Stardust in NYC! Building relationships and learning from others
A deep blue sky, light breeze, mild
temperature, and stunning views of the financial district and the Hudson River set the stage for The Stardust-Startup Factory’s inaugural summer event in New York City. By midday on Sunday June 9th, our display tables were set up in Battery Park City; we could not have asked for a more beautiful day to be outside.
With the Stardust banner aflutter, we
had arrived and were ready to accomplish four goals:
(1) to raise awareness about our non-profit,
(2) to attract qualified emerging entrepreneurs and early-stage startups that want to find their way and could use support from Stardust micro-grants,
(3) to find established entrepreneurs interested in showing the way—by mentoring or otherwise assisting less experienced entrepreneurs, and
(4) to attract those interested in becoming major donors/investors in Stardust.
Many people walked right up to the tables to ask what we were doing, and to share their own health, learning, or sustainability startup idea.
From the father who intends to send Stardust information to his daughter at UC-Berkeley to the Battery Park maintenance worker who wants to start his own environmentally friendly landscaping business, we succeeded in raising awareness in ways we could never have predicted.
Starting a business means needing mentors and guidance
I was very impressed at how many New Yorkers have an idea for a startup and just need a push or a small grant to get it started. One such (upstate) New Yorker is Adam Riva, Stardust grant recipient and founder of Dragonfly Effect Naturals, a clean health and beauty products company. I interviewed Adam
recently about his work.
Talking to him really taught me how essential it is that people with great business ideas receive guidance and help. Although he has experience and works extremely hard (working in two businesses, running a podcast, and being a published author), Adam believes the support he received from the health and nutrition
community was critical as he put Dragonfly Effect Naturals together.
Dragonfly team donating health products in Jamaica in July 2017.
"Journey to entrepreneurship in upstate NY"
Originally from New Jersey, Adam moved to the Catskills six years ago. He currently lives in Delhi, NY and works in Oneonta. He moved upstate to study nutrition and dietetics and rapidly developed his career from there. He built strong relationships with several of the top herbalists in the industry who
helped to formulate a lot of Dragonfly Effect Naturals products.
Adam "worked on every side of the industry that you can think of," including work with organic sustainable farming, different startups - a raw vegan startup, consulting for different companies, management of two different health food stores, and starting his own company. He also wrote a book about nutrition and hosts a podcast, Dauntless Dialogue, exploring not just the nutrition business, but nutrition in the media.
Adam loves this work, which gave him to drive to create a business with a social impact. “It’s totally a passion, and it’s a lifestyle. I’m infatuated with the industry”. Similarly, having passion for his work allowed him to build meaningful relationships and networks in the industry.
Dragonfly Effect Naturals products on display at the Stardust booth at the Olde Beaufort Farmer's Market in Eastern North Carolina.
"Pushed from behind every step of the way"
Adam started Dragonfly Effect Naturals, and he is also the assistant manager at health food store in Oneonta called The Green Earth. Having been in health food industry for ten plus years, he credits Dragonfly's start to the products he made on the side while at health food store.
His boss encouraged him to put products on the side, and the products became in high demand. Adam felt he was “pushed from behind every step of the way." He "didn’t really have any intention of starting a company but it kind of organically unfolded that way.”
Many people have great startup ideas like Adam's, but it just takes a little support to help them get started.
How To Fix Poverty:
Why Not Just Give People Money?
Adam and other Stardust grant recipients applied for their grants, but there's a deeper philosophy of giving at work here, that can be fostered through investing in entrepreneurs and communities in need to allow them to thrive.
There are many policy solutions to attenuating extreme poverty, but policies that involve directly giving cash to people in need are gaining more and more popularity.
After all, people who need money generally know best how they'd need to use it.
Linked below is an NPR article about GiveDirectly, which gives small monthly payments to residents of a villages in Kenya, who have been able to build safety nets, start agricultural businesses, and buy medicine.
U.S. policymakers are also beginning to look at policies that give money directly to those who need it.
Check out this journal article (free to download) by UC Davis economists suggesting that we replace the complicated array of benefits provided through the tax system with a universal child benefit of $2,000 per child, available regardless of parents’ work status. This would be more equitable than current tax benefits and
draws upon many studies showing how just $1,000 a year can improve a child's well-being.
Clean health, beauty & household goods
For every product they sell in stores and online, Dragonfly give an oral health product, clean water, or school supplies to a child in need. As of last year, Dragonfly Effect Naturals has provided clean drinking water for about 40 people for the rest of their lives and provided school supplies for around 100 students
in Brown’s Town, Jamaica through one of their non-profit alliances, and those numbers are growing.
Adam has “always been into health products, organic and natural products.” Some of the products sold by Dragonfly Effect Naturals include toothpaste, mouthwash, bamboo toothbrushes, medicinals, micro herbal tinctures, cosmetics, insect repellant, and hand sanitizer. Clean health and beauty products encourage us to
be more thoughtful about the everyday choices we make with these commonplace health products.
Do you know what's in your cosmetics? Check out this NY Times article.
the realities of the food and health industry in America
At age 13, Adam watched the documentary Supersize Me, quit fast food, educated himself on health and nutrition, and became “obsessed with it from a young age”. Nutrition has been a lifelong passion for Adam from a young age - documentaries like Supersize Me can have a huge impact on future social
Check out Adam's book on plant-based nutrition
In addition to running his own businesses, Adam has authored Humans are Herbivores, a nutritional science book, which has sold over 200 copies.
Physical retail space
in a digital world
Building a retail business through an ethical consumption model
Although we see many
articles about the death of retail, in the natural food industry there is still plenty of growth. Adam sent his products to different stores on the east coast to get
Dragonfly onto shelves. “About 95% of our business goes to retailers. We have a physical presence in almost every state in the east coast. It’s a very tactile, real tangible business as opposed to a digital storefront where people find us on the internet and we ship it out of a dusty warehouse. We...have a presence in over 100 stores. We’re growing rapidly. We are hoping within a 3-5 year time span to have a national presence."
The ethics-based consumption of natural food and health products means that people care more about where they make purchases. “The natural food industry has many things that most other industries don’t have. A lot of people like to support the small company..They like to support David instead of Goliath. We also have a
very eco conscious, socially conscious customer base who wants to support philanthropic companies...that loves to support local.”
Part of Stardust's mission is to build a network of investors who can help each other in social missions. At our meetup, we also talked about impact finance, and how to attract investors who want to use their resources and business acumen to do good in the world.
Large foundations like the Rockefeller Foundation are exploring ways to mobilize the private sector in order to use those resources to diminish inequality. Impact finance seems to be growing in the academic world as well. Places like Columbia University's Tamer
Center for Social Enterprise are teaching future entrepreneurs to use their business skills and capital to address social causes.
Thanks for reading!