Old School Pencils, Paper Made Cool With Innovative, Green Twist

By Antonio Fins
The Palm Beach Post, Fla.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) West Palm Beach based entrepreneur Sharon Quercioli recently merged her environmentally friendly office supply company “Sprout” with a Denmark based company of the same name with a similar product line. Quercioli’s “Sprout”, sells handmade seed paper and a line of greeting cards that you can plant, rather than toss in a landfill. The Danish “Sprout” sells pencils that also can be sown into soil to grow something.

The Palm Beach Post, Fla.

This is the tale of merger two companies with nearly identical names, nearly identical products and nearly identical business missions. No, not Office Depot and Staples.

Earlier this spring, West Palm Beach-based Sprout! merged into Denmark-based Sprout.

Post readers know of our local Sprout!, which sells handmade seed paper and a line of greeting cards that you can plant, rather than toss in a landfill after it’s usefulness to consumers is past. The Danish Sprout sells pencils that also can be sown into soil to grow something, rather than tossed in the trash, once its use to you is complete.

Paper-maker Sprout was started by entrepreneur Sharon Quercioli roughly a dozen years ago. Quercioli’s business background was partly rooted in recycling. That’s how the idea of planting seeds in paper products, stationary and boxes, occurred to her.

“I said to myself, ‘This is the coolest thing,'” said Quercioli. “And that’s how Sprout got started.”

In early 2004, Quercioli’s Sprout itself was barely a seedling of a company, but before long Quercioli said they were generating 800 different types of products. The biggest sellers, though, were cards and postcards.

The pencil-making Sprout company had a different genesis. Around 2013, green marketing consultant Michael Stausholm, a native of Copenhagen, came across a Kickstart project pitched by MIT students who had developed a plant-able pencil. Instead of placing an eraser at the top end, they had inserted seeds, seeds for all kinds of plants.

At the time, Stausholm was giving talks on corporate sustainability. He saw the Sprout pencil as more of a Ted-talk-like prop than a sustainable business.

“I saw the pencil as a way to explain how you apply sustainability in ways people could understand, a way to illustrate what sustainability was all about,” said Stausholm, now CEO of the merged company. “I didn’t see a lot of commercial value.”

Oh, but it has commercial value, and how. In 2015, Stausholm said Sprout sold 1.7 million units, throughout 60 countries, posting revenues of $2 million. The plan for 2016, he added, is to double both the number of pencils and sales volume.

Much of the growth is coming from U.S. sales, which accounted for just 12 percent of volume last year. In March of this year, Stausholm said the U.S. market accounted for 35 percent of global sales. The pencils are sold in brick-and-mortar stores, Amazon and the company’s website.

“People got fascinated by the idea of taking what is a simple product, a pencil, which is old school really, something you use and throw away, and give it new life,” Stausholm said. “They see it as a way to get rid of the use-and-throw away mentality.”
Quercioli said the ability to further grow Sprout is what led her to merge her company with Stausholm’s.

“What they do and we do is such a great fit.
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It’s a perfect fit,” said Quercioli, who remains with the company as Vice President of Corporate Sales for North America. “Honestly, it’s unlimited. They can grow it much more than I can.”

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