Helping Socially Conscious Businesses Thrive

By Wayne Heilman The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Leaders and business organizations in Colorado Springs are coming together to help entrepreneurs interested in for-profit social businesses succeed. Nonprofits or a hybrid that can create value for the community are also being encouraged to join a new coalition to support these types of businesses.

The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)

The Colorado Coalition for Social Impact, a new group formed to help businesses that combine for-profit businesses with the social welfare mission of nonprofits, has more than doubled its reach since it was started in June.

The number of people on the coalition's mailing list has doubled to more than 160 since its organizational "town hall" meeting June 3 and more than 60 people attended a quarterly roundtable discussion the group hosted Thursday at the Harvey House meeting room on the Catalyst Campus in Colorado Springs.

The coalition, formed with the help of top executives from the Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado and the Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center, began orientation classes last month for entrepreneurs who want to start social impact firms and plans a more extensive "boot camp" in the fall.

"We are seeing a large outpouring (of interest) from the community and are seeing a wide variety of entrepreneurs interested in for-profit social businesses, nonprofits or a hybrid that can create huge value for the community," said Jonathan Liebert, CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado, who joined Aikta Marcoulier, executive director of the Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center, to launch the coalition. "These businesses are difficult to start and maintain. That is why we are doing this -- to provide them the help they need."

Those attending the meeting included a mix of owners of social-impact businesses, entrepreneurs looking to start such companies and for-profit firms and nonprofits that provide services to social-impact businesses. Several people shared challenges, success stories and tips on how to start and operate such companies.

Mike Mazzola, founder and president of Mountain Equipment Recyclers Inc. and Shift Thrift store, discussed how the Colorado Springs outdoor equipment consignment retailer started in 2011 has donated more than $90,000 to about 15 charities. He said the company donates 50 percent of the sales price of donated equipment and 5 percent of the revenue from consignment merchandise to charities, which include a mix of military, veteran, outdoor recreation and youth organizations.

Shift Thrift is a nonprofit that operates a store near downtown to sell recycled household goods and employs people who have difficulty finding jobs. Proceeds help support eight charities for military personnel, environmental causes, human services, social causes, arts and music, animal welfare, education, recycling and public health.

"We wanted to start an outdoor gear store that supported charities because we have a passion to give back to the community," Mazzola said. "Our mission at Shift is to enhance the Colorado Springs community by creating jobs, preserving the environment, promoting community involvement and raising funds for charitable causes."

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