Education! Education! Education!
The social venture providing educational materials to students locally and across the globe.
Textbooks are quickly becoming too expensive for students and many times become essentially worthless to that student after a single year of use. These used textbooks then sit on shelves collecting dust, while students both locally and globally are seeking affordable access to this material. The solution is to procure these textbooks from one student and sustainably redistribute them to others. This is an opportunity to create value from nothing while helping solve the problem of unaffordable textbooks for over one million students across Canada, and millions more across the globe.
Textbooks for Change (T4C) is a B Corporation that collects donated textbooks in two ways; from drop boxes on post-secondary campuses, and from student club collection drives. Close to half of donated textbooks are sent to African universities in dire need of this quality educational material. The other portion are either recycled or resold online across Canada at affordable prices. After a textbook sells net proceeds are split between sustainably running T4C’s operations and distributing microfinance loans to entrepreneurs in developing countries. Additionally, if a socially purposed student club holds a textbook drive, half of these net proceeds from textbooks sold will be returned back to help fund their mission.
1. Community Background & Development History
How it all Started
In 2012, Chris Janssen was trying to figure out a way to raise money for the Terry-Fox/Shinerama campaign at Western University. He came up with a model of collecting used textbooks from upper year students and selling them back to first year students looking for affordable alternatives to the book store. After this small trial run, about $500 was raised for the two causes. Janssen then began to brainstorm different ways a model like this could have a substantially larger impact; and T4C was born. After Janssen had a long discussion with a good friend Tom Hartford, the idea moved a few steps further.Together they started collecting textbooks across Western University in preparation to sell directly to students at the beginning of the next school year. They planned to use the proceeds to give micro finance loans to entrepreneurs through an online network of microfinance institutions called Kiva.
Realizing some growth constraints, Janssen and Hartford quickly started listing collected inventory online as rapidly growing sales volumes made it difficult to delivering purchases directly to students. After online sales began to rise in a few short weeks, T4C shifted its focus to exclusively sell online nationwide. A partnership with the 39 Countries Initiative was then created to help further T4C’s impact.
This provided T4C an avenue to donate all unsellable textbooks that are still relevant and in good condition to universities in Africa.
3. Organization Structure
CEO Chris Janssen is a recent graduate from the Richard Ivey School of business receiving certificates in both entrepreneurship and sustainability. He is a start-up junkie and loves playing a critical role in the hyper growth of early stage companies.
CFO Tom Hartford graduated from Western University in the spring of 2013 earning a degree in Finance. Since starting with T4C, he has developed a passion for entrepreneurship and financing small businesses.
CRO Adam Frye is leading business development at T4C. His role is to find key partners that are just as driven to generate tangible change. He is currently focused on expanding T4C’s geographical reach on campuses in Ontario.
CMO Burke’s primary role is to manage the T4C brand and social media engagement. After Dropboxes are placed, Burke engages with students to ensure continuous donations are received on campuses across Ontario. In 2015 he is developing a campus ambassador program that will be rolled out across campuses.
Chris and Tom formed a General Partnership at the beginning of 2014, and have transitioned into a Corporation on June 12, 2014. Additionally, T4C received a Benefit Corporation status (B Corporation)which certifies that T4C does not only act in the interest of its shareholders, but the society and environment as well. T4C is proudly the first certified B Corporation out of London, Ontario and part of over 100 in Canada.
Partnerships include Goodwill who donated warehouse space, Youth Social Innovation Fund (YSI) who provided both mentorship and a loan, universities in Southwestern Ontario, Amazon, Kiva, Y.O.U, and Pillar Nonprofit Network.
5. Campus Ambassador Program
In 2014 T4C launched the Campus Ambassador Program and now has 10 ambassadors at 6 campuses. This program will give students on several campuses across Ontario the opportunity to join the team and help bring the T4C initiative directly to their schools.
To date T4C has received grant money from Youth Opportunities Unlimited to pay for wages, and Ontario Centre of Excellence and the Small Business Centre to help with expansion efforts. Grants have already significantly helped the company grow with no impact to the bottom line. The team plans to continue to apply for all relevant grants to help fund further projects leading to an even higher net profit. As well, the team has recently gone through a private pitch session to seek social investors to expand their current operations with a 5 year plan to reach an additional 18 schools. T4C received seed funding in 2014 from YSI and Futurpreneur Canada and successfully raised the first round of capital in summer 2014.
7. Impacts & Outcomes Objectives
To date, T4C has given out over $56,600 in microfinance loans, sent over 26,000 textbooks to Africa, and has donated $37,600 to nonprofits and socially purposed student clubs. T4C plans to continue making a positive impact while expanding to other Canadian universities and colleges in the coming months. T4C has coordinated the reuse of 37,000 text books. The second shipment destined for Ghana is scheduled to arrive February 2015.
Our current challenge is obtaining finance for expansion. We are hopeful our social investors will come to the rescue! Moving to Toronto as we expand to GTA schools, opening a second warehouse, and hiring two more core team members have been recent challenges that T4C have faced.
9. Lessons Learned
Be diligent in your business planning. This is what we can proudly demonstrate to potential investors and keep in our future plans in check.
Partnerships are key. Keep them close and in constant communication.
Identify skills gaps early and don’t be afraid to fill them with people who know more about a subject than you do!
10. Vision for the Future
T4Cs mission is to provide students with affordable access to educational materials both within Canada and across the globe. The vision is that all textbooks sitting idle, be put back into circulation where they are needed most. Beyond T4C’s core focus, there are many other ways social change is created while continuing to be a sustainable and profitable venture. Fundraising with socially purposed clubs, distributing microfinance loans, recycling, and employing Goodwill workers are more ways T4C gives back.
No Turning Back
The founding team and its experienced Advisory Board have been putting unwavering commitment into making T4C a success. What started as a small project in 2013 has grown faster than the team could ever expect. T4C will continue to ride this momentum throughout the rapid expansion across Canada. As long as T4C can forward the founders’ passion and energy to new hires, they will surely meet or exceed projections.
The above article first published on seontario.org in 2015.