When Jenny Amaraneni graduated from San Diego State University in May, she had a plan.
A year prior to her graduation, she designed an international business model for a class she was taking. It was a non-profit designed to tackle preventable blindness around the world by selling sunglasses to fund eyeglasses for those in need.
“I sat around with the idea for a while and it was heavy on my mind,” Amaraneni said.
She recently read a book about the need for eye-care in developing countries. When she learned that 80 percent of the world’s blindness was preventable, she knew she had a problem to fix.
She and her business partner Craig Stern decided to act on it, and devised a plan for SOLO Eyewear. As recent grads, many of their friends already started to find jobs, and though the two knew they wouldn’t be making money from the plan, they dove in anyway.
“We went from eating $5 Subway sandwiches to meeting with CEOs on the top floors of high-rises,” Stern said.
In February, they designed the SOLO shades -- Ray Ban Wayfarer style with eco-friendly bamboo arms.
A few months later they launched their website. Soon after, they funded 750 glasses in seven countries around the world.
Last weekend, the two ran a fundraiser in which they sold custom-painted sunglasses. They raised enough money for 93 cataract surgeries, Amaraneni said.
Stern and Amaraneni believe they wouldn’t have pursued the project if it weren’t for the entrepreneurs they met through SDSU’s Entrepreneurial Management Center. Their connections at the school allowed them to sit down to lunch with San Diego designer and co-founder of Volcom Thom McElroy.
“He really taught us that if we have the passion and dedication to make something work, then it’s possible,” Stern said.
McElroy and several other connections have mentored the two through the process of establishing their non-profit, from design to finances.
“Knowing we can turn to them is extremely helpful,” Amaraneni said.
Next month, the two will head to India to meet with some of the people who will receive glasses funded by their project.
“It’s not enough to know that we’re doing it,” Stern said. “The most motivating thing about this will be going there and being around people who have so little, but appreciate life so much.