The issue: 

As nonprofit needs grow, we must develop new ways to help meet demands.

What we think: 

Lyda Hill’s definition of “phil-entrepreneur” is an idea that will help both nonprofits and businesses.

Last Thursday, UCCS honored Lyda Hill with its Lifetime Entrepreneur Achievement award — and Hill used the opportunity to encourage business leaders to take risks, invest in the right opportunities and become a “phil-entrepreneur.”

Hill, who owned Seven Falls before selling it to The Broadmoor and who constructed the Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center, says combining business with philanthropy make sense — but it isn’t easy and it is risky.

- Advertisement -

When they built the visitor center, a for-profit enterprise, she made sure the proceeds benefited the Garden of the Gods Park, widely acclaimed as one of the most visited city parks in the nation. While the city can’t charge admission to the park, the proceeds from the visitor center’s gift shop cover park maintenance and create jobs.

As Hill said, “A for-profit business attached to a nonprofit was a new idea, but I never like doing things the way everyone else is doing them.”

Social enterprises are gaining traction now — Springs Rescue Mission has a for-profit business to help with its mission of providing shelter for the homeless and transforming lives, and AspenPointe has several for-profit arms that provide jobs for its clients and revenue to help with its mental health goals.

And Hill asked businesses to find ways to assist nonprofits with their missions. While no investment is without risk, she said it’s worth the effort to help people and aid progress around the globe.

Hill is a part-time Springs resident, who also makes her home in Dallas. But the impact of her business and philanthropic interests stretches around the globe. She founded Remeditex Ventures to support and speed the development of biomedical products and therapy; she promotes science education.

And here in Colorado Springs, she expanded UCCS’s UTeach Program, aimed at preparing a new generation of math and science teachers. Chancellor Venkat Reddy said that Hill invested in 16 different programs at the university, all aimed at promoting education, business and philanthropy. One of those efforts is a veteran trauma clinic at UCCS.

Hill is a woman on a mission. She’s part of The Giving Pledge, created by Bill Gates, pledging to give away her wealth to nonprofit enterprises, most of it during her lifetime.

Hill told the audience that she looks for projects that are unusual, have unusual solutions and can make a difference. She told of an island nation that owed another country $21.5 million in debt.

“They were never going to be able to repay it; there’s just not that much tourism,” she said. The solution: To sell its territorial water rights — worth $21 million — to the larger country. Hill herself put up the last $500,000. And other island nations, seeing the benefit, also clamored for the same opportunity. The result: There’s now a venture capital fund aiding small nations with finding unusual ways to relieve their debt burden.

Not everyone has the reach nor the means of someone like Lyda Hill. But every business owner can seize the opportunity to make a difference in their corner of the world. Combining social enterprise with business is catching on — thanks to efforts by the Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado, which is launching the nation’s first social enterprise accreditation program — so businesses and nonprofits can join forces in ways never thought of before.