Milwaukee-based social enterprise Blue Mangoes LLC is squeezing all the juice out of its raw materials.
College engineering student Joshua Shefner launched the startup in 2017 by engineering and building solar dehydrators in Jamaica so local women could dry surplus tropical fruits for sale. Then it expanded to six other developing countries, hiring field employees to train others how to build and use the contraptions. And now, Blue Mangoes has developed methods for the female cooperatives it employs to create gluten-free coconut, banana, breadfruit and coffee flour; sustainable coconut-shell charcoal; and local chicken feed.
“They have an abundance of free, naturally growing fruits in their communities,” said Shefner, chief executive officer. “We started experimenting and finding out what else we can do with the fruit.”
Blue Mangoes packages, markets and sells the dried fruits from the U.S. as a fair trade product. It has sold about 2,500 bags since its May product launch.
Now, the company is raising its first investor round of funding to accelerate its growth. The $600,000 pre-seed round is expected to close in August, Shefner said.
Since its 2017 inception, Blue Mangoes has been bootstrapped with entrepreneurship competition winnings, a Kiva loan, a Kickstarter and a federal grant. It won a $10,000 cash prize on the most recent season of entrepreneurship pitch show “Project Pitch It” on WISN-TV Channel 12.
Having been on TV statewide this spring helped Blue Mangoes gain traction when it launched its $10,000 Kickstarter campaign in May, Shefner said.
“We put (the ‘Project Pitch It’ winnings) towards our work in Kenya and Tanzania and Haiti,” he said.
The company, which now has 16 employees worldwide, plans to use the investor funding to launch its products for sale online and push into retail.
One thing that may help with the retail effort: This summer, Blue Mangoes is taking part in the new 15-week Target Incubator in Minneapolis. More than 400 startups applied for the eight slots in the program.
“(Being sold at Target is) not a guarantee. But we do have a lot of meetings with the merchandising team,” Shefner said.
Blue Mangoes LLC
Leadership: Joshua Shefner, founder and CEO
What it does: Empowers female co-ops in developing countries to dry and sell surplus fruit