Finalists Selected for 2018 Social Enterprise of the Year Awards

It’s no easy task to select just nine of the over 100 social enterprises striving to make an impact on the Central Ohio community. Representing for-profit entities, indepdendent non-profits and for-profit businesses of exisiting nonprofits, the finalist for the 2018 Social Enterprie of the Year Awards demonstrate there are many ways to make a difference.

Now in their sixth year, the Social Enterprise of the Year Awards are presented by The Metropreneur and SocialVentures. The winners will be announced in a celebration of social enterprise at Aspire 2018 on Thursday, September 13 at the Roosevelt Coffeehouse. Attendees will have the chance to connect with the social enterprise community and hear from Carter Stewart, managing director at global social enterprise investment firm The Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation.

Learn more about this year’s nine finalists for three awards.

Emerging Social Enterprise of the Year Award

This award recognizes local for-profit businesses, independent nonprofits or businesses of an existing nonprofit with a social mission operational for less than a year.


Connecting workforce-ready citizens with employment opportunities, EmpowerBus is strengthening the roads to social mobility through dignified, reliable, and on-time transportation to and from positions at manufacturing and distribution centers. The social enterprise develops strategic partnerships with community organizations to identify clusters of workforce-ready citizens and employers who pay fair wages and offer benefits. The employer pays for EmpowerBus’ services creating a win-win: reliable transportation reduces the costly overhead of high employee turnover, while employees have consistent access to employment to support themselves and their families. Since its launch in October of 2017, EmpowerBus has served over 420 workers with a rider retention rate of 80 percent.


In(form)ed is helping nonprofits stay focused on the critical work of their organizational missions. A recently-launched social enterprise of Community Shares of Mid Ohio, In(form)ed offers a for-fee service that manages compliance filings for nonprofit organizations. With a variety of local and state compliance forms, the social enterprise measures its impact in two ways: by timeliness of compliance forms filed, and the amount of time saved by each In(Form)ed user. When every hour counts, In(formed) has helped one nonprofit get 80 hours – two weeks of full-time work- back to focus on their mission.

School Performance Institute

School Performance Institute aims to create more gap-closing schools – those that are able to close the achievement gap between economically disadvantaged students and their more affluent peers. For the past decade United Schools Network in Columbus has been the laboratory for the research and development for SPI’s school design best practices. Combining the learned knowledge of USN’s schools and other high-poverty, high-performing schools across the country, SPI has developed professional learning opportunities to improve educational outcomes for all students. SPI’s portfolio of services offers end-to-end school performance solutions, from initial reviews to execution and implementation strategies. As SPI grows its presence, the social enterprise has already served over 34 districts, schools, organizations and governmental departments with anecdotal feedback that participants are engaged and ready to implement solutions.

Nonprofit Sustainability Award

This award recognizes local, for-profit businesses of any size that support the operations of a nonprofit.

Art & Clay on Main and Square Seven Coffee House

The Lancaster community comes together at Art & Clay on Main and Square Seven Coffee House. A nonprofit owned by the Fairfield County Board of Developmental Disabilities, the businesses offer employment and job-training internship opportunities for individuals with disabilities. When the privately-owned Art & Clay on Main was slated to close, Fairfield DD saw the opportunity to save the unique Downtown business and leverage it as a place to train and employ individuals with disabilities while being a more public part of the community. As the business grew, the Board felt something was missing, adding a community coffeeshop in 2013. Addressing the high unemployment rate for people with disabilities, Art & Clay and Square Seven work with eight to 10 interns per year. Since the beginning of the program in 2014, the businesses have worked with 25 individuals, all of which have learned at least one new skill, with five individuals finding employment within the community.

Bikes for All People

Gearing up for good, Bikes for All People is a full-service community bicycle shop that connects people on the South Side and beyond to cycling services, equipment and activities. Community Development for All People launched the social enterprise in 2014 addressing the need for a bike shop in a community that saw many individuals biking as a primary, and often sole, means of transportation. Through its shop and programming, Bikes for All People serves over 1,000 individuals a year. The shop has provided nearly $15,000 worth of free and reduced-price services to customers, allowing individuals to maintain affordable, reliable transportation that frees up resources for other necessities. With support from Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Bikes for All People has distributed 711 bikes and 900 helmets to children and families at no cost. Bike rides and safety training classes attended by hundreds of people provide yet another way that the social enterprise connects with its South Side community.

Downsize with a Heart

For every family Downsize with a Heart helps, its parent non-profit the Furniture Bank of Central Ohio can completely furnish a home for two families in need. Furniture Bank’s second social enterprise, Downsize with a Heart offers a variety of services throughout the moving process, from sorting and organizing belongings, to unpacking and arranging a new home. Downsize also collects unwanted items that can be given to families in need or provide inventory for Furniture Bank’s social enterprise retail store Furniture with a Heart. Downsize with a Heart has helped over 150 families move, collecting over $50,000 in donated furniture. As the social enterprise continues to build its presence in the community, all surplus revenue will be used to support families receiving furniture from the Furniture Bank.

Social Enterprise of the Year Award

This award recognizes small, local for-profit businesses or independent non-profits with a social mission operational for more than a year.


Besa has connected over 20,000 Columbus volunteers with more than 56,000 hours of community service. Through Besa’s portal, community members can easily find and register for volunteer opportunities across the city, from assuring mothers have diapers for their children to providing thousands of Christmas gifts to low-income seniors. The social enterprise has amplified its impact by launching Besa Promise, a platform that helps corporate partners manage and enhance their philanthropic efforts. Besa works with some of the biggest businesses in the city, including Big Lots, EXPRESS, Jeni’s and CoverMyMeds, and is on track to make $5 million in impact by 2020.

Coffee Crafters Academy

Coffee Crafters Academy is breaking the cycle of recidivism one job at a time. When 37 percent of released prisoners are rearrested within the first 6 months, and 77 percent rearrested after five years, Coffee Crafters is addressing a critical need for a successful transition back into the community: employment. At cafes operated in correctional facilities across the state, Coffee Crafters provides job training and employment in the specialty coffee industry. By offering meaningful work experience before their release, as well as reentry support services including transitional housing, transportation assistance and mentorship, Coffee Crafters is achieving successful outcomes for their program graduates. In 2017, 25 individuals graduated from the barista training program, 14 of which were released from correctional facilities. Within two months of release, 100 percent had found employment with a 0 percent recidivism rate within one year.

Ruling Our Experiences (ROX)

ROX’s mission is to create generations of confident girls who control their own relationships, experiences, decisions and futures. More than 2,500 5th to 12th girls across 150 schools in 10 states are learning the skills needed to live healthy, independent, productive and violence­-free lives through ROX’s evidence-based programming. ROX trains licensed counselors, social workers and educators to facilitate a 20-week program that helps girls learn how to communicate effectively, form a healthy body image, prepare for their future and more. ROX is building its reputation as a national leader in programming, research and education focused on girls.

The award winners will be announced at Aspire 2018 on Thursday, September 13. Aspire is made possible with support from SocialVentures and Barnes & Thornburg.

Tickets are $10 and available at