Help Seth create a beverage to better the world

An ongoing experiment: can our community’s collective brainpower help an idea become reality?

Meet Seth

Growing up in Pound Ridge, NY, Seth Markowitz had to ride his bike for two minutes to get to his best friend’s house which was only two houses away. This isolation was compounded by the fact that he was considered a nerd, and a kid who didn’t understand why there was so much violence and hostility at school.

But then he went to summer camp. He made a ton of friends. He became empowered to be a leader. He was accepted for who he was.

“At the age of 11 it put this dichotomy in my mind: How come life sometimes can be so isolating and it can be so hard to find community? How come sometimes life can be so wonderful and communal?” he says.

His utopian summer camp experience proved formative. As an adult, Seth became fascinated with traditional hunter-gatherer societies that lived in camps, such as the Mbuti or Pygmies, and Native American tribes where there was little emphasis on possessions or competition, nearly everything was shared in an open and loving manner, and there was a lot of time to socialize and bond.

While studying at Bates College, he participated in a volunteer service program with a group of idealistic students that furthered his desire to return to how our ancestors lived. He witnessed how rewarding it could be to live, even for a short time, in a camp-like community of people devoted to helping others.

“I think tons of people would live comfortably, but modestly, and devote their lives to making the world a better place if they had the opportunity to do so,” he says.

The intention

When he’s not spending his days as a special education teacher, Seth thinks about how he can create an urban intentional community that has a cooperative, socially conscious business at its core.

Inspired by Newman’s Own, which donates 100% of its profits to charity, Seth envisions a business centered around a single-serving soft drink, eventually expanding to other products.

“I want to create a brand. And I want that brand to represent altruism,” he says.

Drawing from the model of Twin Oaks in Virginia, Seth hopes the business will support a community in the Bronx or Brooklyn. The community will be a worker cooperative, where the employees own part of the company, make democratic decisions, and as part of the employment contract, have the time to devote to service in the larger community and to each other.

His goal is to create a company that not only has a charitable mission, but provides its employees a fair living wage, good benefits and a community center/dining hall where they can conveniently gather and share meals. Ultimately, Seth’s goal is to build community within the company, in the neighborhood, and in the world.

Obstacles

So far Seth has a recipe for the soft drink, a brand name, a product name, and a label. He’s also gleaned knowledge from a friend of a friend about taste testing and focus groups.

Here are the challenges he is currently facing:

  1. Seth needs $30,000 in start-up capital to hire a consulting company that could perfect his formula, source ingredients, help design the label, create the nutrition facts, and find bottlers, labelers, and distributors.
  2. He’d love to find a trained business person with experience in the beverage industry, ideally someone who is also committed to his philosophy.
  3. Finding people who would be interested in starting an intentional community, as well as initial partners who have an entrepreneurial and sharing spirit, is crucial.

How you can help

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Seth doesn’t want to divulge the exact product yet, but he stands behind its awesomeness. (Photo via Ano Lobb on Flickr’s Creative Commons.)

  • Do you know of any other successful charitable business models or intentional communities Seth can learn from?
  • In general, what’s important to you in a brand?
  • When you’re at the store browsing beverages, what makes you pick up one bottle over another?
  • Where can Seth find philanthropic investors to help kickstart his company?
  • If you’ve started a socially responsible business, what are some key lessons learned?
  • If you have specific knowledge about starting a beverage company, what advice would you share about production, distribution, and marketing?
  • What are some challenges Seth should keep in mind when creating an intentional community?
  • Do you have experience working in a worker cooperative, and can you share your ideas about how to make this business model work?
  • Are you interested in living in an intentional community?

Leave a comment below or send him a message through Idealist and if the project progresses, we’ll keep you posted!

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Do you have an idea that’s just starting to brew? If you’d like us to consider posting it as part of this series, email celeste [at] idealist [dot] org.

 

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Comments (5)


  1. Beth Worthy writes:
    November 22, 2012 at 5:35 am

    Energy Drinks and other new beverages are taking the business world by storm. Some say it’s the new gold rush! Lear how to profit from it. Like Seth do.


  2. Rollie Lobsinger writes:
    November 25, 2012 at 11:59 pm

    Hi Seth, there are actually a lot of resources for the development of intentional communities, including community operated businesses and socially responsible economic models. I think you should start by contacting the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Check out their web site at http://WWW.FIC.ORG There are lot of resources here and if you would like some direct contacts I would be glad to help.


  3. michael johnson writes:
    December 9, 2012 at 11:28 am

    Hi Seth,

    I am a founding member of 32 year-old intentional community of 75 people in NYC that operates 3 retail stores: ganas.org . I have intensely researched worker co-ops in western Massachusetts and have virtually finished co-writing a book about that. I am also an activist in NYC and know a number of people interested in doing an intentional community in NYC.

    If you are interested in contacting me I give Idealist.org permission to give you and only you my email address.

    Now for a piece of critical feedback: you are asking people to tailor themselves to your vision and to your specific product. Won’t work. It’s one of the most common mistakes in trying to start a community. Capitalists use this strategy to attract investors. You want to attract people you want to live and work with cooperatively. You need to invite lots of people to get together around the nucleus of a vision and facilitate a process in which they can find out if they want to do this kind of thing and do it with the people who are gathering around it. That is, the project has to become their thing.

    I hope this is helpful.

    michael


  4. Monica Kraeger writes:
    December 28, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    Hi Seth,

    This is a wonderful concept and sounds like you are off to a great start. I have a few suggestions and resources you might find helpful. First of all for the financial resource, you should look at a website called catch fire that matches projects with professionals who can provide resources. Second, have you considered setting up a bartering system in the intentional community. A good example of a successful system is in Ithaca, NY. Third, one of the best ways to connect communities is through food. There is a project started in todmorden, England called the incredible edible that used guerrilla gardening to connect and feed the community. Lastly, establishing a communal space that rosters conversation is crucial. Pie Lab in Greensboro, Alabama is an example of this.

    I love your idea about a community being built around a brand. I would be interested in being involved in your project and I hope this helps.

    Monica


  5. William Cerf writes:
    March 13, 2013 at 7:18 pm

    Hi Seth,

    I would like to connect with you. I have been interested in Intentional Community for many years, am familiar with Twin Oaks and have lived at Ganas in Staten Island, NY. I recently posted my Intention to start a worker-owned business and April Greene pointed me to this blog post. I currently live in Brooklyn, NY.


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