Product, Service & Design Innovation
Investor-Spurned Startup Turns to the Crowd to Fund Eco-Friendly Lunch Box

San Francisco Bay Area startup ECOlunchbox has launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $30,000 to bring to market its Blue Water Bento collection, a new line of lunch containers that combine no-leak silicone lids with non-toxic stainless steel bottoms.

The new containers reduce use of plastics, which can contain estrogen-mimicking chemicals like BPA (bisphenol-A), the company said. Plastic also is dangerous to the environment because it is accumulating in the oceans, breaking down over time into micro fragments that are ingested by wildlife.

"We've been hearing from our customers they really want a lunch container that doesn't leak — and doesn't have any plastic,” Sandra Ann Harris, founder and president of ECOlunchbox, said in a statement. “They want the best of both worlds — non toxic and no leaking."

Harris is turning to crowdfunding after angel investors rejected the project.

"It's costly to fund the design, molds and other start-up costs for a new product line. There are high minimums, too,” Harris said. “I really wanted to meet the needs of families seeking these products that are healthy for people and the planet, so I've decided to take our funding needs to the streets via Kickstarter."

So far the Kickstarter campaign has received an enthusiastic response, Harris said, with ECOlunchbox raising $10,000 in the first few days.

Although impact investing has grown significantly in recent years, it’s still difficult for mission-driven consumer products businesses such as ECOlunchbox to access capital. Often these are not seen as attractive investment opportunities for angel investors because their focus is not purely on profitability.

ECOlunchbox says it embraces the triple bottom line: profit, along with people and planet.

Harris said ECOlunchbox has sold more than a quarter million lunchboxes so far and averted the use and disposal of tens of millions of pieces of plastic trash.

Earlier this year, the company was invited to Washington D.C. to share its planet impact at an event hosted by Reps. Mike Honda (D) of San Jose and Sam Farr (D) of Carmel. The congressmen are sponsoring legislation to reduce marine debris and exploring opportunities to support companies, such as ECOlunchbox, that are working on reducing the plastic pollution problem.

In Washington, the company announced the results of a study showing its positive environmental impact. In everyday terms, ECOlunchbox's annual positive impact on global warming is estimated to be equivalent to offsetting the greenhouse gas emissions from more than 5 million miles driven by passenger vehicles or 2.5 million pounds of coal burned, according to a carbon footprint analysis calculated using the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Waste Reduction Model. The weight of the lunchtime trash averted through the use of the company's stainless steel lunchboxes was converted into a greenhouse gas equivalent using the U.S. EPA's online tool.

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