Through the inaugural Grants for Greater Good program, Abraham sought to extend Orgain’s mission by giving $50,000 grants to three well-intentioned startups dedicated to driving change through clean nutrition, preventive health and wellness. After reviewing more than 200 applications and asking Orgain’s community to choose from a list six “well-deserving finalists,” Orgain announced this month the three winners: Bissy, Hakuna Brands and IncludeHealth.
In this episode of FoodNavigator-USA’s Soup-To-Nuts podcast, Abraham reflects on the early years of Orgain, some of the challenges he faced and why he gave a total of $150,000 to three startups with no strings attached. The founders of the energy shot company Bissy and the n’ice cream company Hakuna Brands also share how the money will help their businesses grow and advance their collective mission to improve consumers’ health through accessible wellness products.
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‘Everything positive that I’ve learned has been made through a mistake’
Like many entrepreneurs, when Abraham first launched Orgain nearly 12 years ago he knew nothing about running a business or how much capital and energy it would require to succeed. And as a result, he said, he had to learn many lessons the hard way – which says he hopes Orgain’s Grants for Greater Good program can help others avoid so that they can help more Americans faster.
“One thing I’ve realized is that everything positive that I’ve learned has been made through a mistake or something that I’ve done wrong,” said Abraham. “Looking back, you realize, wow, if I could just guide people a little bit or guide companies and say, ‘Don’t make these mistakes that I made.’ It makes their life a lot easier. It allows products to get onto shelves quicker or allows their companies to thrive.”
With that in mind, he said, one goal of the grant program was to help companies “navigate the landmines.”
The other lesson Abraham said he learned, and hopes the program will help other companies manage, is that he “grossly underestimated what’s involved in a business” and how much capital and resources are required.
Despite having to learn many lessons the hard way, Abraham says, he is “very fortunate” in that Orgain has been a brand that resonates with consumers and as such has thrived.
“We feel very fortunate to be in a position financially where we’re going, where we’re able to help companies like these grow and provide this grant money,” he added.
Hakuna Brands’ indulgent desserts help people lead ‘vibrant, healthy lives’
Orgain’s Grants for a Greater Good zeroed in on three areas of focus – clean nutrition, active lifestyle and mindfulness – and as the winner representing the first attribute, the frozen dessert startup Hakuna Brands shows that clean nutrition doesn’t mean sacrificing flavor or fun.
In fact, company co-founder Hannah Hong explained that the idea for Hakuna’s flagship line of banana-based frozen dessert came from her and co-founder Mollie Cha’s love of indulgent desserts but need and desire for a more nutritious alternative to traditional dairy-based ice cream.
“We love indulgent desserts, and we both became lactose intolerant when we were roommates in our early twenties,” but we still wanted ice cream, Hong said. So, when Cha showed her how frozen bananas blended with a little dairy-free milk had the taste and texture of soft-serve, Hong said, “it was like lightening striking.”
The two knew immediately that they wanted more people to enjoy frozen banana-based desserts and so they started Hakuna Brands, which uses banana, coconut cream and dates to create a healthier, dairy-free alternative to ice cream.
Building on the success of its banana-based n’ice cream line, Cha said Hakuna Brand worked with Whole Foods Market last year to create a new line of oat milk-based ice cream alternative, which stays true to the company's tenet of no refined sugars but still tastes indulgent.
Encouraged by consumers’ positive reactions to both Hakuna’s original banana-based and new oat milk based frozen desserts, the brand is ready to expand distribution nationally – a move that without the grant from Orgain Hong explained might not have been possible in the near future because of the coronavirus outbreak.
“Our major goal is to expand geographically. We’re currently sold just in the Western half of the United States, but we get inbound inquiries all the time from the East Coast and Midwest and everywhere asking, ‘are you available?’” Hong said, adding, “we’re really excited to put a significant portion of that [grant] towards those efforts to expand our geographic footprint.”
Bissy’s two-prong plan for supporting healthier lives
As the second winner of Orgain’s Grants for a Greater Good, the founders of the natural energy shot company Bissy epitomize Orgain’s mission to support vibrant, healthy lives on two fronts. First by helping fuel consumers’ active lifestyles by providing an energy boost from natural caffeine and theobromine from kolanut fruit and second by supporting smallholder kolanut fruit farmers with resources and financial backing through Fair Trade practices that will improve their livelihoods.
Company co-founder Zachary En’Wezoh explained that the grant money from Orgain will help Bissy push forward on both of these fronts by helping cover costs associated with new product development and distribution, and by helping their farmers in Nigeria achieve Fair Trade certification.
“We’re a purpose driven West African superfood company. We create social equity for our rural small holder farmers in Nigeria, and we do that through the sale of our 100% plant-based caffeinated Kolanut food and beverage products,” he said.
Co-founder James Swinyard adds that while the Kolanut might not be familiar to many people in the US yet, it offers a significantly more natural energy than more common products, such as coffee, which he says gives it a competitive edge.
While Bissy’s energy shot is an easy way for consumers to try kolanut, the company hopes to add a level of convenience and reach more people by using half of the grant funds from Orgain to support the upcoming launch of its kolanut powder.
The other half of the grant will go towards certifying the farmers with whom Bissy works as Fair Trade, which Swinyard says does not currently exist in Nigeria. But he says by adding it farmers will be empowered and encouraged to cultivate more kolanut, which will de-risk the ingredient for other companies and ultimately help drive an economy.
IncludeHealth uses technology to remove limitations
The final winner of Orgain’s grant is IncludeHealth, which Abraham explained is dedicated to removing limitations for those looking to exercise but who have a disability or are elderly by using technology. The company will use the grant money to install their technology at a health and wellness center in Columbus, Ohio, that helps clients who suffer from neurological conditions.
While Abraham says he is excited to see how each of the companies use the grants to grow their businesses to the next level, he adds that his company hopes to continue to make a difference in the coming years – either through this grant program or by other means.