Ed note: In honor of Small Business Week, StartUp America is highlighting success stories from American enterpreneurs
Stockbox Grocers is a startup out of Seattle, WA that places neighborhood grocery stores throughout urban areas to increase access to fresh produce, essential staples, and good meals. Stores are tucked inside empty storefronts or reclaimed shipping containers that can be dropped into available parking lots. As a community focused for-profit, we’ve been able to leverage a wide range of support to grow our business from an idea into reality and we expect to continue to fund our development by further cultivating relationships within our community and across the country.
In Fall 2011, Stockbox opened a prototype store that allowed us to test our unique business model, receive direct feedback from customers, and test key design features. We converted an 8’ x 20’ box into an inviting retail space complete with signage, curtains, community boards, a sitting area, and over 300 unique items sourced from a co-op distributor and local farms. Customers were blown away by the large variety of affordable and fresh food and this new alternative to local mini-marts.
We were able to open the store in only a few months because of our supporters: community groups welcomed our concept with open arms; local non-profits and government offices helped with outreach and implementation; and we raised much of our funding via a donation-based crowdfunding campaign. This online fundraising platform allowed us to share our story and develop an even wider range of support, collecting almost 200 donors from Seattle and other cities, who contributed more $21,000 in 45 days.
The JOBS Act will expand opportunities for Stockbox and other startups to raise funds through similar crowdfunding websites – not just donations but true investments. Stockbox sees these new options as powerful tools in building relationships with investors who are interested in supporting community-based businesses, as opposed to the traditional venture capitalist format. This will help us reach more people and raise more funds from ordinary Americans (not just the wealthy “accredited” investors currently allowed to invest in most private companies) in a way that is in line with our company’s mission. And this provides us with resources to scale, in order to open more stores and create more jobs within communities.
We are grateful for all the support we have received, which has helped maintain momentum throughout our first year and translated to significant press attention, funding, and invaluable business support. Stockbox will launch our first permanently-placed store in Seattle this summer. And, we are working with our advisers and community of support to launch an investment round, to help to take Stockbox to scale in 2013, with more stores and a central operating office. Carefully regulated crowdfunding platforms, like those supported by the JOBS Act, will be crucial to our approach and to the future development of Stockbox.
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