Live Crowdfunding Event Boosts Local Sustainability Innovators

Imagine if the viewers of Shark Tank could crash the stage, shove aside the venture capitalist hosts and bid for who they think should get some seed money. Also imagine that each entrepreneur has an idea to make the world a greener place.

Such is the conceit of BOOST (Building Opportunities for Original and Sustainable Thinking), a live, crowdfunded event in support of Chicago-area sustainability innovations. Audience members provide the available funds through their ticket purchases; at the event, they then vote to determine which innovators will receive funding. Yesterday, two entrepreneurs—Octavia Hooks of Octavia’s Natural Hair Care Experience and Roman Titus, founder of Sojourn Fare—won financial support for their sustainability ventures.

From left to right: Octavia Hooks of Octavia’s Natural Hair Care Experience; Roman Titus of Sojourn Fare; Shawn Smith of Resketch; Kate Jakubas and Mike Mayer of Meliora K; Josh Yellin, Nick Wesley and Brette Bossick of the Naru Project.

From left to right: Octavia Hooks of Octavia’s Natural Hair Care Experience; Roman Titus of Sojourn Fare; Shawn Smith of Resketch; Kate Jakubas and Mike Mayer of Meliora K; Josh Yellin, Nick Wesley and Brette Bossick of the Naru Project.

The mission of Octavia’s Natural Hair Care Experience is to provide services that promote naturally textured hair while inspiring change and advocating for a green lifestyle in Chicago’s Southland communities. With a goal of transforming a vacant, blighted property into a LEED-certified natural hair care salon, entrepreneur Octavia Hooks’ vision is to demonstrate a green social enterprise business model in her community, promote community conversations and education around sustainability and healthy lifestyle choices, and support economic development in in Chicago’s Southland area.

“We’re excited to apply BOOST funding toward purchasing and transforming a vacant gas station into a unique green awareness and neighborhood-restoring, Chicago Southland-based business featuring a natural hair salon, urban gardens, green technology and community outreach programs,” said Hooks.

The night’s other winning entry, Sojourn Fare, is an urban mushroom farm that uses waste material, like spent grain, coffee grounds, sawdust, and hulled soybeans to grow high-quality, chemical-free mushrooms. Once mushrooms have fruited several times, the substrate used to grow the mushrooms can be used as a nutrient rich, contaminant-free soil for urban gardens or parks.

“Being selected to receive BOOST funds is a huge gust of wind in my sails,” said Titus. “I will now be able to build out an industry-standard sterile lab for working with spawn and cultures, as well as build out a substrate sterilizing chamber and fruiting chamber. BOOST and Delta Institute will forever be embedded in Sojourn Fare’s story, just as they have been for countless other social ventures, and I’m extremely grateful for the work they’re doing.”

Elise Zelechowski, Director of Social Impact at ThoughtWorks, addressing the crowd.

Elise Zelechowski, Director of Social Impact at ThoughtWorks, addressing the crowd.

The two winning ventures will each be awarded upwards of $4,000 in unrestricted seed funding and they will also receive a tailored package of in-kind resources.

Now in its fourth year, the BOOST event was hosted by the Delta Emerging Leaders (DELs), an associate board of the Delta Institute, a nonprofit that works to build both a resilient environment and economy through sustainable solutions.

“This community-driven approach to financing social ventures overcomes a funding barrier for local entrepreneurs and engages hundreds of people to directly invest in the future of Chicago,” said Delta Institute CEO Jean Pogge.

“BOOST allows community members to directly invest and support the innovations that they want to see in Chicago,” said Sam Schiller, DEL Co-Chair. “This year’s slate represents just how innovative and forward thinking the sustainability movement is here in Chicago.”

Other entrants at this year’s event were Meliora K, a Chicago-based household soap manufacturer that aims to provide consumers with the information and products they need to have a clean, comfortable and non-toxic home; Resketch, a company that creates eco-friendly notebooks from reclaimed office paper, architectural plans, sheet music, maps and other sources; and The Naru project, which aspires to design and implement a floating garden on the Chicago River to rehabilitate aquatic habitats, extract river pollutants, educate the public and provide opportunities for scientific research.

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