ECDI: Helping Businesses That Help Others Through Social Entrepreneurship

A social awakening is occurring across the nation’s workplaces. As the millennial generation shapes the U.S. workforce at an astounding rate, old business principles are being revolutionized, liberating company identities that used to be only tied to the bottom-line. A new entrepreneur has been forged; one that values social impact as much as the number at the bottom of their income statements. The social enterprise movement has emerged as a pivotal player in today’s business sector, trailblazing its way toward positive social change.

A social enterprise is “a revenue-generating business that achieves a positive social, cultural, community economic, or environmental outcome.” While this definition is ambiguous, the impact of such enterprises is not, and the increase in social enterprises across the country has created a profound effect. As an influx of budding business owners look for inventive ways to create sustainable models that not only produce profits, but impact their community in a positive way, social entrepreneurship thrives in Central Ohio.

In fact, ECDI has provided socially conscious services since its inception in 2004. Its Home Repair Program provides small contracting companies paid construction jobs to help ensure that low-income seniors and disabled individuals age safely and comfortably in their homes. Funded through grants, local contractors are awarded jobs that enhance the quality of life for those that need it the most — passing no cost to the homeowner, while simultaneously creating jobs within the construction sector.

ECDI also provides highly-subsidized services to low-to-moderate income small business owners, enhancing small business growth, which also leads to increased job creation at the local level. ECDI’s Revolving Loan fund addresses critical access to capital gaps. The fund continues to give back, supporting more and more local small businesses every year. In Fiscal Year 2016, $7.6 million dollars in loans were disbursed, while loan fund repayments from borrowers totaled $5.4 million. Moreover, social enterprises make up a valued component of ECDI’s portfolio.

“When someone comes to us with a social enterprise concept, we make it clear to the entrepreneur that it’s hard enough to run a business profitably, let alone create the means to meaningfully impact society,” ECDI President Steve Fireman says. “We often tell our clients that starting a social enterprise is not for the faint of heart, but rather for those who have big hearts and an incredible work ethic.”

ECDI has helped spur local small business growth that supports a principle preached to all at an early age, but often forgotten in today’s competitive small business sector: help those that need it the most. This principle is illustrated in a number of Ohio-based clients ECDI has supported:

Food For Good Thoughtfoodforgood300

Mission: Only 6 percent of adults with autism are employed. The mission of Food for Good Thought is to change that statistic.
What They Do: Food for Good Thought helps people with autism explore careers and find supported employment. By utilizing a supported employment bakery that creates gluten-free baked goods, Food for Good Thought not only employs autistic individuals, but also prepares them for competitive employment through skill building and work-related assessments.
Impact Made: Food For Good Thought has placed 20 individuals (with a retention rate of 90 percent) in competitive employment positions, while employing 12 individuals on-site at their gluten-free bakery.
How You Can Help: Visit their bakery at 4185 N. High St. Any purchase made goes directly towards supporting their mission. You can also connect with them, as well as find autism-related educational resources at

Growlers Dog BOnesGrowlers Dog Bones

Mission: Serving man and man’s best friend.
What They Do: Growlers Dog Bones provides disabled adults with viable employment and vocational opportunities by creating dog bones made from spent grains donated by Columbus-based breweries. By utilizing ECDI’s Food Fort, Growlers Dog Bones constructs a working environment that emphasizes “meaningful activities” for its clients — tasks that can be finished within three to four hours, from start to finish. Growlers Dog Bones develops workplace skills for disabled adults, through a varied range of baking-specific tasks.
Impact Made: Growlers Dog Bones currently employs nine bakers, while meeting the needs of disabled adults looking for employment through their workplace skill-development program. Their dog bones are featured at a host of Columbus-based breweries, including Land-Grant Brewing Company, North High Brewing, and Seventh Son Brewing.
How You Can Help: Visit them at to purchase their dog bones or make a charitable donation. They are also looking for additional venues that will feature their dog bones for procurement purposes.

Aunt Flow Aunt Flow Logo

Mission: To create a sustainable solution that provides menstrual hygiene products to people in need.
What They Do: Aunt Flow operates a buy-one, give-one 100 percent cotton tampon and pads subscription service. For every box purchased, Aunt Flow donates a box to organizations that support underserved women across the country. Most menstrual products are not covered through government assistance, often times leading to the nation’s most impoverished having to choose between tampons or food for their families. Aunt Flow aims to give all women access to basic hygiene products, regardless of their financial situation.
Impact Made: Over 22,000 menstrual products have been donated to organizations across the country.
How You Can Help: Aunt Flow welcomes charitable support through financial contributions. If interested in subscription services, connect with them at

Abe1Abe’s Kitchen

Mission: Abe’s Kitchen seeks to alleviate food insecurity through the use of a food truck serving a Healthy, Economical, Accessible, and Tasty (H.E.A.T.) menu in Columbus Food Deserts.
What They Do: Abe’s Kitchen provides economical, healthy meals to working parents at places that are convenient for them. Access to healthy food is a common issue in cities the size of Columbus. Often, lower-income communities have fewer food options available to them, leading to an increase in fast-food consumption due to convenience and affordability. Abe’s Kitchen remedies that by providing low-cost healthy meals at $2 for a single meal or $5 for three meals, utilizing locally sourced organic ingredients to create well-balanced, nutritious meals. A host of food-based businesses support Abe’s Kitchen by donating a percentage of their sales to Abe’s Kitchen food budget.
Impact Made: Operating in the spring, summer, and fall, Abe’s Kitchen has already served over 2,000 meals in Central Ohio’s food deserts.. Winner of a grant from Columbus SOUP in 2015, Abe’s Kitchen plans to increase its reach by working with like-minded organizations, such as the Mid-Ohio Foodbank, to bring affordable and healthy food options to those that need them the most.
How You Can Help: Abe’s Kitchen welcomes both volunteers and monetary donations. Connect with them at

Healthy Connections Development Disabilities ServicesHealthy2

Mission: To provide a safe and well-supervised environment designed to meet the needs of children and adults with developmental disabilities.
What They Do: Healthy Connections provides an assortment of services aimed at helping disabled individuals break down barriers that prevent them from harnessing a sense of individuality. Their team of care providers are trained in a variety of services that include in-home health and homemaking care, as well as afterschool enrichment, job training, and housing placement services.
Impact Made: Since opening their Gahanna office in the spring of 2016, Healthy Connections Development Disabilities Services has enhanced the lives of hundreds of disabled individuals across Central Ohio.
How You Can Help: Visit them at or call their main office at 614-532-8553.

Building on ECDI’s rich history of supporting social enterprises, SEA Change Ohio, a collaborative initiative that provides coaching, connections, and capital to local social enterprises, has connected the most thoughtful Ohio-based entrepreneurs to key resources to take their businesses to the next level. In cooperation with other local socially-responsible leaders like The Columbus Foundation, Rev1 Ventures, and The Community Investment Network of Central Ohio, ECDI continues to explore innovative partnerships and programs aimed at developing more socially-conscious entrepreneurs, creating an impact that far outweighs their respective bottom-lines.

For more information on the robust services ECDI provides small businesses and budding entrepreneurs, visit