Thursday, 05 July 2012 Written by Gabrielle Hughes
Social Entrepreneur Sasha Lipton talks about starting her first company as a student at Northwestern University
Founded in 2006 by Northwestern University student (and now college graduate) Sasha Lipton, Second Chance Toys is a non-profit organization dedicated to salvaging toys for children in need. Twice a year, the movement collects unwanted toys, primarily through city landfills, and donates them to community organizations.
Q: Where did your vision for Second Chance Toys come from?
The idea initially came about at my home in New Jersey, where towns collect garbage once a week. Bigger items are left on the curb to be taken away, and while I was driving around with my Mom, I noticed how many toys were being disposed of. Many of these toys were good as new, and I began thinking about how they would just be going straight into a landfill. Not only did I realize how bad this was for the environment, but also how many kids in need would love to have these toys.
Q: How did you get Second Chance Toys up and running?
I literally began by power-washing toys in my backyard, and then researching places that would accept them. Little by little, the donations were accepted, and I was able to send the toys to several different areas. In terms of receiving capital for funding the startup,my parents were definitely the primary source; they paid for everything, including legal fees.
Q: As a college student running an organization, it must have been difficult to keep everything in check. How did you balance your workload and other obligations?
Overall, my role has changed as the organization has grown. When Second Chance Toys first started, I was physically cleaning the toys and making each donation to the organizations. Now, because of the partnerships that we have, and the way that Second Chance Toys is situated, I don’t have to physically be there for everything; I’m able to offer my opinion and ideas through video conferences or e-mails. My role is primarily oversight, so in terms of balancing everything, I just make sure to prioritize what is important.
Q: What were some of the challenges you faced as a young entrepreneur trying to gain recognition?
When I first started, a lot of organizations felt uncomfortable with a young teenager calling them up, and trying to donate toys that had already been used by other children. Once I found an organization that would accept the toys, my story was put in the local newspaper. That exposure made what I was doing seem legitimate to others, prompting them to come forward and also accept toys.
Q: What has been your best experience since creating Second Chance Toys?
Just being there to donate the toys in person, and getting to meet the children receivingthe toys, has been great. A lot of these kids come from families that can’t afford to buy toys. They are always so excited, and often are in disbelief that the toys are for them and that they can actually take the toys home. It is extremely rewarding to think that if it not for Second Chance Toys, toys that would be sitting in landfills are instead bringing smiles to countless children.
Q: In turn, what was your toughest experience? How did you stay motivated to keep going?
It was very discouraging at the beginning. I was cleaning all of these toys, and even though they were as good as new, no one wanted to accept them because they had been used. I remained positive, and figured that there had to be someone out there willing to take the toys in. Eventually I found an organization in Newark that was willing to accept the toys.
Q: Is there anything else about Second Chance Toys that we should know?
As a nonprofit organization, we are always growing. We’re currently looking for corporate sponsors, especially one that produces cleaning and disinfecting wipes. It would be great to partner with a company that could be the official wipe of Second Chance Toys.
Q. What advice would you offer to others who are looking to follow in your footsteps?
A. Don't give up when challenges come your way. If you believe in yourself, and are determined to make a difference, any idea can become a reality.
Interview conducted over the phone by Gabrielle Hughes, Contributing Editor, EntreRev.com