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Forbes: Social Impact: Ocean Reclaimed Plastics & Kickstarter Fuel Norton Point

Moira Vetter

May 15, 2017

(As appeared in Forbes.)

Ryan Schoenike, co-founder of Norton Point, a sustainable eyewear company has an interesting background.

With his degree in economics and work experience in the D.C. market in utilities and solar, he is well steeped in the challenges of making the world a better place environmentally—in an economical manner.


Co-founders that complement each other

Schoenike got together with Rob Ianelli, a college buddy he met while studying abroad in China, to see if they could do their own thing…together.

Schoenike had the business, economics and lobbying understanding that is useful when taking on a social impact challenge. Ianelli was a serial entrepreneur with experience in eyewear and ties to Martha’s Vineyard where the firm hung out their shingle in 2015.


One man’s trash is another man’s core material

Plastics are the core material when making a pair of sunglasses. In developing a social impact startup, Schoenike was aware of the unique challenge of reclaiming and utilizing ocean plastics.

Single use plastic that is used and thrown away often ends up in the ocean. A few years back it was estimated there was $100 Billion dollars worth of this material in our oceans. Schoenike worked with scientists and other with a vested interest in recovering ocean plastics and putting it to use.

The two focused on a way they could help reclaim this material in Haiti—creating a local source of business—and reusing the material to form their glasses.


Co-founders on the move…to opposite coasts

While they initially launched in Martha’s Vineyard, the pair quickly realized that the island was not the best place to grow a business. As Schoenike puts it, the people around them were working on island time while they were working on ‘get stuff done time.’

A few years into their business they now work on opposite coasts.

Ianelli is in L.A.—the seat of fashion, a year-round sunglass consumption market with a local port to receive materials. Schoenike is in D.C. where he can continue to tap into the policy, science and business relationships that help him evolve the economics of the business model.


Advice for those who launch with Kickstarter

Unlike some who have a stream of investors at startup, the pair has self-funded and kept their private investors close.

To get out of the gate, Norton Point used Kickstarter. They understood it was a platform and not a panacea. They did 4 months of research prior to launching their campaign. Specifically, they studied others who had done social impact campaigns. And, they reached out to the press 2 months in advance of their launch so they were ready.

Schoenike mentioned that a great number of people think of Kickstarter, and other funding platforms, solely from the point of raising capital. Norton Point’s fulfillment strategy was as much, if not more, a part of their campaign planning to ensure they could deliver their sunglasses in short order. They wanted their first customers to become advocates.

His advice for others:

  • If you are not in market, your crowdfund campaign is your first public face and first public touch. Make it unforgettable.
  • A crowdfund campaign is just that—a campaign and not a business model. A lot of people make a video, a graphic and hope the platform will push them to success. Crowdfunding is not a ‘set it and forget it’ proposition. You need to push it. You need to focus on the raise and funnel it through the channel. Otherwise, you end up spending more than you raise.


What’s next for Norton Point?

Schoenike made clear that setting and reaching goals was essential. In their fundraising efforts, they set a goal of $37,500 and they actually raised $55,000.

They set a goal of not simply raising funds, but validating their concept and delivering for their customers. In this regard, they are on their way.

A larger fund-raising effort is right around the corner for Norton Point. They fully embrace their place in the sustainability and social impact space. Importantly, they understand that nothing is sustainable, that can’t be sustained in practice. This is the stuff investors get really excited about.

The future is so bright…oh, I can’t say it. Yeah, I will…you gotta wear Norton Point shades.