Q&A with MANA Nutrition

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CharlotteBusinessResources.com had the honor of interviewing Mark Moore, CEO of MANA Nutrition.  MANA is a group of social entrepreneurs that seeks to develop and provide solutions to address severe cases of malnutrition in children around the world.

Charlotte Business Resources (CBR): Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Mr. Mark Moore (MM):  I spent nearly ten years working in eastern Uganda, serving as a rural community development worker and missionary.  After returning to the United States, I earned a Master’s degree at Georgetown University.  I have served as Legislative Fellow and Africa Specialist in the United States Senate for Senator Mary Landrieu, as an Africa Analyst for the Science Applications International Corporation, and as Policy Director for the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

In 2009, I learned about ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) and its impact.  Before long, with the help of my friends Brett Biggs, David Todd Harmon, Bret Raymond and others, we started MANA Nutrition.

Prior to co-founding MANA, I co-founded Kibo Group, a development organization that houses numerous Africa projects.

CBR: Tell us about the mission of MANA Nutrition.

MM: MANA aims to prevent child deaths due to severe acute malnutrition (SAM) by treating the condition through the production and distribution of ready to use fortified foods. MANA (Mother Administered Nutritive Aid) is a ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) made of a fortified peanut paste that has been carefully formulated to provide a child’s basic nutritional needs.  Roughly three servings of MANA a day for six weeks can save the life of child suffering from severe acute malnutrition (SAM).


CBR: As social impact entrepreneur, what resources did you find most useful in getting started?

MM: In Charlotte we have benefitted enormously by our connection to Packard Place and Queen City Forward. We were committed to social business values before we relocated here, but meeting such a great crowd at Packard only reinforced those values.  In addition K & L Gates has been a tremendous legal resource and Bank of America has been very encouraging in listening to our corporate wellness dreams for the Calorie Cloud. Beyond Charlotte, the Unreasonable Institute in Boulder, Colorado has been a great resource and connecting point to like-minded people around the country.

CBR: What has been the biggest hurdle that you have had to overcome?

MM: I think most people would say money and investment, but I think those funding hurdles are just symptoms of the real problem of being viewed as credible by investors who have not yet had their mental landscapes stretched enough to view social impact investments as potentially viable business entities.

With Charlotte being a finance town, many of those in the investment community here have had careers in traditional finance and banking. Getting their attention is not easy and they tend to have more simplistic “buckets” in mind that view entities as “either or”…either business or social do-gooders.  Either “for profit” or “nonprofit”.  So I think the biggest hurdle is getting the Charlotte business community to take us and other social entrepreneurs seriously.

At MANA we have garnered around $13 million in investment from London, New York, Dallas and San Francisco and turned a million dollar profit last year. But as of yet, no money (donor or loans) has come from the Charlotte community.

CBR: As an emerging high growth entrepreneur, what is the key to finding investors?

MM: Having a track record is key, I think. Being able to point to a past effort and say, “We started with nothing and we did ‘xyz’.”  Even if there is no track record, I think it’s key to create small success stories that show progress. Rather than showing up with a new business concept and saying “imagine if” and “we think”, it’s much better to add on to those dream ideas by saying, “So we tried this at a very small scale at company A and the results were B.”  However, I also realize that such an approach is not possible with some ideas and concepts.

Whatever the case, we have almost ceased to use the buzzword “sustainable” because, to me, it seems to set such a low bar. I would never say to my young daughter that my dream for her is for her to be “sustainable.” That really goes without saying. My dream for her is to thrive and be great. I think investors in a social impact space want to know you will be around, so we use terms like “sustainable.”  Since we tend to venture into broken markets, it’s often impressive to achieve that goal. But businesses like Wal-Mart or Apple or Nike do not launch efforts that they think will be “sustainable.” They look for and launch efforts that they think will thrive and make money. Granted, making money is not easy in many social impact arenas since the effort is often started and directed at trying to solve something and success in that regard is, by definition, measured by more than just profit.

CBR: Tell me about the “Get in the Ring” competition that you competed in.  How did you get involved in this competition and what resources have you used to prepare?

Get in the Ring

NOTE:  “Get in the Ring” is a startup pitch competition founded by the Erasmus Centre for Entrepreneurship in the Netherlands.  The Kauffman Foundation brought this international competition to the United States for the first time as part of Global Entrepreneurship Week 2013.  The U.S. national finals of “Get in the Ring: The American Startup Clash” gave 8 of America’s most outstanding entrepreneurs an opportunity to compete.  The U.S. champion was flown to Rotterdam to compete at the global finals for a chance at more than $1 million in angel funding.

MM:  We applied through our Packard Place and Queen City Forward connections and had a great time in Kansas City.  Of the 8 finalists we made it to the final five, but the challenge of presenting our business model in 25 seconds was pretty tough. We got “knocked out” and a good part of our knock out was due to me not articulating our idea with the clarity required by such a tight time frame. It turned out to be a good learning experience. In the end, the team who won the US competition also won the world competition, so we don’t feel so bad getting knocked out by the world champ!  In the end, it would probably be a very helpful exercise for every company to stand up and explain what they do in less than 30 seconds. It’s not easy.

CBR: What is the most important lesson you have learned?

MM: Don’t give up. One metaphor we use a lot at MANA is that we are really not all that remarkable other than the fact that we swam so far from shore that when we looked back at the safety of shore, we were so far away that there was really no option of swimming back. So we tread water and look for floating debris and passing freighters. I think one of the most important lessons is not only “don’t give up” but also “don’t put yourself in a position where giving up is an option.”

CBR: What’s next for MANA Nutrition?

MM: The global budgets for the stuff we make, RUTF (Ready to use Therapeutic Food) is about $200 million. By the end of 2014, we will own about 10% of that market. We will have made and sold about $20 million in RUTF. Those budgets are housed in places like UNICEF and USAID, so the market is one that is controlled by aid and the big, global aid world. The problem is that the foe we are fighting, SAM (severe acute malnutrition) is probably more like a billion dollar problem. There is a huge funding gap.

So, what’s next for MANA is a couple of things:

1) We need to grow the pie, not just expand our market share of the existing pie. The idea that got us to the finals of the Get in the Ring competition, The Calorie Cloud, is our biggest and best idea to grow the pie. If we can get people to actually fight their problem (obesity) by uploading and donating their burned calories then we can “recycle” those calories and turn them into 500 calorie packets of MANA. The money to monetize these calories has to come from some entity that has a business interest in people here winning their battle with obesity. Right now, we know that companies have a huge incentive to get their employees fit because it will save them money on health care costs. So that’s our focus: source and collect calories from corporate America by offering their employees an opportunity to actually impact the life of a child by making better choices about diet and exercise. Since the CDC and other credible sources say that every obese employee costs a company as much as $2,000 extra a year, then we can actually save companies a lot of money by allowing them to pay for the calories that their employees burn, compile and send our way. We think it’s a world-changing idea.

2) The next thing for MANA is to develop new products. While our current products do an amazing and efficient job at fighting severe malnutrition, aid groups have other nutritional needs. We have a unique ability to creatively develop and produce these new products by using our existing team and factory.

To learn more about MANA Nutrition, visit http://mananutrition.org.

Click here to watch Mark Moore, CEO of MANA Nutrition, explain their mission and describe the Calorie Cloud.

Click here to learn more about Charlotte’s high-growth scene.

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