Lauro Gallo is an entrepreneur with ten years’ experience in commercial strategy and financial management, including at the Milan-based social cooperative Il Giardinone, where she is now President. Laura is also cofounder of Fungo Box, which she launched two years ago, and a member of the network of cooperatives Sistema Imprese Sociali (SIS). She will be facilitating a masterclass on balancing profit with purpose at this year’s Euclid Summit.
What does your role at Il Giardinone involve?
We offer gardening and cleaning services for firms and public organisations, and employ disadvantaged people: prisoners or ex-prisoners, mentally or physically ill for example. So keeping it financially sustainable means having enough turnover and enough customers! We have 50 workers on our books so it’s a big responsibility to find new customers and maintain the business.
What is Fungo Box and how did the business come about?
Fungo Box makes kits that allow you to grow edible and nutritious mushrooms at home from used coffee grounds.
The company is a spin-off of social enterprise Il Gardinone. The team there is very curious and had explored a lot of opportunities: from creating a new social enterprise in Senegal, to educational projects about the environment. When we heard about the idea of recycling used coffee, we fell in love with the idea.
Lavazza offered us financial support to start experimenting, and we spent almost six months testing the idea. By May 2016 we were ready to start selling. We also got some government funding to help us market the product.
What excites you about this social enterprise?
It’s something that can really change systems of production. Involving disadvantaged people in the company is part of it, but it’s also about spreading a more sustainable way of living. It’s about changing minds, so that people start to think in a different way – that there are opportunities where you didn’t see them before.
Actually, that’s typical of people working in social enterprises: we are very keen to find the best in something that seems at first not to offer any value.
What stage is Fungo Box at now?
The second half of last year was the first semester of selling on a grand scale and we are now very close to breaking even. Our goals for 2018 are to reach break even and increase the number of people involved in production.
2018 will also be the year we prioritise the European market – we’ve identified Germany and Eastern Europe as the areas with the most potential. In the meantime our products are available on Amazon.
Inside Italy, we have explored partnerships with the trademark EATALY, a chain of medium and large sales points specialised in the sale and supply of Italian foodstuffs, and COOP – big commercial distributors that enable us to have our product sold in a lot of shops.
How do you measure success, both financial and otherwise? What are your ambitions for the business?
Like any other enterprise, our targets are the usual economic ones – for a certain quantity of boxes to be produced and sold and for a certain level of return on investment.
We also want to create a space where disadvantaged people, including those with mental or physical issues, can work without problems. Of the 50 people working in Il Giardinone, five are directly involved in Fungo Box and we want to at least double that in the next two years.
Externally, we want to spread the idea of the circular economy as far as possible. Even having the box in your house can remind you of this opportunity to produce value from waste.
What are the biggest challenges your business currently faces – and how are you tackling them?
To sell bigger quantities. To get there, we need commercial partnerships with partners that can guarantee a good quantity of orders.
Internally, we’re adapting for more production capacity. We’ve already invested a lot in the structure, in new tools, and things like a refrigerator. We’re also investing in the technical knowhow of people, in both production and marketing.
We also have three people working on the development of new products within the same line of production. We currently have three, and we want to be able to offer seven different items. That will allow us to optimise the investment.
Hear more about Laura’s experience and strategies for balancing profit and purpose at this year’s Euclid Summit, which takes place on 11-12 April in The Hague. Register now: http://euclidsummit.eu