Editor’s Note: This article is reprinted with permission from the Pioneer Business Review, Volume 4, Issue 4. The Pioneer Business Review is an independent, student-run newspaper that covers the University of Denver business community. This article has been condensed and edited for a wider audience.
Alex Olmanson, a senior finance major at the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business, has set out to help alleviate nationwide school supply shortages with his business, Working on Our Future (WOOF).
WOOF is a one-for-one model for purchasing school supplies. Currently, the company sells Five-Star Style notebooks and, for every one sold, donates a one-subject, 70-page notebook to a nonprofit organization called the Kids in Need Foundation (KINF), which distributes supplies to schools in need.
“There are 16 million [U.S.] students living below the poverty line,” Olmanson says. “We wanted to address that whole education problem. We feel there is so much improvement that can be done just by giving everyone equal education opportunities.”
The concept for WOOF was developed when Olmanson was studying abroad in Brussels, Belgium, and was given an assignment to create a trial business. He had always been intrigued by the Toms shoes one-for-one model, so he decided to call his brother, Chris, who was studying in El Salvador, to brainstorm some ideas.
“I asked Chris what are some things he noticed that could use some improvement,” Olmanson said. “He gave some examples like toothbrushes, but we ultimately came to school supplies and how much we take education for granted.”
After doing more research, the brothers discovered that a significant number of teachers were buying school supplies for students who couldn’t afford them. From there, the business plan was written, and the two started looking into prototypes.
“We finalized the notebook design we wanted and found a company that would put our logo on it. We bought 1,000 notebooks and started selling them at the beginning of the year out of our dorm rooms,” he said.
At this point, the brothers included another friend in the business to expand reach into other colleges. The notebooks currently are selling at DU, Boston College and the University of Wisconsin. Olmanson won the social entrepreneurship portion of the spring quarter Daniels pitch competition, which allotted the company $500 in seed money.
The company also has enlisted other students to promote and market the brand. It has two interns per school to expand the brand with a long-term goal of selling in every major college bookstore.
Olmanson has learned from starting and now growing WOOF into the school supply outlet it has become.
“I always have fun, but sometimes it is so difficult to take action. I would recommend to other entrepreneurs to sit down and think about an idea without overthinking it,” he said. “Just go and do and see what happens.”