According to statistics gathered by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 75 percent of those affected by lifelong mental illnesses develop their conditions by the age of 24. It’s an especially resonant statistic on high school and college campuses, where the stress and pressure of studying and success can contribute to the development of anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues among students.
A group of six business students in The College of Idaho’s Enactus club — Hannah Dalsoglio, Ryan Elsberry, Kennedy Alvaro, Matt McLaughlin, Shawn Zhang and Monique Lopez — wanted to help bring greater attention to these issues and improve them, to demystify the stigmas and the struggles associated with discussions on mental illness. They wanted to provide more than just a new product — they wanted to start a social movement.
With that, Green Mind was formed: a social entrepreneurial model selling potted spider plants to fellow students alongside mental health and self-care practices. And it’s not just the plants that are growing — it’s the business itself, thanks to the $13,000 in seed funding the student-run organization earned at the 2018 Idaho Entrepreneur Challenge last March.
“What we’re trying to pinpoint with Green Mind is the issue of mental health, especially for students,” said Dalsoglio, a C of I sophomore marketing/digital media and environmental studies double major who co-founded the startup last fall. “College students especially are at a really prime and important age in terms of developing good mental health practices, and it’s not something that we feel is addressed as adequately as it could be.”
The idea behind Green Mind is in the physical and mental benefits caring for a potted plant can provide. In taking care of at least one low maintenance potted plant from Green Mind, the plant’s owners are provided with fresh air and a sense of focus associated with the act of keeping the plant alive. Taking care of the plant, a fellow living thing, can encourage the plant’s owners to take care of themselves in the process, especially when the plant itself can remind its owner to do so through self-care tips.
“Every day you can water your plant, and then you can water yourself,” Dalsoglio said.
In addition, the presence of the plant itself can help students identify someone who they may confide in about their own mental health journeys.
“If you see a Green Mind plant in someone’s office or dorm room, you know that they are someone you can be safe around,” Dalsoglio said. “If you’re having a hard time, you’ll know they’ll support the cause of trying to fight the stigma surrounding mental health.”
Elsberry, a C of I junior business administration major, said the planning stages for Green Mind began last fall, but didn’t begin to prepare and sell products until the winter. It began in earnest as the application deadline for the Idaho Entrepreneur Challenge approached. The challenge, held annually at Boise State University, is open to teams of entrepreneurs featuring at least one collegiate founder and judged on the quality of the organization’s product, financial model, market plan and opportunity.
“A lot of the planning stages were already formulated in our heads, but putting pen to paper and writing it all down helped us move forward and really nail our thought process,” Elsberry said.
Green Mind began selling spider plants on C of I’s campus in February, with over 100 of the initial plants donated by C of I education professor Deb Yates, who was inspired to donate the plants from her own garden after hearing about the organization’s cause. That same month, Green Mind was named one of 23 finalists out of over 80 applications to compete for seed funding at the IEC — the only team from the C of I invited to present their product at the finals in March.
The idea proved to be one of the standout models at the IEC. Competing against organizations from eight other schools — some of which had been in development for years by graduate-level business students — Green Mind was selected by the panelists as the first place winner in the Social and Cultural Impact category, taking home $12,000 in seed funding to continue developing the company. Green Mind also earned an additional $1,000 for its tabletop display at the competition.
“It was an eye opener when they announced we won, like it just hit us what we were doing,” Alvaro said. “It was like, wow, people actually think this is a really cool idea. We can actually be making a real impact.”
Dalsoglio said although their success at the IEC was gratifying, simply being there in the first place was a major step forward for them as students and as aspiring entrepreneurs.
“It was unique to be taken so seriously,” she said. “Most of us are in our early 20s, and when you start a business that young, a lot of people just blow you off. But the people at the IEC were super supportive. We had business leaders from the state and all over the nation giving us ideas of how we could improve and expand and market.”
Elsberry said their seed money will be used to expand Green Mind’s product line to include aloe and succulent plants, as well as items like t-shirts, stickers and hydro flasks featuring Green Mind’s logo and message. He said the group also hopes to expand into the rest of Idaho’s colleges and universities, particularly Boise State University, Idaho State University and the University of Idaho.
“We want to spread the Green Mind message as far as we can while catering to the people who don’t necessarily want to buy plants,” Elsberry explained. “We want to get into as many schools as we can and be as involved as we can.”
The College of Idaho has a 127-year-old legacy of excellence. The C of I is known for its outstanding academic programs, winning athletics tradition and history of producing successful graduates, including seven Rhodes Scholars, three governors and countless business leaders and innovators. Its distinctive PEAK Curriculum challenges students to attain competency in the four knowledge peaks of humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and a professional field—empowering them to earn a major and three minors in four years. The College’s close-knit, residential campus is located in Caldwell, where its proximity both to Boise and to the world-class outdoor activities of southwest Idaho’s mountains and rivers offers unique opportunities for learning beyond the classroom. For more information, visit www.collegeofidaho.edu.