A father-son team from Toledo has launched an online specialty foods business that is set up to share its profits with food banks, community gardening initiatives, and other nonprofit groups.
Norm Rapino is an entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and director of mentoring at the Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Michigan. His son, Jonah Rapino, is a professional violinist who has played all over the world. The elder Mr. Rapino lives in Toledo, while his son lives in Boston.
Through the family’s work with Toledo GROWs, a community gardening program of the Toledo Botanical Garden, they realized many nonprofits could use help raising money in a way that wasn’t reliant on grants or other solicitations.
Hoping to catch the wave of social entrepreneurism and the growing number of people seeking out locally produced food and wanting to shop for a cause, they started Glenwood Garden, which is online at glenwoodgarden.com.
“I’m not trying to start a nonprofit or solve all the ills of the world,” Jonah Rapino said. “There are all these organizations out there that are doing it well. Instead of piling onto all these nonprofits trying to get grants, why don’t we try to help them do it better?”
Glenwood Garden was launched last year, with its online marketplace following earlier this year. The idea is to sell nonperishable foodstuffs — chocolates, preserves, energy bars, and beef jerky, for example — produced by individuals and small companies.
Glenwood Garden doesn’t stock any inventory.
Instead, it handles marketing and order processing. Mr. Rapino said that helps keep its overhead low and allows it to return more profit to the charities.
Depending on the situation, Glenwood Garden donates 25 percent or 50 percent of the gross profits to its partner agencies.
Mr. Rapino said participating nonprofits can send out a code and encourage people to shop with Glenwood Garden. When they enter that code, the nonprofit gets 50 percent of the gross profit. When members of the general public buy from the site, they’re given a list of nonprofits to choose from. The nonprofit then gets 25 percent of the gross profit.
“We have high hopes. We think we can really be bringing in a significant amount of money for the nonprofits. It’s not going to be 30 percent of their budget, but we could maybe bring them $5,000 in the first year and grow that to $10,000 the next year.”
Glenwood Garden currently has 25 vendors and is working with six nonprofits, including Toledo GROWs.
Mr. Rapino is aiming for 500 nonprofits five years from now.
“I think this could be a nationwide thing,” he said. “I think people are changing their way of buying things, they really are concerned about where their food is coming from, the source of the ingredients, and just how crazy our food system has been, and I think people are choosing to do a lot of shopping for a cause.”
Other companies that have similar business models have found mixed success, but Mr. Rapino said he and his father believe they offer the largest cut of profits of anyone doing it. He said many others offer a share of net profits, rather than gross profits, and offer a smaller percentage cut.
“The social entrepreneurship angle of this company is what attracted me to it. I never wanted to have a business that was just about cleaning house and taking money from people,” Mr. Rapino said. “If I’m going to do something it has to benefit someone, either artistically like I was doing before or like this where we’re selling something but it’s for the benefit of nonprofits.”
Along with him and his father, Mr. Rapino has a small team in Boston, a Web developer in Columbus, and a development director in Michigan.
“We’re starting small, we’re starting to build, and things are looking pretty good actually for investment,” he said.
They have a meeting next week with a foundation in Michigan that may be interested in investing.
“We have high hopes for this being a business that will be able to take care of our family,” he said.
Their entity is registered in Michigan as an L3C, which is a low-proﬁt limited liability company. The designation requires the business operate toward helping the greater good.
“It also shows our nonprofits that we really take this seriously,” Mr. Rapino said. “This is a social mission. This isn’t just that we’re going to use your endorsement so we can go laughing to the bank.”
Already some of their nonprofits have said if it works for them, they will encourage others in their network to join as well.
Glenwood Garden is currently promoting a Father’s Day gift box with items including Potlicker IPA Beer Jelly from Vermont, Grass Run Farms Teriyaki Beef Jerky from Iowa, and Benito’s Vermont Maple Chipotle BBQ Rub. Mr. Rapino said the boxes are a good way to introduce customers to a variety of different vendors.