APTE Summit Brings Social Entrepreneurs Together, Fosters Discussion

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The sixth annual Alleviating Poverty Through Entrepreneurship Summit brought social entrepreneurs from Columbus and across the globe together to discuss this emerging industry on Saturday, February 28. Seven entrepreneurs shared stories of their ventures, while also taking a look at big-picture questions surrounding social entrepreneurship.

So what does social entrepreneurship even mean? Parts of the discussion were dedicated to defining the field.

While the core of any entrepreneurial venture is an idea, social entrepreneurship brings innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. If an entrepreneur is looking to change the face of business, a social entrepreneur wants to change society. A social enterprise isn’t necessarily a non-profit, a profit is still very much part of the business model, but it’s like an in-between for non- and for-profit businesses.

Jim Zolkowski, founder of buildOn kicked off the day. With buildOn, at-risk urban youth in the U.S. are empowered to build schools in some of the poorest countries across the world. As Zolkowski describes it, the process is not meant to be charity or rescue kids, but empower them. In the countries where the schools are built, it’s an attempt to end extreme cycles of poverty through access to education. While based in Connecticut, Ohio State houses its own chapter of buildOn.

Also featured in the morning session was Columbus’ own Hot Chicken Takeover Founder Joe DeLoss.

“We believe we can alleviate poverty through employment,” he says. It’s well-known fact that HCT provides second-chance employment for those that would otherwise have difficulty finding a position.

“That was the first component of our business and our mission even in advance of really having the hot chicken idea,” DeLoss says.

During his presentation, the founder provided insights into HCT’s HR model of employment. The hiring process is rigorous. While the operation provides second chance opportunities, DeLoss is clear that anyone who is not motivated towards personal growth won’t be a fit for the team.

HCT finds that giving these individuals a chance to work instills a sense of pride and thereby accountability. The aim is to build long-term relationships and help employees grow.

“Our employees stick around,” DeLoss says. “They work hard for us.”

Outside of regular pay, HCT tries to help employees in whatever way necessary, whether that be paid time off, food assistance, transportation support, or finding them affordable housing.

“The trend right now is, from a customer perspective, that they want to engage with companies that have an intrinsic value, not that they are charitable, but that they create some level of impact beyond their normal business operations,” DeLoss says. “I’m really excited to be a part of that movement.”

Also present were Jennifer Jin of D-Rev, a San Francisco outfit designing affordable medical devices and Quijano Flores, Co-Founder of NextDrop which is leveraging smart phone technology to provide residents in India information on their water supply. The afternoon also featured three other speakers taking on global issues through their social enterprises. Demetri Patitsas spoke of his edutourism business, Excela Ventures, that organizes organizes and leads expeditions to Guatemala. Ivorian-American Bita Diomande highlighted her efforts to build a job platform in the Côte d’Ivoire to help curb their 15.5 percent unemployment rate while providing jobs for locals. Finally, founder of Somali energy company, Qorax Energy, C. Nicolas Desrosiers discussed the root causes of social entrepreneurship.

The event posed several questions and pieces of advice about what it means to be an entrepreneur, as well as the impact that social enterprises have. And, it also drew attention to the underlying causes that harvest the need for social entrepreneurs.

Sage advice for anyone in business, the speakers stressed the importance of not being afraid of failure and failing fast. If something doesn’t work, take it as a learning experience and adjust course.

Impact was also a much discussed element. Entrepreneurs advised attendees to not underestimate the impact that they can have, however localized it might be. As a social entrepreneur, there’s often a drive to help as many people as possible, but questions were raised about scalability. While an important goal, there is also to merit to helping who you can and making a difference wherever you start.

Finally, Desrosiers called for entrepreneurs and everyone alike to look a level deeper. What’s causing the issues that social entrepreneurs are looking to alleviate in the first place? While social entrepreneurship is certainly a piece of the puzzle, what role does government play in addressing issues with people’s access to basic human rights?

For more information, visit aptesummit.org.