|Eric Vong (left) with fellow Boilermakers Derek Mauk, Preston Holb, and Felix Lukose at the 2010 Rubicon Contest in Germany, where Purdue took second in the worldwide competition.|
Eric Vong (BSM ’10) was a busy student at Purdue. The Naperville, Illinois, native served as an officer in the School of Management Council, was a member of the School of Management Employers Forum, studied abroad in Hong Kong for six months, participated in case competitions, and earned a Certificate in Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
Now a consultant with IBM Global Business Services, Vong remains active. Along with childhood friend Dave Simnick, he has co-founded SoapBox Soaps. The premise of the company is simple. For every bar of soap sold, SoapBox Soaps will deliver a bar to a child in need anywhere in the world.
The soap can be a lifesaving item—according to the SoapBox Soaps Web site more than 24,000 children under the age of 5 die each day from preventable causes. Sometimes, the difference between life and death is the ability to clean away bacteria.
“Dave and I were talking one day, and he thought it would be a great idea to start a business that involved an everyday consumer product and an aid mission,” says Vong, who now lives in Atlanta. “He didn’t have the business background to get something off the ground, and I was able to use what I learned in the entrepreneurship certificate program to help get things launched.”
The one-for-one business model of SoapBox Soaps is similar to that of TOMS Shoes. The founder of that company, Blake Mycoskie, spoke to a capacity crowd at Purdue in fall 2009. “Blake has been a role model for a lot of people, and has led many to pursue some type of social entrepreneurship,” Vong acknowledges.
Vong and Simnick each spend about 20 hours a week working on their new company in addition to their fulltime jobs. (Simnick works for Teach for America.) They have contracted with a manufacturer in Montana to produce handmade, certified organic soap. In addition to selling the bars online, they are negotiating with specialty grocery stores in Maryland to begin stocking their product.
SoapBox Soaps will work with the Clean the World Foundation to distribute its product domestically and internationally. The company is also competing for a $25,000 grant in the Pepsi Refresh Project.
“I’ve always been pretty good at multitasking,” Vong says. “It’s great to be able to take what I’ve learned and create something that will help so many people. I’m excited to see how far we can take our company.”