Joseph Dickstein (left) and Steven Dyme (right) at one of four Flowers for… (Handout )
The phrase "two guys opened a floral shop" sounds like the punch line to a bad joke.
But helping low-income students in Chicago is a serious mission for entrepreneurs Steven Dyme, 22, of Wilmette, and Joseph Dickstein, 23, of the West Loop.
The recent college graduates co-founded socially conscious floral service Flowers for Dreams, based out of Evanston, and have made it their goal to give back to the community.
"We're trying to help bridge this educational gap in low-income schools, which is so important in trying to build this nation and to help in any way possible," said Dickstein, the co-founder and Chicago manager of Flowers for Dreams. "There are all these companies that are doing good for Africa, and no question that they need help and it's great that they're doing that, but we should focus on helping our own community of Chicago."
Flowers for Dreams does that by donating a backpack full of school supplies to a Chicago Public Schools student in need for every bouquet the company sells. That equals about 5,000 backpacks since the business opened last year.
"I didn't really gauge how impactful this could be," said Flowers for Dreams founder and CEO Dyme, who was introduced to the floral industry by a college roommate. "We are currently the second--alongside with our non-profit partner Supplies for Dreams--the second largest pro-bono supplier of backpacks and school supplies to Chicago Public Schools following Staples."
Flowers for Dreams' one-for-one business approach and new age business model are the reasons why the college graduates who majored in communications, Dickstein, and political science, Dyme, have been so successful as a startup company.
"We're bridging the gap between that mom-and-pop floral shop and that 1-800-Flowers because we're online, but we're local," said Dickstein, who attended New Trier High School with Dyme.
All of Flowers for Dreams' flowers are organic-sourced, fresh-cut and are arranged by floral designers. However, it isn't unusual to see Dyme and Dickstein pitching in to help create the floral arrangements.
"I'm a pretty fast-paced guy and being able to set aside some time to really arrange and design flowers is the thing I probably get the most joy out of. It's calming and it's zen to some extent. It makes me take a deep breath," said Dyme, who had a floral fellowship in Boston where he gained experience and knowledge of the industry and graduated from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2011.
Each arrangement comes with a personalized card and note about the charity's mission.
"Flowers for Dreams is a tangible way to help someone," said Dickstein, who graduated from Indiana University in 2012. "We invite all of our clients and customers out to our Build-A-Backpack Day, and they can actually stuff the backpack that will be donated on behalf of their purchase, which is cool."
Flowers for Dreams and their non-profit partner organization, Supplies for Dreams, coordinate the annual Build-A-Backpack Day.
"Build-A-Backpack Day is a community event where we bring all of our volunteers who have been able to help in the past along with our monetary supporters, and this is where we assemble the backpacks," said Hiro Kawashima, 22, the board president and co-founder of Supplies for Dreams. "It's a really cool event because it's a chance for the community to come out and contribute."
Build-A-Backpack Day takes place Aug. 3 at Northwestern University and is open to the public.
"Going into our communities and seeing what our students are getting makes us feel really good, and hopefully the customers are seeing some of the benefits of that as well--the feeling that they are giving to something much greater by purchasing a bouquet," said Kawashima, a Northwestern graduate.
"It's an amazing day. Build-A-Backpack Day is no question my favorite day of the year," Dickstein said.
Although Dyme and Dickstein have little downtime for themselves as they run the company, neither have any regrets.
"I just love what I do, which is starting a business. I wake up every morning energized even though it's 5 o'clock in the morning and I love meeting people," Dickstein said. "I love trying to build something."
"It really exhilarates me to build and grow this and hire the next employee and partner with the next recipient school and get contracts. It's the art of building something that is sustainable and viable," Dyme said. "This is what drives me; it isn't about the dollars at all."
Gina Chinino is a RedEye special contributor.
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