In Episode 90 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on February 9, 2013, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Bill Acevedo, chair of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Nikhil Arora, co-founder of Back to the Roots, producer of gourmet mushroom growing kits nourished with recycled Peet’s Coffee grounds.

 

Back to the Roots co-founders Alex and NikBack to the Roots co-founders Alex and Nik

Back to the Roots co-founders Alejandro Velez & Nikhil Arora

Arora and his co-founder were about to graduate from UC Berkeley in 2009 when they learned during a class lecture that it’s possible to grow gourmet mushrooms in used coffee grounds. Inspired by the notion of turning waste into fresh, local food, they founded Back to the Roots. Since then, connecting families to food has become Arora’s “true passion,” and the company’s slickly designed, easy-to-use urban mushroom farm kits produce a gourmet crop of oyster mushrooms in about 10 days. Back to the Roots now also sells a three-gallon aquaponics garden, perfect for growing an herb garden on a kitchen counter or in a classroom.

Last year, President Obama invited Arora and his co-founder to the White House to discuss how the administration could support small businesses.  Arora says it was “cool to be representing Oakland,” which he describes as the epicenter of the start-up food culture.  In addition to a loan from the city, Back to the Roots received redevelopment funding to move its warehouse to Oakland.  The company also received a $25,000 loan from Whole Foods (which is fitting because produce guys from the Berkeley store were early advisors) and raised nearly $250,000 via Kick Starter.

With a core commitment to sustainability, Back to the Roots is a certified B Corporation.  Today, they’re working to build a global, “hip and fun” lifestyle brand that connects people to food.

Are you interested in growing your own food?

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Arora:Episode 90 of The Wendel Forum(27:37 mins; mp3)

Back to the Roots Website: http://www.backtotheroots.com

960 KNEW AM Radio website: http://www.960KNEW.com

Bill Acevedo’s online profile: http://www.wendel.com/wacevedo

In Episode 85 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on November 17, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Dick Lyons, co-founder of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Kelly Boyd, founder of My True Nature, a line of natural body care products for children.

Kelly Boyd, founder of My True Nature

After Boyd’s first child was born, a baby nurse introduced her to natural products for kids.  Always interested in cooking and in organic foods, Boyd, a corporate securities lawyer and tech company executive, began developing her own formulations for personal care products, including bubble bath, shampoo, lotion and body wash.  She gave the products to friends, who tested them for her.  One of the things she learned in the process was how sensitive people are to scents.  In the process of finding the right formulation with the right scent, Boyd made more than 300 batches of her products.

After her second child was born, Boyd quit her job, and she and her husband financed and launched My True Nature.  Using all natural, largely organic ingredients, My True Nature products are manufactured locally in the Bay Area.  She describes them as “mainstream green,” meaning they look and feel like comparable mainstream products.  For example, the shampoo and body wash suds up and the bubble bath does, in fact, bubble.

Initially, Boyd sold the products to friends, who helped spread the word by putting the products in gift bags at birthday parties.  Later, she began selling online, including offering group deals through sites like Groupon.  Some of her products are now in “brick & mortar” stores, but the majority of her sales come from the big internet retailers, such as Amazon.com.

Boyd says that it was important that she not have investors in her company.  With her experience in the legal and tech company worlds, she knew investors would demand, and rightfully so, that she spend her entire time and energy on building the company.  And she knew that she would feel responsible to do so.  Instead, without having investors to answer to, she can devote the time and energy she wants to her children.  She recognizes that her company will grow more slowly, but the real payoff is that she can be the kind of mom she wants to be.

Boyd believes the rigidity of corporate jobs is contributing to the emergence of a generation of mothers who are starting companies.  In fact, Boyd believes there’s no better time than now for a woman to start a business.  There are funding sources particularly looking for women entrepreneurs, especially women launching green businesses.

Do you know green mompreneurs like Boyd?

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Boyd: Episode 85 of The Wendel Forum (27:46 mins; mp3)

My True Nature Website: http://www.mytruenature.net

960 KNEW AM Radio Website: http://www.960KNEW.com

Dick Lyons’s online profile: http://www.wendel.com/rlyons

In Episode 78 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on September 29, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Dick Lyons, co-founder of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Scott Potter, managing partner of San Francisco Equity Partners, a private equity firm that specializes in consumer products growth companies.

Scott Potter of San Francisco Equity Partner

Scott Potter, San Francisco Equity Partners, in The Wendel Forum studio

Potter’s firm partners with companies that have demonstrated a proven demand for their products.  So while there’s no consumer adoption risk, the companies are usually facing operational and scale challenges to reach the next level. Typically, they are $5-10 million companies poised to scale their businesses, often to north of $100 million.

Identifying these optimal risk-reward companies is more science than art.  San Francisco Equity Partners is particularly focused on its companies’ channel strategy.  That is, a given beauty product can’t successfully be sold at both Sephora and Wal-Mart.  Channels include food (Safeway), drug (Walgreens), mass (Wal-Mart), club (Costco), prestige (specialty retailers and department stores) and direct-to-consumer (online and direct-response TV).  Determining the right channel for products is often a company’s key to success.

A growing channel is the so-called natural channel, as epitomized by Whole Foods, which is separate from the traditional grocery channel.  But Potter’s firm specializes in natural products that are targeted for the mass channel.  Companies targeting this channel should not ask consumers to pay more for an inferior product “just to save the fish,” Potter says.  Rather, the product’s value proposition has to work in and of itself outside of sustainability and natural missions.  The prime example is Method products.

When San Francisco Equity Partners first invested in Method, it was producing just hand and cleaning products.  It has evolved to include bathroom and specialty products and even successfully launched into the competitive laundry space.  Early on, Method knew it would never have the marketing budget of Proctor & Gamble.  So it chose to overinvest in packaging, focusing on the point of sale: when product is on the shelf.  Method’s in-house design team devised a distinctive look, including the bottle molds, and focused on the aesthetic and the user-experience (such as the one-hand laundry detergent dispensing system). With the “design baked into the products,” Method aspired to be like Apple.

At what kind of store are you most likely to purchase natural products?

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Scott Potter: Episode 78 of The Wendel Forum (27:48 mins; mp3)

San Francisco Equity Partners Website: http://www.sfequitypartners.com

Method Products Website: http://methodhome.com

960 KNEW AM Radio website: http://www.960KNEW.com

Dick Lyons’s online profile: http://www.wendel.com/rylons

In Episode 76 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on September 15, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Dick Lyons, co-founder of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Ben Lee, director of business development at San Francisco-based CircleUp, a crowd funding platform founded in April.

Ben Lee of CircleUp

Ben Lee of CircleUp

CircleUp provides an online mechanism for consumer products companies and retailers to reach out to a broad network of potential investors, who may fund the companies in exchange for equity. CircleUp, which affiliated with WR Hambrecht, takes a commission.

So far, they’ve received 600 applications; they’ve selected 10 companies and four – including a baby skin care brand and an organic food brand – have been successfully funded.  CircleUp’s team serves as a curator for the investors. In evaluating companies, they look for businesses with $1 million to $10 million in annual revenue.  Usually these companies are seeking to raise $500,000 to $2 million to launch new products and achieve the next stage of growth. The typical investment is $5,000 to $25,000 (while each company’s offer is different, these are generally in the form of preferred stock shares); CircleUp assists with larger transactions offline.

While CircleUp streamlines what can otherwise be a year-long funding process, raising money through the platform can still take several months. Although CircleUp selects companies and presents opportunities, investors must do their own due diligence.  Like any private company investment, crowd funding is risky and the investment horizon may be three to seven years.

Lee says CircleUp’s goals include enhancing the ecosystem around consumer products, helping as many small consumer brands get financing as possible, and making sure CircleUp’s platform is a great experience for investors and companies.

Have you participated in crowd funding?  What do you see as the biggest opportunities and challenges to this form of financing?  

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Lee: Episode 76 of The Wendel Forum (27:56 mins; mp3)

Circle Up Website: https://circleup.com

960 KNEW AM Radio website: http://www.960KNEW.com

Dick Lyons’s online profile: http://www.wendel.com/rlyons

In Episode 63 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on May 19, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Bill Acevedo, chair of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes João De Macedo.  A big wave surfer and author of How To Be a Surfer, De Macedo is also an ambassador for Rip Curl Planet, a foundation that supports causes mirroring the ideals of Rip Curl, a major surf products manufacturer with “a sharpened awareness” of environmental issues.

Joao De Macedo

João De Macedo discusses Rip Curl Planet in The Wendel Forum studio

Bill and De Macedo discuss Rip Curl Planet’s environmental projects, including a labeling initiative, which will be applied to the 2012 Boardshort Collection.  Through the initiative, which is organized by the French Ministry for the Environment, consumers will be informed of every stage in the boardshort’s life cycle, including raw material extraction (energy and resources used), product design (carbon emissions, electricity and water consumed), distribution (mode of transportation, packaging), use (number of washes), and end-of-life product elimination options.

Rip Curl has a history of partnering with grass roots organizations.  For example, the company teamed with the World Wildlife Fund to establish eco mooring anchors that don’t damage coral reefs.  The company has also helped establish world surfing reserves through Save the Waves, which applies the national park concept to preserve iconic surf spots in conjunction with local communities and policymakers. 

Because the market is not always in sync with sustainability, companies must be committed to integrating sustainability into their business profiles; the marketplace’s competitive nature will then overflow into those environmental initiatives, according to De Macedo, who recently earned his master’s in sports management at the Universityof San Francisco.  Already, other surf manufacturers are contributing to environmental movements. 

For De Macedo, activism can be as simple as picking up a piece of garbage from a beach. Big wave surfers, who practice their craft in the environment, can lead by example.  “Go and visit the ocean. It’s the best way to be inspired to help it.”

What are simple things that you have done to help the environment?

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with João De Macedo: Episode 63 of The Wendel Forum(27:12 mins; mp3)

Rip Curl website: http://www.ripcurl.com/

Rip Curl Planet website: http://www.ripcurlplanet.com/

Rip Curl Planet’s Environmental Labeling Initiative: http://www.ripcurlplanet.com/aid=56.phtml

Save the Waves: http://www.savethewaves.org/

João De Macedo’s Book: http://www.amazon.com/How-Be-Surfer-Joao-Macedo/dp/1841262013

960 KNEW AM Radio website: http://www.960KNEW.com

Bill Acevedo’s online profile: http://www.wendel.com/wacevedo

I scream, you scream, we all scream for (organic, fair trade, unique, delicious) ice cream!

In Episode 58 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on April 14, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show host Bill Acevedo welcomes Neal Gottlieb of Three Twins Ice Cream.

Neal discusses the life path that led him from corporate finance to ice cream, with a stint in the Peace Corps along the way.  When he founded Three Twins, he was determined to build a company that honored his values, as well as offering him a reasonable living.

Neal Gottlieb of Three Twins Ice Cream visits The Wendel Forum

Neal Gottlieb of Three Twins Ice Cream visits The Wendel Forum

According to Neal, organic ice cream has been done before, but not well.  The early attempts from some of the bigger names on the ice cream scene typically made organic varieties in boring flavors (vanilla, chocolate or strawberry) and saw it as an opportunity to sell smaller containers while charging more money than for their conventional flavors.   

By contrast, the Three Twins model puts organic at the core of the product, rather than as an afterthought.  In addition to using basic organic ingredients, Three Twins concentrates on building up multiple flavor layers in its ice creams for surprising twists on classics.  An increasing number of Three Twins’ flavors are using certified Fair Trade products as well.

Bill and Neal discuss what it means for a business like Three Twins to obtain USDA Certified Organic and Fair Trade certified designations. They also discuss the company’s corporate giving initiatives, which include membership in 1% for the Planet and their new giving initiative “Ice Cream for Acres.” Through the Ice Cream for Acres program, Three Twins makes a donation to Global Wildlife Conservation, an environmental nonprofit that buys large tracks of land to protect habitat for endangered species.  For each one pint purchase, Three Twins donates enough money to buy at least six square feet of land.  To date, the company has underwritten the purchase of 100 square acres and they expect they’ll be able to facilitate the purchase of thousands of acres in the next few years with their anticipated growth.

Where can you find these delicious sweet treats?  On the East Coast you can find them in Whole Foods (except in New York and New Jersey) and Fresh markets. On the West Coast, they currently have a larger footprint in Whole Foods, neighborhood corner bodegas, and some conventional grocery stores.  But perhaps the most fun you’ll have is if you’re lucky enough to encounter the “pimped out” ice cream truck (which is really a refurbished school bus) known affectionately as “Carl.”

Carl the Three Twins Ice Cream Bus

Carl the Three Twins Ice Cream Bus

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Neal Gottlieb: Episode 58 of The Wendel Forum (27:20 mins; mp3)

Three Twins Ice Cream website : www.threetwinsiceream.com

Global Wildlife Conservation website: http://globalwildlife.org/

1% for the Planet website: http://onepercentfortheplanet.org/en/

960 KNEW AM Radio website: http://www.960KNEW.com

Bill Acevedo’s online profile: http://www.wendel.com/wacevedo

In Episode 55 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on March 24, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show host Dick Lyons welcomes Gil Friend to the show.  Gil is Founder, President and CEO of Natural Logic, a company that provides strategic advice to support the sustainable economy.  He’s been consulting in this area for more than 40 years and has some great perspectives on the past, present and future of sustainability in business.  His company serves a wide variety of organizations ranging from municipalities to some of the best known consumer brands in the world (Levi Strauss and CocaCola, to name two).  He was recently inducted as a founding member of the Sustainability Hall of Fame by the International Society of Sustainability Professionals.  This is a guy with, as they say, gravitas in the industry.

Gil Friend of Natural Logic

Gil Friend of Natural Logic visits The Wendel Forum studio

Gil points out that, classically, people have defined sustainability as development that meets the needs of present generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs – or to put it more succinctly, by doing less bad.  

He prefers to take a more positive approach.  In his view, a sustainable business is a business that operates in harmony with the laws of nature – a little more inspiring.

When asked what major trends he’s seen, Gil shares that he believes there has been a major sea change in the last five years, with a large number of mainstream businesses considering the environment as a part of their core business operations.   Most of us are familiar with at least some of the ways in which Walmart has led the pack in this area.  When they started, a few years ago, they set goals without knowing exactly what the metrics would be or how they would meet them.  But they didn’t let that stop them, and as a result they have had a big impact on a large sector of the economy.

Gil believes that sustainability has moved from the periphery of business operations to become a central driver of business value for many companies.  Early efforts tended to focus on energy, waste stream, water usage and similar factors.  What’s the latest?  Carbon emissions.  Companies are developing metrics for things like carbon emissions per dollar of revenue as a way to think about investment strategies.  One resource in this area is the Carbon Disclosure Project

Common sustainable business themes include companies looking more closely at the full length of the supply chain and adding transparency.  Consumers want to know the materials that make up the products they buy, as well as the labor practices employed and environmental impact of their production. 

What’s in Gil’s crystal ball for green business?  He sees more companies taking sustainability further and more deeply into their operations.  Companies are asking more systemic questions – embedding sustainability deeper into their DNA and developing better processes along the way.

For more of Gil’s insights, you might want to check out his book, The Truth About Green Business.  It gives business leaders a framework, as well as practical nuts-and-bolts ideas, in easily digestible pieces. 

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Gil Friend:  Episode 55 of The Wendel Forum (27:38 mins; mp3)

Natural Logic website: www.natlogic.com 

The Truth About Green Business webpage: http://www.natlogic.com/resources/publications/the-truth-about-green-business/

Carbon Disclosure Project: https://www.cdproject.net/en-US/Pages/HomePage.aspx

960 KNEW AM Radio website: http://www.960KNEW.com

Dick Lyons’ online profile: http://www.wendel.com/rlyons

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