ICIC’s Inner City Alumni Network (ICAN) members create jobs, spark development, and generate positive, societal change within the neighborhoods of the inner cities where they live and work. Sometimes, their impact even transcends geography.
Such is the impact of Revolution Foods, a double bottom line company headquartered in Oakland, CA, that provides access to healthy, affordable meals at schools and community sites across the US. What began as a personal mission to improve local school nutrition catapulted UC Berkeley classmates Kristin Groos Richmond and Kirsten Saenz Tobey from prepping a few hundred lunches in a small California kitchen to serving over 320 million meals across the entire nation (and working directly with national leaders like Michelle Obama) in about a decade.
With annual revenue of $150 million, the team at Revolution Foods is doing extraordinarily well, and doing enormous good. Two thirds of the children they now serve reside in low-income households.
“Our strategy and mission focus has remained constant since the day we started – building lifelong healthy eaters and empowering and growing our team have always been central focus areas for us,” proudly notes Tobey.
Balancing Work, Life, and Growth
Today, Revolution Foods employs about 1,400 individuals and partners with local workforce development agencies to ensure the team hires from primarily underserved areas. The company’s growth has been incredible.
Yet, as Tobey points out, achieving that growth was not always easy for the two founders.
In addition to rapidly expanding operations to include the East Coast, both Tobey and Richmond started families in the early years of the business.
Says Tobey of the experience, “We believe it’s critical for both male and female entrepreneurs to see that it’s possible to be parents and entrepreneurs at the same time. We have been forced to have honest conversations about pregnancy, childbirth, and family with our investors and partners; it is a sensitive topic but one that both women and men should feel empowered to have, especially with business partners. The right partners are those who can have those honest, authentic conversations (be it about strategy, or work-life-balance, to parental leave, etc.), and who can support one another beyond the pursuit of success and growth in business.”
Tobey and Richmond, fortunately, found their “right” partner early on in impact investment firm DBL Partners.
“DBL’s investment was what enabled us to lease our first truck, hire our first three team members, and get our idea off the ground for the school year that started in August of 2006,” says Tobey. “We can honestly say that had DBL not taken that chance on us, Revolution Foods would not be where it is today.”
Scaling Profit and Impact
When asked what advice she would share with small business owners seeking to scale profit and impact today, Tobey enthusiastically notes, “Team is everything! In order to scale quickly with high-quality, find the highest performing, mission-aligned leaders you can identify to run each key area of the company.”
“Don’t wait to bring these leaders onboard,” she says. “Set a vision, develop goals together and empower and support this world class team to be successful. As a young entrepreneur, it can be hard to balance this truth with limited budget and resources but it is the only way to grow successfully and have large scale impact.”
“The other thing I would say is really understand your market size. I think a lot of people come up with fun, new, great ideas, but when you actually look at it, the market size for what they’re doing is not very big. And so, we’ve always looked at scalability as a very important element to having a social impact,” she also notes.
That same, impressive scalability earned the company a place on ICIC’s Inner City 100 list four times in the last six years, and Tobey now sits on ICAN’s board of advisors.
“We have considered it an incredible honor to be recognized on the Inner City 100 list. As a company whose mission has always centered around inner cities and other underserved populations, being an inner city job creator reflects our core values in every way. We have always viewed our mission as not only increasing access to high-quality, healthy foods for students and families in underserved areas, but also to create good jobs in the communities we serve.”
In twenty years, Tobey hopes to see Revolution Foods “in every school and on every table across the US.” In the meantime, both she and Richmond continue to focus on scaling both profit and purpose, and, most importantly, on achieving their mission of creating lifelong healthy eaters, one day and one person at a time.
The Inner City Alumni Network (ICAN), comprised of successful inner city companies and their CEOs from around the country, empowers and serves ICIC alumni by providing them ongoing learning and professional development, visibility and recognition, and a network through which they may explore collaboration and contracting opportunities. ICAN provides a foundation of support for current and future inner city companies that participate in ICIC programs, helping to drive economic prosperity in America’s urban core.
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