October 21, 2008 in Business

Business offers green guidance

Web site focuses on eco-friendly household products
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Jesse Tinsley photo

Josh Neblett, right, and his partner, Tom Simpson, attend the Bioneers workshop Saturday at Spokane Falls Community College. The two were there to talk about their new business, www.greencupboards.com, which researches and sells environmentally friendly household products. Simpson is Neblett’s former professor at Gonzaga, where the two first discussed the idea.
(Full-size photo)

For more than a decade, venture capitalist Tom Simpson has been studying and evaluating companies from the outside, deciding if they’re candidates for investment.

But this year, Simpson, managing partner of Spokane VC firm Northwest Venture Associates, made the swing from financial tracker to company starter.

The company is GreenCupboards.com, launched recently and now trying to market itself as the go-to site for consumers looking for guidance on green products.

More consumers are recycling trash, researching product claims and resolving to live a less wasteful lifestyle. But as a visit to any retailer or box store shows, product choices are numerous, and competing claims make the choice difficult, Simpson said.

Using a paid team of product testers, GreenCupboards evaluates products in a number of categories and finds the ones best suited for green shoppers.

“We are the intersection of Consumer Reports and Amazon.com,” said Simpson, who is chairman of the board of directors and an investor.

For best surface cleaner, the company selected Clean Day Surface Scrub by Mrs. Meyer’s, a powder cleanser.

The site offers a quick summary of that product along with pricing and ingredients.

Many of the products for sale include comments from “Dr. Verde,” an area chemist who adds extra comments about soaps, detergents, cleaning supplies and others items.

Like many consumer sites, GreenCupboards offers room for comments, reviews and user opinions.

One user pointed out that a waste bag listed as “biodegradable” took longer to degrade than the time originally listed, which came from the product manufacturer, said Josh Neblett, company president.

“We changed the description” as a result of the user’s feedback, he said. Over time the hope is that GreenCupboards engenders a lively discussion on ways to reduce waste and maintain a green lifestyle, he said.

Neblett says he has been an entrepreneur-in-the-making for several years. In a class at Gonzaga University last year, he was in the back of the room when Simpson offered an example of an “elevator pitch” – a quick summary and proposal of a startup business plan.

That pitch was the idea for Green Cupboard, something Simpson was thinking about for more than a year. After class Neblett said he liked the idea and wanted to enter it into the Hogan entrepreneurial contest.

Simpson said sure, and Neblett won first prize in the social services category. Neblett suggested they take the cash prize and turn the idea into an actual business.

They’ve raised about $75,000 for GreenCupboards, primarily to build a Web site and buy product inventory. In addition to Simpson’s own money, extra investment has been raised from WIN Partners, another Spokane venture firm.

The company hopes to encourage bulk purchases by offering “cupboards,” a group of several products for a particular part of one’s home. The first two cupboards are for kitchen and bathroom. If one buys the entire cupboard of nine products, totaling about $50, it costs less than buying the products separately, said Simpson. Single-item prices are generally at retail price.

Among other cupboards that the company plans to add are health products, pet care and nursery products.

Simpson said he formed the idea for the company after attending gatherings and parties at which people began collecting cups and papers and sorting them into recyclables.

Simpson’s entrepreneurial ears perked up as he watched that activity. “When people start changing the way they live, and if it is not for their own gain, then I realized there was something interesting going on.”


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