“Am I gonna make it?”
All entrepreneurs face this question without always knowing what fate will hold. Too often, entrepreneurs launch their businesses without completely understanding the strengths and weaknesses of their business model. Programs such as Shark Tank allow entrepreneurs to vet their business model to experts and get their feedback. However, community support on new business ideas can be tough to come by. Robert Bell and Ian Shelledy are addressing this problem with a bold new idea, Sustainable Startups.
Sustainable Startups is a resource for entrepreneurs across Utah to hang out, attend programs, exchange ideas, and generate feedback for developing business models. “There’s not enough open conversation about these types of things,” says Bell, who founded the organization in 2013. “There are lots of great ideas left sitting on a shelf. I wanted to take people’s ideas and help them to create businesses around them.”
Together with Shelledy, they opened up a location downtown and emphasized the importance of sustainability, due to their education and background in energy. “Business isn’t separate from sustainability.” Bell says. “Think about the triple bottom line: People. Profit. Planet. Think about supply chains and ways a company can save by being sustainable.”
Shelledy recalls a young man named Cassidy Knight who started a a vinyl company, Trufle Creative, worrying that vinyl is inherently a non-sustainable business. But through simple processes, such as donating vinyl scraps to an art co-op, this owner expanded his relationships into a larger clientele. He even was able to upcycle leftover vinyl into popular wallets.
“People who say they don’t need something like this are the ones who need it most,” Shelledy adds, “Everyone should start thinking about sustainability.”
The Climbing Tree owner, Joe Hoskisson, admits that Sustainable Startups helped him knock the habit of having disposable cups around the office when he rented part of the co-op space at the Sustainable headquarters. “One day Rob came up to me and asked why I didn’t use the mugs they had and go for the more sustainable option. From then on I either bought my own water bottle or used the mugs in the kitchen.” Climbing Tree is an online-based platform that allows users to navigate through websites based on their interests, similar to browsing through a section at bookstore.
Sustainable Startups began its summer incubator cohort last month. Each cohort lasts 12 weeks and provides education and training on developing an entrepreneurial critical path and make how to make progress along that path. Many entrepreneurs attend these cohorts to help develop their environmental sustainability.
Dustin Burgin sat in on one of the first cohorts when he founded Corda, a company that manufactures ropes sandals and provides jobs to underprivileged citizens of Ethiopia.
Cori Nemec Fair, owner of Fair Forks, a company that makes nutritious lunchable-type meals for children, reached out to Sustainable’s cohort because of its focus on the triple bottom line. “We aim to incorporate sustainability from sourcing sustainably-raised produce and ingredients that do not negatively impact our environmental resources, by sourcing from local purveyors/supporting the local economy. I am so grateful to have found Sustainable Startups.” Fair says.
One of its lesser known but most beneficial programs happens every Wednesday morning, when Sustainable hosts its weekly 1 Million Cups event, where two local entrepreneurs share their business “pitch” and any associated struggles to an unbiased audience of their peers. Through this program, presenters are able to network and further understand any perceived weaknesses in their model. In June, William Jolley, presented his idea of a website called Farmers2you.com for local farmers to sell their crops as an online farmers market, as purchasing local food decreases one’s carbon footprint. Here he was able to generate ideas on how to better market his product, as well as establish contacts for several local farmers.
1 Million Cups was started by the Kauffman Foundation with the aim of one million shared cups of coffee amongst entrepreneurs who want to change the world.
“We do a lot of programs here and they all have their own benefits,” says Shelledy. “We offer an environment of education to hard-working entrepreneurs who work all hours of the night,” says Shelledy. “These are people who are entrepreneurial focused but also want to make a difference.”
Sustainable Startups is located at 340 E 400E, just east of the Salt Lake Library and Salt Lake Roasting Company.