By Stef Tschida
Andrea “AJ” Zimmer and Gina Moore shared a radical dose of candor the way only two women who’ve been best friends for nearly 20 years can do. “We start this business tomorrow, or we don’t bring it up again for another decade,” Gina said during a particularly memorable conversation. And she was serious. “Because a door is open now and if we choose not to go through it, then I need to refocus my energy on finding something else.”
AJ and Gina had long been each other’s first call to bounce around a new idea or work through a challenge at home or the office. They met as young professionals in their first jobs out of college and formed an immediate bond over a mutual desire to establish successful careers within the product marketing industry. They both felt the pull of entrepreneurship but kept putting it off. Neither could imagine going into business with anyone else, and the timing never felt quite right. So they kept their dream on the back burner and held onto the false belief that starting a business couldn’t happen until they were further along in their careers. And then, their someday plans showed up earlier than expected.
As they talked on this particular day, AJ shared details about a fundraiser her daughter was taking part in and expressed discontent with the generic brands, marginal quality and limited choices. Both passionate supporters of local brands, and longtime brand marketers in their careers, AJ and Gina felt boldly inspired by an enterprising idea that hadn’t been done before. What if they could build a new fundraising platform to support community causes while highlighting quality products from established and emerging brands right in their own backyard? They set out to create a marketplace for Minnesota brands to elevate their stories and missions, and to provide a revenue stream for local companies.
Two years and hundreds of products later, thousands of students and nonprofit groups combined have greatly benefited from AJ and Gina’s leap-of-faith partnership to build MN Brands For Good. The company works with Minnesota’s best brands, makers and artisans and offers a carefully curated collection of items—everything from lip balm to baking mixes. Parents and groups organize their fundraising efforts offering all of the items in the MN Brands For Good catalog—they’re not limited to just one or two—and 40 percent of the proceeds go back to the school or team.
Hearing the stories of students and groups who made or exceeded their goals from the fundraising efforts fuels the women to continue growing their impact. They view it as a win-win-win because school and nonprofit groups get the resources they need to fund things like new instruments and field trips, Minnesota businesses generate more revenue and gain greater awareness, and through the added exposure many of the mission-driven MN Brands For Good partners are able to give back more dollars to support the causes they’re committed to.
The two women say despite all the research and careful planning, entrepreneurship has not been without unexpected challenges. They’re thankful for the encouragement and support they receive from each other as they tackle running a fast-growing business. They remind each other to not take things too seriously, to find time to laugh and enjoy why they embarked on this adventure together. They’re also mindful about staying off the roller coaster ride of high-highs and low-lows of owning a business, aiming to ride in the middle of these emotions in order to stay grounded and focused for the long haul. And they haven’t looked back. They’re continually looking ahead—working with new brands, designing the next catalog, and considering ways they can have an even greater impact.
To learn more about AJ and Gina’s business, visit MNBrandsForGood.com.
Photo: MN Brands For Good
About the author: Stef Tschida is a former corporate communicator and lifelong storyteller. Stef’s WHY became clear when she worked at her daily campus newspaper. She realized she didn’t want to ask tough questions as a reporter—she wanted to help organizations answer those tough questions. She’s been doing that work ever since.