Working On Our Future (WOOF) Supplies, LLC is a social entrepreneurship project started by Chris Olmanson, A&S ’14, his brother Alex, and his childhood friend Jack Angell, that aims to provide notebooks and other school supplies to under privileged children. The company recently received a Legacy Grant of $1,100 from Boston College as seed funding for the project to extend its reach.
The mission of WOOF is to provide greater educational options to underprivileged students by donating school supplies with the profits from selling notebooks at college bookstores. By the end of the day on Monday, Jan. 13, Olmanson had sold 250 notebooks at his table outside the bookstore in McElroy Hall. “At BC, we’ve sold the most notebooks [of the three locations],” Olmanson said. “The Jesuit culture here definitely plays into this.”
For every WOOF notebook the company sells, it donates a standard one-subject, 70-page notebook. The business model for the company follows the One-for-One model set out by other companies such as Toms and Warby Parker.
“In reading, we found that if a socially conscious product costs more than a non-socially conscious product, 40 percent of consumers say they would buy the socially conscious one, but only 4 percent actually do,” Olmanson said. “On the other hand, if the products are the same quality and price, 87 percent of consumers switch to the socially conscious brand.”
The Kids in Need Foundation has 32 warehouses with school supplies across the country-locations where teachers can pick up supplies for kids in need. The first semester, WOOF sold notebooks primarily online and delivered them to students’ rooms.
Over break, WOOF donated 500 notebooks to the Minneapolis location of the foundation after selling 500 of its own online. “Our hope is to get at least 750 more donated this semester,” Olmanson said.
Angell, a student at the University of Wisconsin, handles production. Alex Olmanson, a finance major at the University of Denver, takes care of business and tax issues. He is currently selling notebooks at the University of Denver bookstore while Angell will start up when classes resume at Wisconsin. Chris Olmanson, an international studies major, helps the business run efficiently and appropriately by making sure the notebooks go to the right places.
To keep the business going, Chris and his business partners hold weekly conference calls to check on the progress at their respective universities. One big decision by Olmanson and his co-founders in the pursuit of better educational opportunities for kids was to make their company for-profit in order to allow for private investment.
“After talking with many mentors and reading articles and books on the pros and cons of each, we decided to be a for-profit company,” he said. “The chief reason is that it allows us to be open to accepting money from investors instead of having to rely on donations or grants.”
Still, Olmanson expressed gratitude toward the University for giving a Legacy Grant to the project. The Legacy Grant funds innovative ideas and creative student projects. Olmanson, however, remains hopeful that the company can gain other types of funding.
The three partners used their own savings to finance the project, but they are hoping for future investments from others. “I have found that the for-profit model does not make people more hesitant [about the business] as long as they know why it’s for-profit,” he said.
In addition to the Legacy Grant, WOOF also received recognition in BC’s fall Elevator Pitch competition, in which the business won an award on the Social Track.
The genesis for the project came from Olmanson’s experience studying abroad in El Salvador, a place where there is a need for greater educational opportunities. “One girl I met had to drop out of school because she couldn’t afford the necessary books and uniform,” he said.
Olmanson added that advice from one of his mentors in El Salvador contributed to his decision to co-found WOOF. “In wondering how to continue my experience from El Salvador to the United States, I asked my mentor, Hector, what he would recommend, and he told me to look for need back in my own country and places where I could stand with the poor,” he said.
Olmanson also discussed his motivation for starting the project. “My brother and I have done other fundraisers in the past,” he said. “This is a unique project because it’s not once a year. The aim is to be self-sustainable. A big part of starting WOOF came from the El Salvador experience and another part came from my brother and I wanting to work together.”
In addition to the Kids in Need Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing school supplies to those in need, the business has also partnered with Plant It, a non-profit which plants a tree for every 25 notebooks WOOF sells.
For guidance on the project, Olmanson sought out Professor Tiziana Dearing, associate professor of macro practice in the Graduate School of Social Work. “The good decisions and great ideas are his,” Dearing said. “I’m just someone who can help him comb them out a little bit.”
Dearing also offered her own thoughts on the project. “What I like about this idea is that it uses quite well ‘the maker instinct’ and ‘flipping the dilemma,’ two concepts we teach in the leadership course here,” she said. “[Chris] found a new need and had an idea for using something that already exists to meet it. That’s wonderfully creative.”
In the future, Olmanson is interested in working more with the Follett Corporation, which runs college bookstores across the country, including BC’s. If WOOF were to do this, it would have to share some of their profits with that corporation. “I’d love to see the bookstore take [these notebooks],” Dearing said.
According to Olmanson, Studies have shown that without basic supplies, kids concentrate and participate less in the classroom and are more likely to drop out altogether. Over 16 million students are below the poverty line in the U.S.
“We see education as a force for societal change, and we want to empower underprivileged U.S. students to take a greater hold of their education by providing them with the basic school supplies they need to learn,” Olmanson said.
For additional information on WOOF please visit woofsupplies.com or facebook.com/woofsupplies.