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Chasing the Dream: Alumni Launch Soap-Making Startup, Bring Hygiene to Impoverished

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Dan Doll and Dave Simnick
Dan Doll, left, and Dave Simnick, run Soapbox Soap, providing good hygiene to those in need.
-Photo by Jeff Watts

Where's the soap? That's the question Dave Simnick found himself asking during a postgrad internship for a USAID subcontractor working on international hygiene and water filtration projects.

"We were giving them clean water but nothing to wash with," he says.

Thus was born Soapbox Soaps, a soap business dedicated to promoting hygiene around the world and down the street.

Working with childhood friend Eric Vong, who eventually left for other challenges, Simnick launched the company in 2009. Auditing AU entrepreneurship classes to fill in the blanks in his business background, he met up with Dan Doll, BSBA '08, who, among other things, took on the website, making it a vehicle that would proclaim their philosophy—and promote sales.

For every soap sold, Soapbox donates a bar to homeless and women's shelters and nursing homes in the U.S., and to the needy in seven countries abroad.

The cofounders scraped together $25,000 for the startup. Simnick googled how to make soap and created the first batch in the kitchen of a house shared with other AU alums. His goal: a product that was ethical, environmentally friendly, and good for skin.

"Our big break was getting a Whole Foods store to take us on after a year of pestering them," Simnick recalls.

The soap had record sales, leading to its spot on the shelf in eight stores, then regionally. Buoyed by this success, the pair sought additional funding—and recently raised $340,000 from investors that will allow them to expand.

"The biggest struggle for a new business is figuring out what you don't know before you get hurt by it," Doll says.

The partners rely on customer feedback and a board of advisors, who help them address capitalization, distribution, public relations, and fundraising.

This story was originally published in the August 2013 issue of American Magazine.