Stop reading this immediately and go buy Guns, Germs, and Steel. The Sixth Extinction is also a great read. I developed my philosophy about poverty in part from Dr. Paul Farmer, and I highly recommend his most recent, In the Company of the Poor.  I make anybody who comes to Haiti with us read Mountains Beyond Mountains. If you’re looking for a great candy book, The Emerald Mile is an awesome true story about three guys that did a speed run down the Grand Canyon in a wooden dory. Nerd alert.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

My dad keeps telling me that Thread is a boulder that we’re pushing uphill, and the second we stop to see if we’re close to the top is the second it will roll back over on top of us (My dad is a little dramatic). He’s all about “head down, shoulder to the wheel.”  It’s not the smartest teams that make it or the ones with the sexiest idea. It’s the fearless ones. The ones that get up every morning, put on their overalls, and get to work.  I love that.

Being an entrepreneur can often be a long and difficult climb. What keeps you motivated to keep going?

I feel a lot like I have the best job on the planet, because I get to hang out with our Haitian partners who are actually earning money from the trash we turn into fabric in the streets of places like Cite Soleil or San Pedro Sula. Cite Soleil is the poorest neighborhood in Port-au-Prince, and ranks as one of the bottom five or six slums on the planet. These men and women know a type of poverty most of us in high-income countries just can’t imagine. I recently asked them in Kreyol “how does recycling help you? Is it a good thing for you or not so good?” One of them answered:

“Before we picked up plastic, there was not enough food for my family. We were hungry. Now, there is some food to go around.”

I feel like starting a company is the equivalent of getting punched in the face and knocked down on the daily.  Conversations like that with folks who’ve become friends and in many cases like family in places like Cite Soleil make it damn certain that when we get punched, we’re going to get back up again.

Where was the last place you traveled?

I’m writing this from the Port-au-Prince airport right now, so I guess the Caribbean [haha]. I’m on the road a lot and in the last several months, I’ve been to Jordan, Honduras, Haiti, Hawaii, and all over the continental US. The travel industry was not built for 6’7″ guys.

What would $25k do for your business?

$25k changes the game for our work. We’ve spent two years developing the infrastructure we need to transform garbage into thread. Now, we’re actually making fabric. Our stuff is 100% post consumer, and we can tell folks where it comes from and the story of the people behind it’s transformation – from the heap where it started all the way to a bag, dress or a shirt. 100% traceability. We think that’s unique in plastic. The more fabric we produce, the more jobs we can support, and the more bottles we can ensure stay off the street and end up as something useful, but we don’t have enough supply chains to ensure we stay afloat.  We want to open up a second Haitian supply chain with a new partner. The $25k will help us bring them on board, turn an additional 200,000 pounds of bottles into fabric each month, and help support hundreds of jobs.


The Ledbury Launch Fund will award one of these entrepreneurs with $25,000 to help their consumer goods business, as well as offer mentorship from Ledbury Co-Founders Paul Trible and Paul Watson. Visit the launch homepage to learn more and to vote here.

One comment

  • Wow, what a difficult decision between such deserving groups of people.
    My vote would have to go to “Threads” based on the knowledge that it provides jobs in a place where a job may be the difference between life and death. They do something great and wonderfully creative for the environment at the same time giving dignity and hope to people in a very difficult part of the world.

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