Business owners increasingly are realizing that they have the potential not just to make profit but to benefit their communities. From that concept, a new social impact economy is evolving.
Social impact enterprises sell goods and services, but also have specific social objectives, to fulfill a primary mission or purpose. Maximizing profit is not their primary reason for existing, but rather to support a cause and give back to the community.
Ted Stolberg, founder of the Beanstalk Foundation, calls it “a more mature form of capitalism” that helps sustain local economies, provide jobs and bridge the gap between for-profit businesses and nonprofit charities.
The Colorado Institute for Social Impact, an organization started by the Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado, strives to accelerate the evolution of social impact business by providing education and resources, and also seeks to increase awareness of these entities and their benefits to consumers.
“It’s not business as usual anymore,” said Jonathan Liebert, CEO and executive director of the BBB of Southern Colorado. “More businesses want to create social impact, and more nonprofits want to do business. This is a new breed of business owners, who are using the powerful economic engine of capitalism for good.”
One way in which the institute supports and recognizes social impact businesses is the annual PRISM Award ceremony, now in its second year.
The winners in three categories will be announced and honored at a celebration Friday, March 2, at the Briarhurst Manor Estate in Manitou Springs.
The awards are co-presented by Vectra Bank and supported by organizations including the Colorado Springs Business Journal and its sister paper, the Colorado Springs Independent.
“We consider a social entrepreneur to be someone who achieves systemic, sustainable social change through innovation and a unique approach to a product or service, an innovative partnership or a redesign of known technologies or strategies, or a combination of these,” Liebert said.
More and more local businesses are becoming leaders in the new social impact economy that is evolving in Colorado Springs, said Bill Morris, co-founder and CEO of Blue Star Recyclers, honored as Social Impact Business of the Year during last year’s inaugural ceremony.
“My dream is that this is the place where every social entrepreneur in the country wants to come to start their organization,” Morris said.
The Colorado Institute for Social Impact is helping develop the concept of social return on investment.
“Say you’ve got two coffee shops, one a traditional business model and the second one a social enterprise, where you’re trying to give jobs to and train at-risk teens,” Liebert said. “For the same cup of coffee, you can buy a cup that goes straight to profit. The other one is putting some profit back into at-risk youth.
“If I give an at-risk person a job or plug a homeless person into a job opportunity or training program, these are areas where you can measure the social return on investment and determine the value to the community. In providing another way to do business, I am adding value and benefiting employees, consumers and the community. When you’re doing it right, everybody wins.”
More and more consumers are recognizing that added value and choosing to patronize social impact businesses.
“Nine out of 10 Millennials will switch brands if some type of social cause is related to it,” Liebert said. “In fact, research says people will actually pay more. Millennials are leading the way, but everybody else is not too far behind. A number of Baby Boomers want to do this as well. They are using their entrepreneurial skills to start new businesses that have a social mission.”
The PRISM awards focused on Colorado Springs the first year. This year, the program extended throughout southern Colorado, and next year, Liebert wants to take it statewide.
Nominated by their peers and the community, this year’s finalists in the three award categories include:
Social Impact Business of the Year
Mission Catering, a social enterprise of the Springs Rescue Mission, employs graduates of the New Life Program and helps fund Springs Rescue Mission and other community needs. While customers are enjoying selections — from party platters to sit-down dinners — they are helping feed, shelter and clothe homeless people in Colorado Springs.
Pikes Peak Habitat for Humanity ReStore collects donations of new and gently used building materials, furniture, appliances and home accessories and resells them at low cost. Proceeds from the store support Habitat for Humanity, which builds and repairs houses for low-income families.
Mountain Equipment Recyclers specializes in new and used, high-quality outdoor gear. The store gives 100 percent of its net profits to charitable causes and 50 percent of donated gear to nonprofit partners. To date, it has given more than $186,500 to local charities.
Social Impact Startup of the Year
The Pedal Station, a social enterprise of Kids on Bikes, reconditions donated bicycles and related items. Used bikes are sold at affordable prices. The organization also provides bikes, bike education and other programs to kids at schools and community centers.
MilHousing Network connects military families with real estate experts to help them buy and sell homes through military real estate experts. The organization also helps military spouses find employment as real estate agents or in support positions.
The Men’s Xchange offers donated men’s business and dress apparel at thrift store prices. Proceeds go directly to assisting men in the region with affordable, professional work attire.
Social Entrepreneur of the Year
Frayla Boutique’s motto is “Giving Back with Style.” Customers choose merchandise from producers that support local, national and international causes. The boutique also accepts donations of gently used clothing for The Hanger, a nonprofit that provides clothing to children in Colorado Springs’ foster system.
Steve Wood, Concrete Couch executive director, aims to build community through creative projects. Wood brings together people of all ages to create mosaics, murals, benches and other community projects using mostly recycled materials.
Lindsey Litton, CEO and co-founder of MilHousing Network, knows first-hand how difficult it is to maintain a career as a military spouse. Litton and her business partner, fellow military spouse Karina Gafford, launched MilHousing Network to help military spouses meet the demands of military life and smooth the transitions of often-relocated families.