This originally appeared in the SF Chronicle.
Esha Chhabra, Special to The Chronicle
Friday, January 13, 2012
Employees of Facebook, Cisco and Hewlett-Packard are among those who can now use a snack break to help feed children in drought- and famine-ridden parts of the world.
That’s courtesy of San Francisco startup Two Degrees, a social enterprise that follows the one-for-one model popularized by Toms shoes, which matches each purchase with a pair of new shoes for a needy child.
In this case, for every Two Degrees energy bar purchased, the company provides a peanut-paste packet to a starving child in Malawi through its partnership with Valid Nutrition.
Founded in January 2010, the company has its products in every Whole Foods market, on college campuses, at Barnes & Noble cafes and in the cafeterias of some of the biggest tech companies.
The idea of feeding starving children through business came from a pairing of two entrepreneurs at opposite ends of their career.
Will Hauser, a 2008 graduate of Harvard University, did a yearlong stint at Goldman Sachs before settling on his true passion – entrepreneurship. His business partner, Lauren Walters, is a seasoned entrepreneur Hauser met decades ago.
Walters is 60; Hauser, 25 – a difference in age that surprises many.
“I was introduced to him in a stroller in Concord, Mass., over 20 years ago,” Walters joked.
A new challenge
While this is Hauser’s first company, Walters has run several companies and has served as an early-stage investor for nearly as long as Hauser has been alive.
But both are fairly new to tackling some of the world’s most serious problems like famine and hunger.
A decade ago, Walters became involved with Boston nonprofit group Partners in Health, and six years ago he had his first encounter with malnourished children. During a trip with the organization in Rwanda, he was struck by the severity of the situation and the lack of ready-to-use therapeutic foods being made locally. The therapeutic foods are packets of a nutrition paste fortified with vitamins and minerals designed to reverse malnutrition.
“It was really just a resource question of not enough (of the foods) being made available to them, and I began thinking of how I could help solve that problem,” Walters said.
Four years later, Walters met Steve Collins, a doctor who had worked in famine relief for two decades, at the Oxford Skoll Forum. There, Walters’ business acumen combined with Collins’ humanitarian ambitions.
Collins and his business partner, Paul Murphy, had started Valid Nutrition, which produces the packets of nutrition paste in Africa, relying on local farmers, labor and suppliers.
Made in Africa
They collect ingredients from nearby farmers to make a thick paste of peanuts, oil and sugar, which is manufactured in one of Valid’s factories in Malawi, and then distributed to severely malnourished children in neighboring areas.
“We would love to see more for-profit food companies with the appropriate capability getting directly involved in working with us to make affordable high-quality nutritious foods available to those who need them,” Murphy said. “We believe that this can be done in a commercially viable way – while also making a massive social impact.”
In 2011, Two Degrees sold more than 200,000 energy bars, meaning it provided 200,000 meals to children in need.
To extend its reach, Two Degrees is going beyond commitments to Partners in Health and Valid Nutrition by identifying potential partners in Pakistan who can produce a chickpea-based paste and in India, where it will be providing meals through the school system.
Hauser said that unlike with philanthropy or nonprofits, Two Degrees is not asking people to write checks.
“We’re asking customers to make a very simple purchase decision, and automatically their purchase will be able to have a positive impact,” he said. “No checks, no donations required. It’s much simpler.”
This year, the company plans to begin selling its bars in Canada and Western Europe – and to expand its seven-member full-time staff in San Francisco.
“We’ve had an usual trajectory for a startup. We just sparked and took off,” Hauser said. “But we’re looking forward to growing and deepening our impact.”