Pearl Interactive Network & Hot Chicken Takeover Named Social Entrepreneurs of the Year

The Metropreneur gathered with the small business community last Thursday night at Studio 35 to celebrate social enterprises in Columbus at aspire2015. Throughout the evening, attendees heard from successful entrepreneurs about what it takes to build a business, found insights and advice from local resource providers, and learned more about some of the social enterprises that are thriving in Columbus.

Husband and wife team Nancy Kramer of Resource/Ammirati and Christopher Celeste of Hatch took the stage with Allen Proctor of the The Center for Social Enterprise Development to begin the evening. Successful entrepreneurs themselves, Kramer and Celeste advised and entertained the audience with anecdotes of what it takes to be an entrepreneur.

aspire-280“Constantly invite feedback,” Celeste advised. “You also have to be a certain kind of crazy.”

Entrepreneurs “see something that isn’t there” with their innovative solutions to problems and ideas on how to create value in the world.

Both stressed the importance of building a strong network and team, something the two have found in each other.

“Who can you bring on to bounce ideas off of because entrepreneurship can be a really lonely place,” Kramer said.

Celeste added, “Surround yourself with cheerleaders who are passionate. If you have a real naysayer, kick them to the curb.”

Among other successful business ventures, Kramer and Celeste have their own social enterprise, Facing West. Together the couple buys and renovates homes in Martha’s Vineyard, and use the proceeds to build schools in Rwanda in partnership with the Columbus Zoo.

They also recently made headlines with their investment in the Columbus Idea Foundry through Hatch. It was an investment that wasn’t about monetary returns, but the ripple effect it would have on the Franklinton community. The investment is also a prime example of the way the couple said social entrepreneurs should approach investors.

Celeste said that many business owners think about investors as people who can write a check. But for social enterprises, there are friends, family and angels of that cause. He advised entrepreneurs to look for cause investors that are interested in an impact outcome versus just profit.


Kramer also added that funding shouldn’t stop an entrepreneur from pursuing an idea.

“If you have a really great, idea, you’ll find the funding for it,” she said. “I have a strong distaste for the don’t have this, don’t have that. When it’s authentic and genuine, that’s when it’s going to stick.”

Finally, Celeste and Kramer spoke to why Columbus is the place to start a business.

“People in Columbus think the heyday of Columbus is tomorrow,” Celeste said. “Nobody thinks the heyday was in the past.”

Openness defines the city.

“There are no locked doors in Columbus,” Celeste said.

Those sentiments were echoed in the resource provider panel discussion that followed with Somers Martin of the Columbus Chamber and Bill Nolan of Barnes & Thornburg. The two represent the diversity of resources available in Columbus for small businesses and social enterprises – driving home the fact that a business owner never has to go it alone.

Martin highlighted the plethora of resources available through the Chamber, having an immediate impact as one of the award finalists would later say he realized it was time to have a talk with the Chamber. She also spoke to the importance of certifying a business as minority- or women-owned, and the added support these populations have through the Chamber’s Diversity Bridge.


Nolan encouraged business owners to seek legal counsel when setting up a social enterprise, or any business. There’s no one-size-fits all solution that can be found on the internet for how a business should structure itself. Each question was met with many solutions and points to consider, making clear just how difficult the legal aspect can be to navigate and why a business owner should ask for help.

Lee Smith of the Rotary District 6690 wrapped up the evening with the presentation of the Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award. He invited each finalist to briefly describe their business and mission.

Two winners were announced as the Social Entrepreneur of the Year – Merry Korn of Pearl Interactive Network (accepted by Faye Oney in Korn’s absence), and Joe DeLoss of Hot Chicken Takeover.

Pearl Interactive network is women-owned social enterprise helping groups like veterans, disabled veterans, military spouses, individuals with disabilities and people who live in geographically challenged areas find gainful employment. Pearl staffs contact centers giving top priority to these groups of individuals. While their home base is in Columbus, Pearl has grown to 450 employees across 26 states.

Spicy chicken joint Hot Chicken Takeover has gone from small Olde Towne East pop-up to a permanent part of bustling North Market. They couldn’t have done it without making really, really good chicken, but the business model plays just as important of a role – and has garnered an equal amount of attention. HCT offers second-chance employment and a number of other programs to help their employees grow personally and professionally.

We look forward to continuing the Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2016!

All photos by Jonathan Firsdon.