Social Enterprises Recognized for their Impact at Aspire 2018

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All photos by Walker Evans.

Over 100 social entrepreneurs and community supporters came together to honor some of Central Ohio’s most impactful businesses at Aspire 2018.

Held at the social enterprise Roosevelt Cofffeehouse and Long Street Studios, the fourth annual event featured a keynote interview with Carter Stewart, managing director at global venture philanthropy firm The Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, and the Social Enterprise of the Year Awards presented in partnership with The Metropreneur and SocialVentures.

What does it mean to be a social enterprise was a topic of discussion during the interview featuring Stewart and The Metropreneur’s Susan Post. There are many definitions – and structures – but there’s always a non-negotaible tenet that goes beyond the service the business provides. Stewart stressed the importance of consumer research and actively choosing social enterprise, but also highlighted the need for these businesses to then deliver on a quality product.

As Stewart seeks to grow the DRK Foundation’s presence in Columbus and the Midwest, he shared more about their mission and investment strategy. The Foundation provides $300,000 of unrestricted capital over three years and occupies a seat on the organization’s board. Industry agnostic and focused on social enterprises ready for growth, the Foundation aims to set its portfolio companies up for long-term success. Carter shared that of the nearly 150 enterprises in which the foundation has invested, only six have failed. Remarkably good news for social enterprise, but also a potential sign there’s room for more risk.

Following the interview, attendees learned more about how social enterprises are making an impact in Central Ohio with the Social Enterprise of the Year Awards. Started in 2013 when social enterprise was a term just entering the business vernacular, the awards have evolved along with the industry’s exponential growth. From one award to three, the Social Enterprise of the Year Awards recognize the different sizes and structures of the region’s socially-conscious businesses.

For-profit businesses supporting the work of non-profit organizations were at the heart of the first recognition, the Nonprofit Sustainability Award. Downsize with a Heart, the second social enterprise of The Furniture Bank of Central Ohio, was honored as the winner for its dedication to leveraging social enterprise to support its mission. The downsizing and moving service not only provides its own benefits, but the furniture collected supports the parent non-profit and its first social enterprise, Furniture with a Heart. Additional nominees included Bikes for All People and Art & Clay on Main / Square Seven Coffee House.

EmpowerBus was named Emerging Social Enterprise of the Year, recognizing its promising start to close the transportation gap for workforce-ready citizens. The social enterprise was recognized for its potenital impact on minority and immigrant communities, and continual willingness to hone its business model to provide the most impact possible. Other award finalists included In(form)ed and the School Performance Institute. 

For its position to become a significant and reliable source of funding for path-breaking research focused on girls, Ruling Our Experiences (ROX) was honored as Social Enterprise of the Year. The organization provides evidence-based programming to help girls across the country learn how to communicate effectively, form a healthy body image, prepare for their future and more. Besa and Coffee Crafters Academy rounded out the field of finalists.

As past award winners continue to make an impact, Aspire featured bites from previous honorees Hot Chicken Takeover and Food For Good Thought. The winners in 2017 also shared more about their growth over the past year.

Last year’s Emerging winner, Growlers Dog Bones hired an operations manager while maintaining its stake in the market. The operation has now impacted over 100 individuals through its job-training efforts. Following a huge year of expansion, 2017’s Social Enterprise of the Year Hot Chicken Takeover is poised for another round of growth. HCT continues to drill down its HR approach and is attracting renowned industry talent.

Nonprofit Sustainability Award winner Equitas Health fueled its already exponentially growing impact with a number of exciting initiatives. Equitas will open Mozaic, the only safe space in Ohio for transgender and non-conforming youth of color between ages 13 and 29, in the coming weeks. Through a partnership with CCAD, Equitas serves as the preferred provider of health care services through their Equitas Health King-Lincoln Medical Center and Pharmacy. Finally, the organization will move its third-floor pharmacy in the King Lincoln District to a ground-floor space, adding a retail component that is a much-needed amenity for the neighborhood.

A special thanks goes out to our sponsors, SocialVentures and Barnes & Thronburg, LLP, and to all those who attended. Keep reading The Metropreneur for the latest on the social enterprise community in Columbus. We look forward to seeing you at Aspire 2019!