3 Social Enterprises Honored with Awards at Aspire 2019

All photos by Walker Evans

The social enterprise community and supporters gathered on Wednesday, September 18 at Aspire 2019 at the Roosevelt Coffeehouse and Long Street Studios.

It was the fifth year for the event celebrating social entrepreneurship in Columbus. Attendees made connections with business owners and community supporters, heard from a panel of active social enterprises working with individuals with barriers to employment, and celebrated the winners of the seventh annual Social Enterprise of the Year Awards.

An engaging keynote discussion lifted the veil on how local social enterprises working with individuals to barriers to employment create and sustain their business models. Attendees heard insights from:

  • Harley Blakeman, Co-founder & CEO – HonestJobs.Co
  • Sheila Kendrick, Director of Human Resources – CleanTurn
  • Paula Haines, Executive Director – Freedom a la Cart

Working with the formerly incarcerated, to victims of human trafficking, to those coming out of other challenging situations, the panelists shared how their social enterprise models go above and beyond just a job opportunity to help their employees succeed. Kendrick and Haines discussed the various wrap-around services and support programs they provide employees.

Blakeman discussed how his growing social enterprise has maintained the principles of its second-chance employment platform, by primarily hiring formerly-incarcerated individuals as they expand their staff.

The employers also discussed the importance of providing a professional, quality product as a social enterprise and the balance between highlighting their hiring practices and the service they provide to the community. The discussion wrapped up with each panelist sharing inspiring examples of the impact their social enterprise has had, from watching employees move up within the ranks of their organizations, to finding others long-term employment in the community.

(l-r) Susan Post, moderator, of The Metropreneur, Sheila Kendrick of CleanTurn, Paula Haines of Freedom a la Cart & Harley Blakeman of HonestJobs.co

The Metropreneur once again partnered with SocialVentures to present the Social Enterprise of the Year Awards. Three awards recognized the various sizes and stages that social enterprise can take, including the Nonprofit Sustainability Award, Emerging Social Enterprise of the Year Award and Social Enterprise of the Year Award.

The Metropreneur fielded nominations from the public and worked with SocialVentures to select a pool of applicants to send a formal application which outlines their mission and measured social impact. Together, The Metropreneur and SocialVentures reviewed the applicants to determine the top three in each category. A group of judges, including past award winners and esteemed members of the business community, selected the winner of each award. This year’s judges included:

  • Allen Proctor – President & CEO of SocialVentures 
  • Walker Evans – Co-Founder of ColumbusUnderground & The Metropreneur 
  • Lisa Courtice – President & CEO of the United Way of Central Ohio 
  • Lisa Hinkleman – Founder & Executive Director of Ruling Our Experiences (ROX)
  • Carter Stewart – Managing Director at the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation 
  • Dwight Smith – CEO of Sophisticated Systems
Allen Proctor of SocialVentures

The first honor of the evening was the Nonprofit Sustainability Award. Recognizing for-profit businesses that support and help further the mission of local nonprofits, Nature’s Touch Landscaping & Lawn Care was named 2019’s winner.

Providing employment for clients of Alvis, Nature’s Touch not only creates a job opportunity, but helps individuals acquire transferrable soft skills through its workforce-readiness training, which has also resulted in increased success of individuals maintaining employment.

The judges admired the social enterprise’s high visibility to the public, and its enhancement of the mission and sustainability of Alvis House by providing both jobs to its clients, and profits to support other Alvis programs.  

Blue Bow Tie Catering and Mod Squad rounded out the field of finalists.

Ramona Swayne of Alvis and Nature’s Touch Landscaping & Lawn Care

Focusing on passion, persistence, and demonstrable progress in creating a strong product, a growing customer base, and a measurable social impact, the Emerging Social Enterprise of the Year Award recognizes organizations of all structures that have been operational for less than 18 months.

Launching in early 2019, HonestJobs.co was honored as the Emerging Social Enterprise of the Year. HonestJobs.co’s online platform provides a simple yet powerful solution to help connect the formerly incarcerated with vetted job opportunities across the country.

The judges were impressed with HonestJob.co’s passion to address a major social problem, its demonstrable progress in obtaining customers, and Blakeman’s persistence to overcome his own obstacles after incarceration.

Fortuity and Wild Tiger Tees were also recognized as finalists in the Emerging category.

Harley Blakeman of HonestJobs.Co

The three finalists for the Social Enterprise of the Year Awards represented small, local social enterprises that have been operational for over a year and demonstrate a meaningful and well-documented social impact, have a business model that has proved successful, and have been influential in advancing the reputation and acceptance of social enterprise in Central Ohio. The finalists for 2019 included Besa, Freedom a la Cart and Roosevelt Coffeehouse & Coffee Roasters.

Freedom a la Cart was honored as the Social Enterprise of the Year. Providing workforce training, employment and long-term support for survivors of human trafficking, the judges selected Freedom a la Cart for its clear demonstration of life-changing impact, resilience in their business model. and wide-ranging influence in building public awareness of the pervasiveness of human trafficking in Central Ohio.

Paula Haines of Freedom a la Cart

Learn more about all of this year’s finalists and award winners here.

Aspire was made possible with support from SocialVentures, ECDI and Barnes & Thornburg. Keep reading The Metropreneur for the latest on the social enterprise community in Columbus. We look forward to seeing you at Aspire 2020!

Winners of the 2019 Social Enterprise of the Year Awards