Two Degrees co-founders draw on 35-year age gap

September 15, 2011

With nearly 30 million small businesses in the United States, it can be tricky to find a business model to set you apart from competitors.

The co-founders and entrepreneurs behind Two Degrees Food, a company that produces nutritional bars and feeds children across the world, have used one of their best assets to maximize their reach: a 35-year age difference.

Lauren Walters, 60, and Will Hauser, 25, teamed up to found Two Degrees in 2010, a move that Walters said strengthens their ability to tackle everything from solving business problems to embracing social media.

“It’s interesting to think of it as a ‘model’; I think it’s just sort of evolved,” said Walters, a seasoned entrepreneur and chairman of The Concord Consortium, a nonprofit research and development organization based in Concord, Massachusetts. “I think as we’ve been building this business for the past year and a half, these complementary perspectives make us more effective in delivering on the promise of connecting a range of people.”

Their vegan, gluten-free nutritional bars are sold at Whole Foods chains across the U.S. as well as in coffee shops, gyms, museums, hospitals, a number of large corporations (including HP, Cisco, Microsoft, GE and AOL) and will be available at college Barnes & Noble stores in October. The company uses the “one-for-one” model – meaning for every bar purchased, a nutrition pack is sent to a needy child in a developing country.

Two Degrees has donated nearly 45,000 nutritional packs to its partners in Malawi, Kenya, Somalia and Haiti. The packs are sourced from local manufacturers in whichever countries they are to be distributed. (One of their purchasing partners is Valid Nutrition in Malawi, where peanut, sugar and oil is sourced from local farmers and factories.)

Hauser, a Harvard graduate and former Goldman Sachs analyst, said although the inter-generational model alone cannot explain the success of their business, “the range of customers and retailers that have gotten behind Two degrees is tremendous.”

Melinda Emerson, a business expert and author of “Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months”, said a common reason why small businesses fail is not having a network to sell to.

The main reason, she said, is lack of a mature business plan in favor of leading “fantasies of grandeur.”

“I think it’s very emotionally intelligent on the part of young innovators to partner with more seasoned professionals because there’s a lot of ways to be a fool in business and one of them is not valuing other people’s experience,” Emerson said.

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