Food for Good Thought Honored as Social Entrepreneur of the Year, Advice Shared on Building Social Enterprise at Aspire 2016

Last night several of of Columbus’ social enterprises and members of the business community gathered at Aspire 2016. The evening highlighted every stage of social entrepreneurship, from those just beginning, represented in a panel discussion led by Allen Proctor of the Center for Social Enterprise Development, to the penultimate of success, highlighted during a keynote interview with Joel Diaz of Equitas Health, to recognizing growing social enterprises that have made their impact felt in the community through the Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

Three local nonprofit leaders began the evening by sharing their experiences building a social enterprise to compliment their non-profits through the SE Catalyst program.

Bo Chilton of IMPACT Community Action, Joy Chivers of Gladden Community House and Teresa Trost of Community Share of Mid Ohio each shed light on their organization’s reason for building a social enterprise, all agreeing that for-profit ventures can both diversify their revenue streams and help further their missions.

For IMPACT Community Action whose mission is to reduce poverty by providing hope, inspiring help and real opportunities for self-sufficiency, a social enterprise focusing on affordable housing will offer programs like home weatherization that will help reduce individuals’ utility costs.

“We wanted to be more innovative in how we approached and attacked poverty issues,” Chilton says. “And so the social enterprise is way to help us diversify our revenue streams [and] help us to serve our customers better.”

Gladden Community House is building their social enterprise around an area in which they already excel – working with children. The nonprofit will open a learning and discovery center for children to participate in different classes and activities.

“We can’t continue to rely on the government funding as well as the foundation funding, we need to become self-sufficient,” Chivers says.

Community Shares of Mid Ohio will keep nonprofits operationally sound by offering filing and paperwork services as their social enterprise. When Trost joined the organization, Community Shares was 100 percent funded by donations.

“We’re going to use a social enterprise to help that, but also one that’s going to have impact in the community by supporting our 63 nonprofits,” Trost says.

The panel offered plenty of advice to nonprofits exploring social enterprise.

First, building a social enterprise doesn’t have to mean – and shouldn’t mean – going it alone.

Gladden Community House had previously attempted to build a social enterprise that never materialized. Chivers says they tried to go it alone with limited resources. The SE Catalyst program has not only provided structure around which to build a social enterprise, but a network of individuals that are going through or have been through the same thing.

“Reach out to other nonprofits that have started a social enterprise and ask them what the next steps should be and really, really listen to their knowledge and their advice and the experience that they went through in starting a social enterprise,” Chivers recommends. “Ask a lot of questions. It has really helped us in the process.”

As a part of the catalyst program and through researching other organizations in a similar space that have tried to start social enterprises, “We’ve learned a lot about what you don’t want to do,” Chilton says.

Learning from the mistakes of others and what routes not to take can be just as valuable as learning what direction to take.

Learning from others and a model that was working was influential to Equitas Health. The keynote interview provided inspiration of what a social enterprise can accomplish with a proven model that addresses profits and mission.

“In 2012 we had opened our medical center and pharmacy which allowed us an opportunity to grow and develop, and we have evolved as an organization to now even further expand our mission to serve as a community health center specializing in HIV care and LGBTQ care, as well as serving medically underserved populations,” Diaz says.

Equitas evolved from the Aids Resource Center Ohio – a largely service-based organization helping connect the HIV/AIDS population with needed resources – into a medical center and pharmacy that is able to treat patients directly.

Diaz says that looking towards the future of the organization, Equitas CEO Bill Hardy had been studying a similar pharmacy and medical center model at an AIDS resource center in Wisconsin before implementing it in Ohio in 2012.

“Our organization, at that point, had a budget of about $6.5 million and 76 percent of that budget was grant funded,” Diaz says. “Our current budget, it’s about $57 million…72 percent of those revenues come from our pharmacy operations.”

By reinvesting 100 percent of the pharmacy profits back into Equitas’ services, “We were able to successfully implement a variety of programs that we had previously not been able to fund in the past because we didn’t have the resources to do so.”

Capital from the pharmacy not only reduced Equitas’ reliance on grants, but its expansion into services for LGBTQ and underserved populations is largely self-funded through the pharmacy.

Diaz hopes that their success will serve as an example to entrepreneurs everywhere that they can go into business to do good.

“The idea of a nonprofit generating profit is – sometimes people are intimidated by that, but when you think about all the good you can do and all of the people you can help with those resources, it’s tremendous,” Diaz says. “We wouldn’t be able to do half of what we do these days without our social enterprise.”

Programming wrapped up with the presentation of the Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award sponsored by Rotary District 6690. The four nominees represent growing, successful social enterprises impacting the Columbus community.

Videos (click to watch!) highlighting the services of Food For Good Thought, Double Comfort, Besa and Art & Clay on Main were shown before naming Besa first runner-up and Food for Good Thought Social Entrepreneur of the Year.

Through its volunteer connection platform, BESA volunteers have completed some 19,335 hours of volunteer work in high-impact opportunities at local charities. The platform is not only helping individual volunteers to corporations find opportunities and measure their impact, but recently-launched BESA Promise provides a software platform for large corporations to manage and drive their philanthropy programs. Founder Matthew Goldstein explains that the software social enterprise will not only help larger corporations, but more clients means more volunteer opportunities on the BESA platform.

Food For Good Thought is providing individuals on the autism spectrum a variety of employment opportunities – and turning out delicious gluten-free baked goods to boot. Gluten-free was a strategic choice as individuals with autism are shown to have a higher instance of digestive issues, and anecdotal evidence reveals a gluten-free diet can lead to improvements in certain behaviors. It’s something Owner Dr. Audrey Todd noticed in her own son. Operating since 2008, the social enterprise offers a highly customized suite of job services, often finding its clients positions in the community.

Thank you to all of those who attended and congratulations again to all of our nominees and winners. A special thank you to event sponsors Center for Social Enterprise Development, Columbus Chamber of Commerce, ECDI, Rotary District 6690 and SalesFuel.