700 Rivers is a startup founded by NC State alum Catherina Gomes. The social enterprise sells personal care products created by artisans in Bangladesh who have escaped human trafficking. The company strives to empower these women with employment and a safe working environment. The company also has a sustainability focus in making sure that all of their packaging is 100% biodegradable.
Each member of the 700 Rivers team said they joined with one simple goal, to help empower and support women free from sex trafficking and domestic abuse. Their first hurdle was figuring out the best way to support these women who live over 8,000 miles away.
Since their livelihood is tied to the 700 Rivers product sales, the team set their focus on increasing 700 Rivers order quantities and contracting with novel fair trade certified suppliers.
The team divided into a two-pronged approach focusing on affecting the company’s internal and external systems separately. Internally they wanted to identify potential retailers, develop partnership goals, and examine company cost while externally they wanted to survey the market and draft a focus group outline.
In order to accomplish these deliverables, the team began with user research through a survey they created that allowed for the analysis of topical infographics. They were able to isolate 16 statistically significant trends centering on consumer gender, location, marital status, and age. The team then used these trends along with advisor insight to develop a focus group outline that the venture could use moving forward.
In the completion of that survey, the team realized the importance of connection for the future of 700 Rivers. They pivoted slightly in their understanding of what they wanted to focus on. Externally, they focused on the value of better connecting consumers to the artisans and spreading the awareness of their story. If people understand exactly where the products are coming from it increases empathy and support.
Internally, the team identified the need for stronger partnerships not only with 700 River’s suppliers but also with its vendors. They felt it was important as a social enterprise to be as ethical as possible, especially when factors like material sourcing and ethical practices are hard to trace in many places.
The team’s efforts resulted in a dossier of research and suggestions for the 700 Rivers organization in addition to their focus group work. They identified key projects and focal points that would result in positive outcomes for their primary goal, to increase the number of women employed in a safe environment.
Each member of this team walked away with some powerful lessons.
Haley Hall shared a story that many fellows can empathize with, stating, “When I started to believe in myself and value my past experiences, I became more excited to dive into our challenges and creative solutions. I began to understand what it means to be an innovator, a leader and a part of a team.”
Team member Deepti Chintalapudi talks about the hope the program can give and how “it’s easy to learn about the issues people face in society and feel hopeless; But when you’re in a room full of problem solvers who are motivated to tackle these issues you develop an everlasting Innovative mindset and that’s what the program has done for [her].”
This sentiment is echoed by Michael Bowen who says that “the work of the fellows, mentors, and social entrepreneurs that [he’s] gotten to sit side by side with…will inspire [him] for years to come.”
Finally, the team went through a lot of pivots in their journey; Adam Kaynan talks about how valuable those were. He says “this program has transformed [his] understanding of international social ventures and transformed his ability to anticipate change and release [his] assumptions in the service of a team and those in need.”
- Deepti Chintalapudi, graduate student, industrial and systems engineering
- Haley Hall, senior, environmental science, minor in political science
- Michael Bowen, senior, chemical engineering and economics, minors in Spanish and accounting
- Adam Kaynan, graduate student, industrial design
- Senior Fellow: Nimet Degirmencioglu, Ph.D. candidate, textile technology management
- Team Mentor: Jane Rogers, consultant and member, CHASS advisory board
- Venture Partner: Catherina Gomes, entrepreneur, NC State ’15