Students launch backpack company to empower women

By |

   
   

To see the Tennessean article on the Ed Pack Global founders click here.

To see the Ed Pack founder Luke Benda on Today in Nashville on Channel 4 click here.

Students kick-start their pre-sales Jan. 17 in entrepreneurial social enterprise

The season of giving has come and gone, but if you are looking for a way to continue practicing generosity in 2017, then four Lipscomb University students have an opportunity for you.

A business major, theology major, English major and a math alumnus banded together more than a year ago to create Ed Pack Global, a for-profit social enterprise that is selling backpacks on Kickstarter and donating a portion of the profits to benefit women’s education in Honduras and in Nashville.

The group launched their Kickstarter campaign (Bit.ly/LaunchEdPack) on Jan. 17, and met their goal of $10,000 in support by mid-day, but pre-sales and pledges of support are still welcome as the group raises long-term capital for the venture. A portion of the profits from each backpack sale will benefit Mi Esperanza, a Honduran nonprofit providing job skills training and microloans for women, and Thistle Farms, a Nashville nonprofit providing job and life skills training for women healing from prostitution, trafficking or addiction.

“We are a company that certainly started with our ‘why,’” said Luke Benda, a senior entrepreneurship and financial markets major, referring to Simon Sinek’s model for inspirational leadership. “Studies have shown that the most effective way to promote economic growth is education, and especially women’s education. Yet that idea is not talked about much. Our whole focus is education.”

The Ed Pack Global group wanted to focus on college students as its core market, so a backpack seemed to make sense for a company promoting education, Benda said. “If you are on a college campus and don’t see backpacks, something is wrong,” he chuckled. “On college campuses, backpacks are synonymous with education.”

The group’s product is called The Pioneer and is made of heavyweight water resistant canvas with a durable waxed canvas bottom. It has two pockets on the top flap and one large padded laptop sleeve inside.

Benda came up with the idea last fall after reading two books while interning as a financial analyst in Chicago: Love Does by Bob Goff and Good to Great by Jim Collins. Benda has been starting business ventures since he was young, but reading these two books at the same time inspired him to start a business venture that could also make a positive impact on the world.

Following the advice of Collins in Good to Great, Benda set about to gather a team with, not the best business skills he could find, but with passion, the ability to dream and commitment to the goal. He recruited Kayla Ford, a senior majoring in English and philosophy, who took on marketing tasks; Macy Cottrell, a senior majoring in biology and theology, who established the partnerships with the benefiting nonprofits; and Ben Siebold, a 2016 graduate who majored in applied mathematics and took on product design and manufacturing tasks.

“I’ve been around a lot of start-ups, and if they don’t have the heart, the business fails,” Benda says.

The group has had plenty of learning opportunities and challenges along the way. They designed a few prototypes before developing one that met all their specifications. Finding a manufacturer proved particularly challenging as backpacks are actually a very difficult product to create, Benda said. It must be strong enough to carry a heavy load over a long period of time, so special sewing machines are required to manufacture the product, he said.

A year and a half later, however, the core group of four were still meeting every week to work on the company prior to the January launch.

In the spring of 2015, the group won Lipscomb’s Kittrell Pitch Competition, which provided $10,000 toward development of Ed Pack Global. As a result of that, they participated in Launch TN’s Statewide Venture Challenge and won the ability to participate in the Statewide Venture Challenge annual conference.

“This venture is a catalyst for social change, which is something I have always liked and wanted to explore, and this is a really practical way to do it,” said Ford, who plans to go into ministry after graduation. “In 20 years, I think every company will be giving back to something. We are riding that wave.”

To see more about Ed Pack Global, their products and opportunities to support the venture, go to their Kickstarter site at Bit.ly/LaunchEdPack.