2012 Interview with Sean Mills from UnaBellaVita (now known as Vitamend L3C)
The company participated in the WJF Sustainable Business Plan Competition in 2011.
“The problem we are trying to solve is vitamin and mineral deficiencies in children and more specifically, the deficiencies of those living in developing nations…it’s something that flies under the radar in the general public and we’re trying to address that” –Sean Mills, UnaBellaVita
UnaBellaVita entered their business plan into the 2011 William James Foundation Competition. The UnaBellaVita team helps to cure vitamin and mineral deficiencies in children living in developing nations through a buy one, get one model. For every serving bought online, they give one serving of multivitamins to a child in need. The WJF’s Erin Jones spoke with Sean Mills about UnaBellaVita and their recent restructuring.
Are you in business or still planning?
We are restructuring everything right now. By that, I mean we’re changing the name slightly, the logo, we’re adding a new member, and we’re redeveloping our product line. Currently, we’re going through a lot of changes, but hopefully we’ll be back in business in the next couple months.
Where are you located?
We’re in Chicago, IL.
What problem are you trying to solve?
The problem we are trying to solve is vitamin and mineral deficiencies in children and more specifically, the deficiencies of those living in developing nations. The deficiency has been nicknamed “hidden hunger” and is a subtle, unnoticeable form of starvation that children between the ages of 0 and 5 suffer from. They’re a lot of ill effects that go along with that—it’s something that flies under the radar in the general public and we’re trying to address that.
How did you become interested in this problem?
Currently, there are 5 owners of the company, 3 of which are brothers. The eldest brother came up with the idea a few years ago. He claims it was when he was falling asleep and thinking about a New York Times article he had just read by Nicholas Kristof. He pitched the idea to all of the brothers, and we rolled along with it from there. Our name, UnaBellaVita, means one beautiful life in Italian.
What is your solution to the problem?
There are a lot of different avenues and solutions—that’s one of the things we got hung up on because we got into a complicated arena. The very simple answer is that we want to create a sustainable business that will be driven by the profitable end of our business, raise profits and awareness, get the scope of our business out there, while also giving a bottle of multivitamins to children for every sale. The way to solve that is to not do a traditional model of a nonprofit, where it is not scalable, but to create a sustainable business to reach as many children as we can.
Who are your customers?
One of the things we’re changing is that we’re scaling down the number of vitamins that we’re selling. Before, we had a list of over 150 different products. We’re scaling it down to 5 or 10, mainly for simplicity sake and for our customers as well, to show them what’s good and what they should be taking. Ideally, we’ll expand in the future. The customers we’re focusing on now is the socially good customer—it’ll make them feel good to purchase vitamins through us with the donation. More specifically, we’re going to be marketing toward females, ages 20 to 35, and also mothers because we’ll be selling children’s vitamins as well.
What are some of your major challenges?
The biggest challengeso far is the donation part of our business, just trying to figure out where we wanted to go, how we wanted to donate, if we wanted to donate at all, or go into a different realm, like micro-franchising. That was one key challenge that is now solved and our next biggest challenge in our re-launch is marketing and selling the product itself, convincing people to buy our product over another product.
How many people do you employ?
Right now, there are five owners. We also employ the services of volunteers.
Has the William James Foundation competition and mentoring program helped you on your way?
We tried entering the competition some time ago when we were first getting going and it helped us to organize our thoughts. Before when we were a little more ragtag, it helped us to get a little bit more concise. The feedback was great and critical, which sometimes hurt, but it was also a great way to see ourselves internally. Those are the two big things so far.
What other resources have you found that are particularly useful for social entrepreneurs?
Besides the obvious ones of trying to attain investors and cool partnerships with other like-minded companies, advice I would give would be leveraging whichever city you’re living in. We’re in Chicago, which is not known for social entrepreneurship, except more recently as it’s been really building up. We’ve been able to network with a lot of cool, interesting companies and that helps—to be able to bounce ideas off of each other and utilize each other’s resources. That’s something I’m pretty excited about going forward.