17 workers of Oak Brook nonprofit missing after Philippines typhoon

Opportunity International begins aid effort for about 1,000 employees who lost homes

Seventeen Opportunity International employees in the Philippines were unaccounted for as of Thursday afternoon, CEO Vicki Escarra said.

Earlier in the week the number was 40. There have been no confirmed deaths of employees at the Oak Brook-based microfinance lender. But about 1,000 of Escarra's workers have lost their homes to Typhoon Haiyan. And three financial institutions that Opportunity owns there have lost four buildings.

Crisis management is not new to Escarra. Before joining Opportunity, she led Feeding America and worked for more than 30 years at Delta Airlines, where she was chief marketing officer on 9/11.

She said organizations like hers must have a crisis management plan and a seasoned executive on the ground; and move the aid quickly.

"We'll supply money to help them to get through the next few weeks, and then money to help them rebuild their homes," Escarra said of her employees. "Ordinarily, we just provide loans. But because of the significant need in this area, we'll provide aid initially and loans secondarily."

The final piece is to ensure Mark Daniels, Opportunity International's East Asia director and a Manila resident, gets a break.

"We'll have a backup for Mark in the next week," she said. "People involved in disaster situations — they need to be changed up, so they don't get burned out."

SkinnyCorp

SkinnyCorp, the Chicago-based parent of T-shirt design company Threadless, has invested in Tattoodo, a Copenhagen-based website where you can buy or commission a tattoo design.

This isn't skinnyCorp's first investment in a startup. It's the company's fourth since 2010, and two more are in the pipeline, skinnyCorp founder and CEO Jake Nickell said in an interview.

In addition to Tattoodo, skinnyCorp's portfolio includes Creative Market, where designers can buy handcrafted fonts, graphics, icons, etc.; and Open Me, a print and e-greeting card company that incorporates Threadless' library of designs.

In June, Demand Media acquired art print marketplace Society6, in which skinnyCorp was an investor, for $94 million. Society6 was skinnyCorp's first outside investment — so the exit means that the company's venture strategy already has turned a profit.

Nickell declined to disclose how much skinnyCorp had invested in Tattoodo, saying only that it was less than $1 million. Generally, the investments have ranged from a couple hundred thousand dollars to more than $1 million, and Nickell said he prefers that future investments exceed $1 million. SkinnyCorp's board, which is composed of Nickell, former Threadless CEO Tom Ryan and Insight Venture Partners managing director Jeff Lieberman, makes the investment decisions.

None of their selections thus far have been Chicago-based startups. One factor is that the company is looking for a specific kind of startup.

"All the companies we're looking at are online platforms for creatives, basically," Nickell said. "We've been in business for 13 years now. And whenever a competitor starts up, it's pretty easy to build the tech platform. But it's very hard to get the creatives to use it, and we've had 250,000 artists submit artwork on Threadless over the years. So if we see another thing that would be a cool opportunity for those artists, we can tell them about it and get traction over to those platforms quickly."

LYFE Kitchen

Mike Donahue, a partner in the new LYFE Kitchen restaurant in River North, wouldn't let up. I told him I wasn't hungry. But he insisted. And insisted some more.

Over my objections, he orders a kale-banana smoothie that's as electric green as the slime in "Ghostbusters." It arrives in one of those modern, tall, barreled cocktail glasses. The main ingredients, he says, are kale, bananas and apple juice.

I sip it. I'm immediately suspicious. This smoothie tastes way too good to have only 170 calories.

How much apple juice is in there, I ask. Well, it's more of an accusation than a question. Only half a cup, he says. No way. He double-checks, having a publicist ask the young woman behind the register. Three-quarters of a cup, she replies. Well, that's half the glass, I protest. No, it's not, he replies. He's right. I exaggerated.

Two McDonald's alums — Mike Roberts, LYFE's chief executive, and Donahue, its chief brand and communications officer — opened the first three LYFE Kitchen restaurants in California, making Friday's grand opening their hometown debut. Roberts was a former McDonald's global president and chief operating officer, and Donahue, a former chief communications officer. The operator of this location is Carey Cooper, a former McDonald's produce supplier and LYFE's first franchisee.

Expansion plans for the healthy-food chain are ambitious. Cooper would open 10 franchises in the Chicago region in the next five years. The company overall hopes to open 250 locations nationwide in that time frame. There are more than 250 investors, who have invested more than $25 million, Donahue said.

LYFE will compete with Panera Bread and Corner Bakery in the fast-casual segment. But I doubt either Panera or Corner Bakery serves a drink that color of green.

Melissa Harris can be reached mmharris@tribune.com or 312-222-4582. Twitter @chiconfidential

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