Startup Spotlight: The Message of Hope Foundation
Startup Spotlight: The Message of Hope Foundation
This week we spoke to Emi Burke, founder and CEO of The Message of Hope Foundation. The Message of Hope Foundation is a non profit organization dedicated to providing therapeutic goods to hospitalized children.
GH: What is The Message of Hope Foundation?
The Message of Hope Foundation is a 501c3 charity dedicated to packaging and delivering therapeutic activity kits, “Happy Hope Bags” to hospitalized children.
GH: What was your Eureka moment: how did The Message of Hope Foundation get started?
I knew, from the time I was six years old, that my purpose in the world was going to be to inspire communities to “Play it Forward” for hospitalized children. At age six, my dad who is a pediatrician in the Baltimore area, began taking my sister and I on hospital rounds where I couldn’t help but to notice hallways filled with children who did not have fun activities. It made me so sad to realize that many of these children were chronically ill, spending days, weeks and sometimes months in the hospital. I knew I could make a difference so I went home, drew a smiley face on a brown paper lunch bag and filled it with crayons and other fun toys. But the bag was not accepted due to hospital regulations. I put the idea on the shelf for the next 30 years until our youngest son was in the hospital. From his bedside, while receiving an infusion, I looked out through the glass window at other children receiving cancer treatment. Many of these children sat in their chairs with absolutely nothing to do. In that instant, I had a flashback to the hospital halls I used to visit with my dad. I knew we couldn’t leave the hospital without doing something. That’s how the Happy Hope Bag project began.
GH: How did you build your team?
We have been extremely fortunate, from the very beginning, to have an amazing team of volunteers nationwide who support the organization through specific donation collections, packaging hope bags at Hope Factory events as well as tremendous corporate sponsors including UPS which transports all hope bags to partnering hospitals.
GH: What is your company philosophy driving your organization’s culture?
Our company philosophy is that everyone matters and that everyone can make a difference!
GH: Startup life is full of failures and ‘make it work’ moments – can you identify how you bounced back from one of yours?
I vividly recall the day when I realized that I simply could not transport all of the donations any longer in my mom minivan. Kohls Department store had just donated several hundred stuffed animals and books. As I left the parking lot, I could hear my youngest son but could barely see him between all of the donations. I knew we needed a major logistics partner and UPS was the only company I wanted to work with because they had always been so kind to our youngest son, Conor, who is profoundly disabled and the inspiration behind the foundation. I emailed, called, spoke with several folks but I continued running into the same road block. But I didn’t give up. I finally decided to sit in the office of the regional manager and I remember saying to the staff that I wasn’t going to leave until I heard the word “YES”. They said “YES” and today UPS is our official logistics partner of all Happy Hope Bags.
GH: What did you learn from your first customers?
Our customers are our special and very brave pediatric patients. We learned that the smallest kind gesture can have the greatest impact on a child’s spirit and morale.
GH: What has the Boston ecosystem provided you?
The Boston ecosystem is phenomenal! We recently completed MassChallenge which is the worlds largest accelerator in the Boston Seaport. Our four months at MassChallenge was simply extraordinary from the world class staff (too many to list all but a few include Scott Bailey,Kara Cronin, Dina Samra and Artur Sousa) and mentors (Kathleen Healy, Jim Miller, Raj Melville, Cort Davies and Stuart Paap) to the incredible opportunities to pitch the foundation to worldwide corporations who have now joined our incredible line up of corporate sponsors.
GH: What’s the best/worst piece of advice you were given along the way?
The best piece of advice we’ve been given has been to stay focused on one product and continue to perfect the art of our product line. The worst advice happened at the first community hope factory event when I was told to send all of the volunteers home (we had over 500 volunteers) and just allow a few, highly efficient volunteers to pack quickly. We have always believed, from day one, that the Hope Factory would be a place where all would be accepted to share kindness and goodwill regardless of age and ability. We have maintained that view which has been the key to our success.
GH: What was the best thing that happened to you last year?
The best thing that happened for the foundation in the last year was being accepted to MassChallenge which accelerated the trajectory of the foundation and ultimately number of hospitalized children we will be able to reach over the next five years (which is 1.5 million!).
GH: What does the future hold for The Message of Hope Foundation?
The Message of Hope Foundation will become a household name in the world of charitable goodwill. We will launch the corporate Boston Happy Hope Factory on February 15th at District Hall. Our corporate partners sponsor specific happy hope bags and are invited to the Hope Factory to be a part of our monthly hope factory events.
Our long term vision for the foundation is to open a year round Happy Hope Factory, which would serve as the world headquarters, in the Boston area packaging and distributing hope bags to hospitalized children year round. We would create an innovative workplace development program for folks with special needs as well as the elderly alongside our corporate sponsors. The Happy Hope Factory will deliver far more than just HOPE! It will provide an opportunity for all inclusive workforce, long term engagement and social responsibility. For sponsorship opportunities, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the hope factory at (888) 201-4673.
GH: How can people best help your mission?
Corporations can help us reach our goal of serving 125,000 hospitalized children in 2017 by sponsoring a hope bag, sponsoring an onsite hope factory or by joining us at the Boston Hope Factory to package hope bags. Community heroes can help us by collecting hospital approved items (located on our website), through making happy hope cards (pretty picture with the words “You are Loved”) and by being kind to one another. We can all be hope heroes!