Connecting the Dots
Gianfranco Filice, Division 2, 12th grade

When I was in the seventh grade, my mother was diagnosed with stage-four stomach cancer. I was 12 years old at the time and had no idea what that diagnosis meant or what the treatment would entail, but in hindsight, it’s clear that this experience changed my life in more ways than I could have ever imagined.  

As my mother began the seemingly insurmountable task of fighting an aggressive form of metastatic gastric cancer; chemotherapy treatments, hospital stays, laboratory tests, and medications became just as much a part of our family as my sisters and me. Her prognosis was bleak at best and the more the disease afflicted my mother, the more I began to realize how fragile life could be. That idea—that life is fragile and more fleeting than I could truly comprehend—taught me that I couldn’t wait for the opportunity to make a difference in the world. I channeled all of the grief and fear that I felt about my mother’s diagnosis into an unwavering drive to make a difference in the lives of those who are most in need; to be a voice for those who feel as if they are without one. Enter Ripple, a social-good clothing company that I started as an eighth grader that directly impacts the lives of the 

Ripple is based on the idea that people should be able to use their purchase power as a means to achieve social good. We facilitate this goal by partnering with efficient charities; the charities receive a portion of our profits from the sale of our originally-designed clothing in exchange for a particular metric. For example, for every 500 shirts sold, we are able provide a water-well for a village in a rural area; for every sweater we sell, we can provide 1 month of education to a child in Uganda. Through our efforts thus far, we have provided enough funding to build a water-well in Haryana Village, India serving over 250 people through our partner Living Water. Customers receive fashionable and high quality clothing while having the satisfaction of knowing that their purchase has made a difference in the life of someone in need.

The experience of founding and running Ripple over the past four years has taught me invaluable lessons that are integral to the man I have become. One of the first steps towards the success of the company was recruiting a team of my friends to help come up with creative ideas that would benefit those in need. As eighth graders, we didn’t fully appreciate all that would be required. We spent the next eight months devouring every business book we could find, which eventually lead to a 45-page business plan. I learned about teamwork and leadership, resolving interpersonal conflict, and the importance of basic business skills. These lessons have helped me develop valuable interpersonal skills, sound business acumen and a strong work ethic; qualities that have allowed me to excel in business, in the classroom, and in my personal life.

My mother’s incredible strength, and will to beat her cancer, has inspired me to never give up in the face of adversity. Throughout the process of starting a business, I’ve gained a greater understanding of the importance of perseverance and adaptation on a smaller scale. I’ve lost track of the number of unanswered phone calls, ineffective sales pitches, and denied funding requests I made before finally gaining some financial traction. Moreover, the original vision for the company was to establish ourselves as a nonprofit organization. This direction proved to be  a dead-end after countless hours spent filling out IRS forms to obtain 501(c)3 (charity) status, only to realize that our structure wouldn’t qualify. Yet, working with my team, pro-bono lawyers and business mentors to overcome obstacle after obstacle has helped make Ripple what it is today.  

The most humbling experience surrounding Ripple was developing my start-up costs fundraiser. After years of work, I launched Ripple using a social-networking fundraising platform called Kickstarter. I presented my Kickstarter page to every class at my high school, and was featured in a local publication. On our first attempt, we had only raised $2,250 out of the $15,000 that we had set as our goal. Failing to obtain funding had been one of my biggest fears prior to launch. But we pressed forward, made some changes to our strategy, re-launched on Kickstarter one month later with a $5,000 goal, and achieved that goal in less than two weeks. Seeing my greatest fear materialize, and being able to overcome it, reinforced my belief that failure is just a part of the process toward success.

Today, our small team of junior high friends has grown into something significant. We now have an international team of designers and strategists, including brand development specialists from Canada as well as graphic designers and marketing experts from Europe. We’ve even created a company video showcasing Ripple’s background story, the journey, and all of the products that we’ve developed. Our success has also allowed me to become the youngest member in the history of my local Chamber of Commerce; an accomplishment I am incredibly proud of.

Through the lessons I’ve learned over the course of my mother’s illness and my experiences with Ripple, I’ve discovered that my passion is, plainly stated, to help those who are most in need. I have discovered an innovative approach to pursue my passion by combining social-good with business. It was the process of connecting the dots up to this point, that I realized that this was the greatest experience of my life.
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