Entrepreneurs Tackling Climate Change: “Business is a great vehicle for change because we are all held accountable for verifiable goals” With Seungah Jeong and John Salzinger of MPOWERD Inc.
People and governments can participate more fully. Business is a great vehicle for change because we are all held accountable for verifiable goals and measurements towards those goals. Being willing to embrace a different business model and engage through sponsorship, publicity, engagement, etc. — this is all useful.
I had the pleasure of interviewing MPOWERD Inc.’s CEO Seungah Jeong and Founder John Salzinger.
Seungah came to MPOWERD after studying Environment and Development at the University of Chicago and Cambridge University. She gained experience in all facets of consumer products by working for Proctor and Gamble and NARS Cosmetics. She then co-founded NEST Fragrances. She is dedicated to combining her skill sets in CPG and leadership with her passion for empowering people and protecting the planet.
John’s voyage began with a degree in Sociology, studies in Communications and Photography and then broad-based work experience with ABC News, Associated Press, Heartland Payment Systems and the founding of his own ISO at EVO Payments. He then founded MPOWERD in 2012 with the idea that Capitalism and Impact can and should go hand in hand and will, in fact, create greater change through this union.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Seungah: I was born in South Korea, and I grew up in humble circumstances in the US. I learned how to read from studying shampoo bottles and cereal boxes; we could not afford books, so I would fish them out of dumpsters. I knew I always wanted to help improve the lives of those born into challenging economies. I studied Environment & Development at the U of C and Cambridge, but I realized that I did not want to go into policy without having the tools to actually effect change. I pivoted into consumer products at P&G and fell in love with the business of creating and marketing innovative products. MPOWERD is the perfect cumulation of both. Through our well-designed product innovations, we are able to affect millions of lives and create sustainable, empowering change.
What is the mission of your company? What problems are you aiming to solve?
John: MPOWERD, Inc., a certified B Corp and Benefit Corporation, was founded in 2012 with the mission to transform lives with thoughtfully designed, clean technology. We create sustainable, durable, solar-powered products like our Luci lights to help enhance both society and the environment. Our innovative products give people the power of self-reliance as well as moments of wonder — because we believe everyone deserves to be empowered and inspired regardless of where or how they live.
Every purchase of an MPOWERD product contributes to our scale enabling us to reduce pricing to emerging markets and aid situations globally. To date, working with our 500 NGO partners, we have impacted 3 million lives, and 450,000 US tons of CO2 have been averted. Learn more about us at mpowerd.com/impact.
Can you tell us about the initiatives that your company is taking to tackle climate change? Can you give an example for each?
Seungah: Our products help avert CO2 from the atmosphere because they are all based upon clean technology — solar technology in particular. We believe it is important to show consumers that solar can not only be efficient, but it can also enable one to have more freedom from the grid. We also believe it is important to teach the next generation about clean technologies and to encourage further innovations in efficiency and methods. Finally, we are on a mission to continue to focus on our entire supply chain in terms of inputs and outputs and to even drive ourselves to develop the world’s first fully degradable plastic that will still withstand the conditions under which people need to use their lights.
What was the most difficult thing you faced when you first started your company/organization? Can you share how you overcame that. This might give insight to founders who face a similar situation.
John: A company like ours, offering innovative and unique technology solutions, has the challenge of expanding globally at a rapid pace while managing the worst form of flattery ever invented — knockoffs. That said, our motto is to look at problems as potential opportunities and in this case that is exactly what we have managed to do. Many CPG companies face an increasingly connected global consumer space. Unfortunately, like with many credible brands, nefarious players have infringed on our IP and our 30+ global patents to try to place these products with known retailers. However, and to their ultimate dismay, these placements inevitably end up creating leads for us. Thankfully, retailers want value in brand, product depth as well as quality. Additionally, we offer authentic solutions that address major global challenges along with the messaging around that. Our unique business model creates community and participation through giving a voice to consumers through their purchasing choices. We work collectively to address global challenges to people and planet.
Many people want to start a company to tackle environmental issues, but they face challenges when it comes to raising enough money to actually make it happen. Can you share how were you able to raise the funding necessary to start your organization? Do you have any advice?
Seungah: Unfortunately, so many businesses in our industry are not profitable. Our business model was key to helping us raise money. With a traditional CPG structure to help drive R&D, sales and marketing, we are able to increase brand awareness, educate consumers, and create both want and need for our products globally. We are then able to tier our margin structure to work with local implementers to ensure our products reach those who rely upon them for their everyday needs.
Do you think entrepreneurs/businesses can do a better job than governments to solve the climate change and global warming issues? Please explain why or why not.
John: Without question, the present “public servant” neglect of social and environmental issues is damaging but actually an opportunity for the private sector. What you offer as a product or service can align your company’s growth with moral imperatives that improve our global neighbors and environmental neighborhood — without borders and on a global scope.
What are some practical things that both people and governments can do help you address the climate change and global warming problem?
Seungah: People and governments can participate more fully. Business is a great vehicle for change because we are all held accountable for verifiable goals and measurements towards those goals. Being willing to embrace a different business model and engage through sponsorship, publicity, engagement, etc. — this is all useful.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
John: I don’t necessarily believe in a singular mentor or even experience but instead a collection of people and the impact of an extended experience and the environment that accompanies that. Movements are actually comprised of many people and collective thinking. Nobody does anything alone or just on their skill. That is more ego and frankly unrealistic. So, I would say I am grateful for all positive and even negative experiences and relationships for fostering my motivation and / or teaching me everything I equally know and don’t know. The voyage is ongoing and as expansive as one allows it to be. Keeping one’s cup empty allows for continuity and openness to learning throughout your entire business life.
Seungah: I’d like to share that the people who helped me are the ones who have seen beyond my race, gender, and socio-economic status. This includes a teacher who told me, “I have great expectations for you.” At that time, I remember only having two pairs of pants that I alternated between, and I was morbidly shy as a result. I could not believe that she could see beyond my differences to recognize the value I might have. It also includes my partner, John, for always pushing me to consider multiple angles until we reach a conclusion that is stronger than that which we could have achieved alone.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
Seungah: I wish someone had told me that it is sometimes harder to be in a business that has a mission behind it. The failures and challenges feel even more acute, and although there are definitely synergies between doing well and doing good, achieving the right balance and ensuring that your decisions lead in the right direction is often a daily struggle.
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