This blog series, posted in partnership between HYPE and reSET, offers a platform to showcase the commitment that Hartford entrepreneurs have for their work and this city. It examines how entrepreneurs have chosen their work, and provides examples of the ways in which they are having an impact in Hartford.

In this edition, we interviewed Lanna Nawa of Impact Mart.  

1. Please tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Lanna, and I graduated from UConn in 2014. I landed a job at Pfizer as a chemist, and started working after college. I spent a lot of time getting involved in the community and was exposed to human trafficking for the very first time from a non-profit organization called Love146. It was then that I found what kept me up at night. Even though it was something so new to me and didn’t exist directly in my life, the knowledge that there were millions of people living as slaves plagued me, and I knew I wanted to be proactive in stopping the crime. After thoroughly researching and reading up about the issue, and also volunteering with Love146, I learned that there is no easy solution because there is no single cause of human trafficking – hence my business idea.

I met my business partner, Saroj Bhandar, at UConn. While we were both in different schools (him in Engineering and me in Chemistry), we connected through breakdancing, which were our first days of working as a team. As the years passed, we ended up working in the community together, with Love146 and Engineers Without Borders, and eventually on our own project (Run4Nepal) in 2015. With this, we set up a variety of fundraisers including a 5K race in Branford, Connecticut that raised over $10,000, and built Shree Suryo Doye Primary School (grades 1-5) in Nepal this past winter. After all the work we’ve done, we came across the concept of social enterprise, which brought us to our current project – Impact Mart.  Impact Mart is a one-stop shop for people looking to make the world a better place.

2. Why did you decide to be based in Hartford?

I was born and raised in Connecticut, and my business partner and I are both actively involved in the community. Our idea was born here and its beginning stages happened at reSET, which encourages Connecticut to be the “social enterprise state.” We hope to contribute to this important movement in our state’s capitol.

3. How do you think your work impacts the community and vice versa?

Impact Mart impacts several causes in communities throughout the U.S, as well as internationally. Our products tackle issues such as animal welfare, environmental consciousness, lack of access to education, human trafficking, military appreciation, patient care, public sanitation, women’s empowerment, and world hunger. And vice versa, the community contributes to these important issues with their every purchase. Together, we are working towards a more sustainable system and making the world a better place.

4. What words of wisdom would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs who may be hesitant to take the plunge into entrepreneurship?

Just follow your heart. Don’t let fear, finances, or others worries ever get in the way. If you believe you were sought out to create or do something big, then go for it. When you are fully immersed and believe in your vision, you will build results. Work extremely hard and don’t look back. You have to jump off that cliff to make yourself fly.

5. What’s it like being an entrepreneur in Hartford? What are the benefits, but also what are the difficulties and challenges?

We have worked on pop-up shops in the Hartford area this past year to better understand our target market. As we’ve engaged with a variety of customers, ranging from young kids, moms, couples, the elderly, etc., we’ve had mixed responses. Students in particular show tremendous excitement about our model, and our team loves to see customers feel empowered with each product that they take home.

I’d say our biggest challenge is the fear of failure. Our suppliers are predominately located in California and that makes it harder to connect with them on a personal level and to grow at the rate we want. However, knowing that Hartford has an emerging community of social entrepreneurs really keeps us motivated.

6. What’s your vision for your business and personal development over the next five years?

We’re hoping to build a brick and mortar store in Connecticut. It’ll mimic our online store prototype that previously featured over 3,000 products, including books and music, household supplies, furniture, clothing, footwear, jewelry, toys, health and beauty products, pet supplies, office supplies, and food. The initial brands will mainly be B-Corp certified, and major brands with recorded transparency. We hope to set an example for smaller social enterprise vendors to help them grow, and together, hopefully we can become the largest store for triple-bottom-line suppliers.

The following are links to where you can find Impact Mart online: