Editor's note • This is the seventh story in a series profiling people and organizations helping those in need during the holidays and throughout the year.
Sugar Doodle Kids is an expression of an entrepreneur shaped by grief, interactivity and a social cause.
Nick Whatcott, who is enrolled in the Westminster College MBA program, and his wife wanted to create something more than just a business, especially since it was created in the memory of their late son.
"My wife and I wanted to honor our son, Cole, who we lost when he was just six days old," Nick Whatcott said recently at a launch party for a line of children's sleepwear they've helped to create for charity. "When kids are hungry and worried about their next meal, they can't concentrate on all they are capable of."
To help fight hunger in Utah, Whatcott came up with a business that will benefit the Utah Food Bank and other organizations fighting hunger, while also giving youngsters a venue for their artwork. They decided to name the company Sugar Doodle Kids.
At Sugardoodlekids.com, youngsters and adults can submit their artwork online. The company then allows customers to vote on their favorite designs, then prints the artwork with the most votes onto high-end children's sleepwear. For every product sold, a meal is given to the Utah Food Bank children's backpack program.
By selling children's pajamas on the Web rather than setting up a brick-and-mortar shop, the Whatcotts can keep costs down and find customers all over Utah and the world.
In turn, parents can find that perfect pajama set without driving all over town, while helping end hunger.
"We didn't create a nonprofit on purpose because you're always looking for funding, but we wanted something sustainable," Whatcott, 32, said. "Our tagline is 'Dream in Comfort.' Kids can't progress in life if they can't eat."
Janessa Whatcott said that the idea was to honor the couple's late son and to take social action against the hunger problem.
"Instead of taking it as anger and sadness, we're determined to make it into a positive," she said.
The Whatcotts said they're interested in combining a business with a social cause, a concept that has grown in recent years along with the popularity of social media, such as Facebook. Think of the popular Tom Shoes, which gives away a pair of shoes for every pair sold.
Sugar Doodle Kids was showcased at the first launch party sponsored by Westminster's Center for Entrepreneurship, which officials said has helped 54 startup companies.
While enrolled in the MBA program, Whatcott used the resources at the Center for Entrepreneurship to refine Sugar Doodle Kids' business plan.
"We offer one-on-one mentoring," Linda Muir, the center director, said at the launch party. "We help [MBA students] find resources and angel investors."
The Whatcotts said they hope Sugar Doodle Kids will grow many branches, not only offering children's sleepwear, but also a venue for young artists.
The company holds artwork competitions on the website, where the public can vote on their favorite designs. And artists can earn from $50 to $300.
Kayden Genta, 11, won the first design contest, earning $50 for his snowman design that will be featured on future pajamas.
"The snowman goes with Christmas," Kayden said succinctly about his design.
Over the past few years, Whatcott has won several awards for his charitable business ideas. He was a finalist in the TechTITANS 2011 Idea Challenge, a statewide entrepreneur contest open to all college students. And Sugar Doodle Kids won the Impact Award for its social mission and took third place in the GreenTITAN contest that recognizes the best social enterprises.
Jordon Roberts, Utah Food Bank volunteer manager, said there are two programs benefiting from the new sleepwear business: an after-school program giving students hot meals, and the backpack program, in which students get food to take home so they can eat over the weekend.
With 129 partner groups, Utah Food Bank officials said that for every dollar donated, it reaps $8 in goods and services.
For the Whatcotts, it makes for the perfect blend of entrepreneurial business and social activism.
"We'd love to do this as a career," Nick said. "We're just starting online, but we'll have a storefront. This is a real niche.
"Our kids wanted to hang out in their pajamas all the time, even at the store, so this just all made sense."
Utah Food Bank Fast Facts
•Served 34.4 million pounds of food or 28 million meals.
•43,033 meals served to students in the backpack weekend program.
•43,740 food boxes for seniors, kids and the disabled.
•181,579 hot meals for the Kids' Cafe.
Source: Utah Food Bank