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The economy had tanked and the dot com bubble had just burst. It wasn’t a good time to be a new graduate, so college friends Kreece Fuchs and Xavier Helgesen, who graduated from the University of Notre Dame with degrees in mechanical engineering and information systems, respectively, ended up tutoring their alma mater’s football team on calculus and computer programming. Tired of seeing all the old textbooks scattered around his apartment, Fuchs one day tried putting his roommate’s books for sale on the Internet. At that time, buying and selling stuff online wasn’t common yet, but the textbooks sold quickly. The following winter, Fuchs and Helgesen hatched a plan to collect all the unwanted books at Notre Dame and sell them. The book drive was a success, selling 2,000 books, raising $10,000, and encouraging the enterprising pair to draft a business plan.

With another friend, Jeff Kurtzman, on board, they envisioned an online bookstore with a social mission, one that also funded literacy around the world. The group submitted their idea to a university business plan competition, where they won the Best Social Venture honor and $7,000 in prize money. Soon thereafter, Helgesen learned that thousands of libraries discarded millions of books every year to make room for new editions. Some of these excess books were given away, but others were just tossed out. This led to founders to change their business model and set out to partner with librarians across the US to save books from landfills and sell them to raise money for the libraries.

Since its inception in 2003, Better World Books has raised over $13 million to fund literacy and libraries, as well as reused or recycled more than 94 million books. In 2011, it officially became a book for book company, donating a book to someone in need for every one sold.