NOTE: This article was originally published on the Trico Charitable Foundation website and has been cross-posted with permission.
“The most valuable resources we found for our venture was making connections and talking to people who are already entrepreneurs. These entrepreneurs can help you establish your support network, which is extremely valuable.” –Willis Tat, Co-Founder, Bundles of Hope
Stepping into the University of Calgary‘s Entrepreneurship 317 class, three Haskayne Business students could not have predicted a class project would transform into a successful social venture creating change. The project tasked students Miranda Mantey, Willis Tat, and Justin Wood to address a world issue. The result was the creation of One World Blankets a social enterprise that sought to employ local weavers in India to make blankets that would be sold in North America. Proceeds would not only provide employment in India, they would be utilized for vaccinations in India.
While tales of student social ventures are becoming more common, two things set this team apart. First, although the social venture originally came about as part of a class project, they continued with it well after the class ended. Secondly, they were insightful enough to know they needed to alter their model (‘pivot’ in business-speak) even though they received accolades. One World Blankets won Viewer’s Choice Award at a RBC Fast Pitch Competition and placed 3rd overall at the Lion’s Den Social Innovation Challenge.
To Miranda, the evolution made strategic sense on a number of levels:
“We realized that the practicality of having an international business model of manufacturing abroad was not financially feasible for us and with our time because of our commitment to school. We were looking at how to make it more local and to have our hands and feet in at all times. We decided to look at the local problems we have within our city and base our changes off of that and what we can do here.”
Now known as Bundles of Hope, Miranda describes it as follows:
“Our venture is working to help break the cycle of poverty through the sales of baby swaddling blankets by tackling it in two folds. Firstly, we will be employing low income, local mothers to work out of their homes on their own time to create our product. Secondly, for each of our product sold we will be donating a day’s worth of biodegradable diapers to a local charity. This means we will be boosting their income while taking away a portion of the burden of the cost of diapers.”
The team debuted the new version during ATB Financial’s Alberta BoostR crowd-funding competition.
Bundles of Hope learned that if a mother cannot afford diapers, she is unable to put her child into daycare, therefore prohibiting her ability to work. The team aims to solve both issues by selling the blankets made my low-income Calgary mothers as well as each blanket sold will go toward donating a days’ worth of biodegradable diapers to a mother in need.
The co-founders are now hoping within the next six months to undertake market research and further develop the product:
“We plan to do market research about the donation portion of our business. We are trying to decide to stick between diaper donations or go to our other idea of vaccinating children internationally. We plan to sell both products and see which one sells better as well as interview buyers to see what they think of our product. We also want to develop a thorough business model.” Miranda expresses.
Another issue they are grappling with is the sourcing of the fabrics they use.
The team is also honing their venture through participation in the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation’s incubator program.
“I am always impressed with my co-founders Miranda and Justin and how incredibly dedicated they have been to Bundles of Hope.” Willis compliments.
All three of the business students are unique and bring their own strengths and passions to the table. Miranda is doing a double major in Risk Management & Finance and Actuarial Science, Willis is majoring in Marketing, and Justin is majoring in Energy Management. The fact that they can each make different contributions that add to a seamless whole is a testament to the way Haskayne School of Business runs its Entrepreneurship 317 class. Teams are assigned based on a Strengths Finder Survey.
As with many of the student social entrepreneurs we are encountering, Willis and Miranda are quick to mention local people as their key role models and inspirations. Willis cites Houston Peschl, professor at the Haskayne School of Business and the one who put all of them together for the class project, as a social entrepreneur role model:
“Immediately, the first person that comes to my mind is my professor Houston. He has been pushing us to get better and better and helping us along the way.”
Miranda mentions Calgary’s Ken Davies, founder of Hop Compost, as an entrepreneur she admires and respects.
All three co-founders hope to continue to work with Bundles of Hope after graduation and believe that the shift to focusing locally on providing parents high quality baby products is a strategic and carefully planned out move. Bundles of Hope is a great example of how Canada’s post-secondary institutes can lead and nurture students to create a significant impact socially, financially, and environmentally.