Kids on Bikes’ new Executive Director Daniel Byrd first learned about social impact businesses while employed as a caseworker with Urban Peak in Colorado Springs.
After developing an earn-a-bike program for young clients at Urban Peak, Byrd forayed into the world of social enterprises by providing at-risk youths an opportunity to earn their own bikes through a cycling education project as program director for Kids on Bikes. The nonprofit has also added mountain biking clinics to its social enterprise portfolio.
Two months ago, Kids on Bikes opened its first physical space, the Pedal Station, on South Tejon Street. There, the organization collects donated bicycles, refurbishes them and returns them to community members in need. Revenue from bikes sold, as well as donations and grants, goes back into programming, although the organization is moving toward becoming self-sustaining.
“Some people see a bike as a right of passage for any kid,” Byrd said. “Most people have a story about their first bike. Shouldn’t every kid experience that?”
Since May, Kids on Bikes has returned more than 80 bicycles to the community, and expects to at least double that by year’s end.
Kids on Bikes, and social impact businesses in general, are becoming increasingly popular both within the Pikes Peak region and across the nation. These businesses tackle social issues as part of their mission while also striving to be self-sustaining, blurring the lines between for-profit and the traditional philanthropic nonprofit model.
The increased interest locally may, in some part, be due to the high number of nonprofits that already exist in the city, Byrd said. And organizations like the Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado and the Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center have taken notice — and want to make an impact of their own.
COLORADO COALITION FOR SOCIAL IMPACT
It’s been about two months since the launch of Colorado Coalition for Social Impact, a partnership between the BBB and the SBDC.
The coalition, intended to connect individuals and organizations seeking to promote socially conscious economic drivers, conducted its first quarterly town hall Aug. 4 at the Catalyst Campus, after the Business Journal’s press time.
Jonathan Liebert, CEO and executive director of the BBB of Southern Colorado, said it was the first step in building a regional community interested in creating or transitioning to social impact businesses.
“There are a lot of existing for-profit businesses that are interested in converting or adding a social impact aspect,” Liebert said.
“This isn’t corporate responsibility, but rather how [social impact] is part of your company’s DNA — where people are coming to work for you because of what you’re doing and how you’re creating value for the community. There’s no reason Colorado Springs can’t be the capital of this.”
There are several categories of social impact businesses, from social enterprises — which exist solely to solve social issues — to benefit corporations, which are for-profit entities that, according to the BBB, “include [in their business plan a] positive impact on society, workers, the community and the environment in addition to profit.”
Locally, Blue Star Recyclers, which provides jobs to those with autism, would be considered a social enterprise. Mountain Equipment Recyclers, which provides a portion of its revenue from outdoor apparel and equipment sales to charity, is a social business, combining commercial and social goals. National brands, such as Ben & Jerry’s and Patagonia, would fall in the category of benefit corporations, Liebert said. All together, socially conscious industries are referred to as the Fourth Sector of the economy.
“People like spending money on a product or service where their money will work two or three times for them,” Liebert said, pointing to AspenPointe and its catering arm.
“You can buy a sandwich from them or you can buy a sandwich across the street from them. Either way you have food,” he said. “But if you buy from [AspenPointe], I’ll be able to take this at-risk youth and put him in a barista training program. I’ll take this disabled vet and train him in how to become a chef. You’re paying the same price for a sandwich but you’re taking people off the street and plugging them into a job.”
The BBB of Southern Colorado may pilot the organization’s social impact programming nationally, Liebert said, and the bureau is discussing creating a designation specifically for social impact businesses. The SBDC will specialize in connecting entrepreneurs with socially conscious mentors.
NO SILVER BULLET
Globally, more than half the respondents of a 2014 Nielsen corporate social responsibility survey indicated consumers are willing to pay extra for products and services from companies committed to positive social and environmental impact.
Ninety percent of consumers said they would switch brands to one associated with a cause if cost and quality were comparable. Liebert said 60 percent of Millennials say a sense of purpose is vital when choosing an employer. CCSI aims to focus on those trends in order to make Colorado Springs the capital of social impact companies, Liebert said.
“People have said over the years that Colorado is large enough, with a big enough economy and players. If we do something with this, people will take notice,” he said. “But it’s small enough, unlike California, that we can pull people together. Colorado Springs is exactly the same from a state perspective — just large enough that if we do something cool, people will listen, but just small enough that we can wrap our arms around this and pull people in.”
Nonprofits should be wary, however, of seeing social impact arms an answer to fundraising woes, he said.
“Some think it’s a silver bullet and that’s absolutely not true,” he said. “It can help, but these are extremely difficult to run and very hard to set up. But once they’re up and running, they can do phenomenal things.”
And opportunities to make a living and an impact are everywhere.
“The cool thing about social impact is there’s something for everybody and, if you’re doing it right, everybody wins — the people you employ, the business, the community, the customer. It’s a win-win-win.”