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BC Start-Up Purple Parachute Sends Toys to Syrian Refugees

Now in its fifth year, the Shea Venture Competition is a competition for aspiring entrepreneurs who are students at Boston College. Formerly known as BCVC, the Shea Venture Competition takes ideas from BC students and puts them to the test in Social Innovation and Traditional Business Tracks.

The top prize for each category is $10,000. This year’s top prize earner in the Social Enterprise Category was Purple Parachute, a company that began after a group of friends started to explore the plights of children involved in the Syrian refugee crisis. Formed by Megan Greeley and Christina Stellingwerf, both BC ’16, who later roped in MBA student Colleen White, CGSOM ’17, Purple Parachute is based on a buy-one-give-one model.

Purple Parachute is designed as a subscription service that would sell creative play kits to children in the United States. The idea of buy-one-give-one is that for every play kit sold in the United States, similar aid is given to children currently living in refugee camps who have been displaced by war and other factors in the Middle East. The founders wish to provide opportunities for play and educational growth for children in refugee camps who may otherwise lack the resources to do so. This, Greeley said, could help refugee children continue to experience the beneficial psychological effects of play while they are displaced.

“We started looking at how we might be able to address some of the challenges faced by Syrian refugees,” Greeley said.

The subscription service is designed to deliver creative play kits to homes in the U.S., which are designed to stimulate interest and growth in the sciences and technology. For example, one of the boxes that the founders have developed has kids growing their own geodes and then creating projects with the crystals.

The current business plan is to reinvest 50 percent of the profits in growing the company, while the rest will be donated to organizations that support humanitarian relief efforts for refugees from Muslim-majority nations.

Stemming from a school project in a class on social innovation and entrepreneurship, the women initially thought to create portable recreation centers for refugee camps, but that idea proved logistically challenging and impractical.

Planning to invest their winnings from the Shea competition, the founders of Purple Parachute have dreams of commercializing their business despite the fact that Stellingwerf and Greeley have graduated from BC and are working full-time.

When asked about the Shea Venture Competition itself, Greeley immediately lauded the efforts of both her team and her competition.

“Every team that competed was incredibly smart and they developed strong business plans,” she said. “We are humbled to have been part of the competition at all. I am so proud of my teammates and the work we have done together.”

Now, Purple Parachute is looking up from here. Using the idea of men and women for others, the founders of Purple Parachute want to make a difference. With a goal of contributing something significant to the mission of educational play, the founders are excited to continue their work.

“I am thrilled to have the opportunity to continue building Purple Parachute,” Greeley said. “The problems we seek to address are happening every day, and we want to begin making an impact as soon as possible.”

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February 2, 2017