With a new one-for-one business selling nutrition bars on college campuses and elsewhere, two entrepreneurs are taking aim at childhood hunger worldwide. Two Degrees Food, founded by Will Hauser and Lauren Walters, sends a medically-formulated nutrition pack to a malnourished child for every food bar it sells. I spoke recently with Hauser, a 25-year-old Harvard graduate, about his fledgling company.
Q: How did you come to launch Two Degrees Food?
A: I usually start with what I did in college, [which] was work for a company called Harvard Student Agencies. There are 500 student employees, about 15 small businesses. I ran this at age 20 and really found my love for business and entrepreneurship at a young age. It wasn’t what I expected to do. My parents are doctors and I’ve always looked up to them. As corny as it sounds, I’ve wanted to do good and follow in their footsteps. For me, Two Degrees is a marriage of that love for entrepreneurship and that longstanding desire to do good.
Q: How did you fund Two Degrees?
A: The funding came from angel investors. I think people really took to the mission of what we were trying to do from a social perspective, but also thought this was a really creative business idea and, in most cases, like nothing they’d heard before. It’s a very experienced group of investors.
Q: Talk about what happens when someone buys a Two Degrees Food bar. How does aid get to a malnourished child halfway around the world?
A: We have two really phenomenal and experienced nonprofit partners. We work with Valid Nutrition as our manufacturing partner. They have a facility in Malawi where they make these nutrition packs. They’re in the country, [which] was a part of the reason why we chose them. In having a factory in Malawi, they create jobs [and] source ingredients from local farms. There’s a whole story around the creation of these nutrition packs that adds a lot of value in-country.
Our first distribution partner is Partners in Health, a world-class organization that has expertise in fighting childhood hunger. Partners in Health has distribution networks set up across the countries they work in. We’re starting in Malawi and they have networks across Malawi where they distribute nutrition packs to kids in need. They believe in a community-based approach, which is very important to us. The fact that these packs are portable and have decent shelf lives means they can be fed to kids by moms and caretakers in homes instead of more traditional methods where children were admitted to hospitals and clinics and tended to by doctors. Working closely with our two nonprofit partners is how we fulfill that one-for-one promise where for every nutrition bar we sell here in the U.S., we see to it that a nutrition pack is given to a hungry child.
Q: Have you talked to anyone from TOMS Shoes?
A: It’s definitely an inspiration for Two Degrees. The one-for-one business model is really exciting to see being applied to a lot of different products. TOMS is one example. You see it in technology and in apparel. We haven’t talked to TOMS. We’d love to. There are probably ways we can work together.
The key difference between Two Degrees and other one-for-one models is that we’re trying to change people’s habits. We took this one-for-one business model and combined it with our determination to fight childhood hunger. The way we did that was by creating a healthy food product that people eat everyday. We hope to encourage and inspire our consumers to give back everyday as part of your daily habit. You do something good for yourself by eating healthy and, in doing so, help another person. That habitual notion is something that we hope distinguishes us.
Q: How do you reach customers? Are you in retail stores?
A: We have about 15 retailers – a pretty interesting mix that spans the country. We’re selling online, which is a big part of our strategy. We’re on college campuses. From the very start, we thought college campuses would be a fantastic launching point for the brand. Students are on the go. They eat a lot of bars. They care about giving back and being involved with a cause like ours. The reality though is students don’t write checks. It’s not that they don’t care. There aren’t easily accessible ways for them to get involved. We think that’s why Two Degrees will be such a hit on college campuses and elsewhere. Someone can make a difference by making a very simple purchase change. Instead of buying whatever bar they currently buy, they can buy a Two Degrees bar and know exactly the impact of their purchase. We’re on 10 college campuses right now. We hire a student leader on campus to [handle] sales and marketing efforts in a very entrepreneurial way. We’re planning to expand that model to 50 or so campuses in the coming months.
Q: What’s been the most difficult part of getting the company going?
A: My partner, Lauren, and I don’t have experience in food. The key challenge for us was bringing together a team of people that had that experience. Our chef, for example, that was one of the first key additions to the team. Our chef worked for 10 years at Odwalla. She’s diligent and exacting about what goes into the bar and what it tastes like and how the nutritional profile comes out. [We have] a supply chain manager from Clif (Bar & Company), a branding person from Power Bar, marketing people from big nonprofits. We wanted to surround ourselves with people who knew the product side and the food side.
Q: What advice do you have for entrepreneurs that want to launch a one-for-one business?
A: It’s a really challenging model in a lot of ways. There are added costs associated with building a business around a social cause. The most important part to get right about the one-for-one is the traceability and tangibility around the ‘give’ side. The details by which the giving side is administered need to be thought through. For us, it was key to identify these manufacturing and distribution partners on the ground. The reality of the giving side is that this wouldn’t be possible for us to do on our own. As hard as it was for us to set up the food side of this, it would have been even harder to establish a production and distribution network in Malawi or the other countries we want to work in. Ironing out the details of the give side should come before any thoughts around consumer products.