A design alum thinks dog lovers can save the world—and Forbes agrees

The email came in at 9:18 am on December 4:

Congratulations! On behalf of Forbes, I’m thrilled to welcome you to the 30 Under 30, Class of 2020.

But when Laura Colagrande (BFA ’13) and her business partner Haley Russell saw the news, they were much more focused on upcoming projects at the growing company for the moment to sink in.

This list includes innovators like Kevin Systrom, Billie Eilish, Daniel Ek, Kate McKinnon — and now, you.

Colagrande laughs when she recalls how she first read the message that morning. To be in the same class of winners as Billie Eilish seemed unreal. She and Russell had carefully planned the trajectory of their company Chippin and had been working with investors who share a love for their product, but being recognized as outstanding young entrepreneurs—out of nearly 20,000 nominations—was totally unexpected.

And of all things to be recognized for, it was pet food. The recognition proved that their idea is much bigger than a simple product. It might be a way to change the world.

Russell and Colagrande’s brand Chippin is built on a simple idea: sustainable protein for dog snacks. A pound of the key ingredient, crickets, can be produced with just a single gallon of water. By contrast, popular dog food ingredients like chicken and beef can require hundreds or thousands of gallons to make. Multiply that waste by the millions of dogs Americans own, and it’s easy to see how our love for canine companionship has a huge effect on climate change. Russell and Colagrande think their product can help reverse that trend.

“The role of businesses is to solve problems,” says Colagrande. It was something she says she learned in her time in the VCUarts Department of Interior Design, where she was among the first students to join middle Of broad. “You can use the design framework to design anything, really—a space, a building, a website, a product, a new business model. It’s more about asking the right question, and then finding solutions that address real [human and customer] needs in ways that are novel and delightful.”

For Chippin, the central question that inspired Russell and Colagrande was, “Can we address a global problem [like climate change] with a product?”

Their path to an answer began when the two were roommates during graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania—Colagrande at the Stuart Weitzman School of Design and Russell at Wharton Business School. They became good friends thanks to shared interests in environmentalism and entrepreneurship.

When Colagrande took a year off to be a design intern for Starbucks in Milan, Russell decided to test an idea. She was curious if cricket protein could be a sustainable alternative for dog food, and built a cricket farm in her garage to find out. When her Goldendoodle Wren showed an appetite for the bugs, she knew she had a solid foundation for a product. A few months later, back in Philadelphia, the two joined forces to build Chippin.

“I thought it was awesome to think that we had an opportunity to build a brand that could effectively bring a new kind of protein to American consumers,” says Colagrande. “For the most part, the decisions that have an impact on yourself, your life and other people happen through the things you decide to do, the products that you buy—and that is very powerful.”

In the press, Chippin has been praised for the company’s smart approach to growth by starting with smaller products like snacks and eventually scaling up to daily food. The startup’s founders want to make sure the business grows at a sustainable pace that can realistically support their ambitions.

Chippin’s inclusion on the Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list in the “Social Entrepreneurs” category underscores their mission to reduce the harmful effects of pet food production while still providing a healthy source of protein. It also exemplifies Colagrande’s belief that design is a lens or structure she can use to view the world, and to envision a solution for the challenges we all face.

“Global warming is such a huge, overwhelming problem,” says Colagrande. “It really does not feel like something that we can affect—and actually, that’s not true. We can.”