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Social Entrepreneurship Thrives in Central Ohio

Colleen Arnett Colleen Arnett Social Entrepreneurship Thrives in Central Ohio
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Joe DeLoss - Founder of Nobul and Freshbox Catering.

While social entrepreneurship may be a global endeavor, it’s found quite a home in Central Ohio. Various locals have made social enterprise their passion and are working tirelessly to bring about change and awareness in their communities.

The hope is that social entrepreneurs and their businesses will be able to address important social needs and serve as catalysts for social changes by providing innovative solutions to society’s most pressing problems.

Every year, The Ohio State University hosts the Alleviating Poverty Through Entrepreneurship Summit (APTE). The mission of APTE is to educate, impassion, and empower individuals to pursue market-based solutions to poverty. The Summit was actually the brainchild of group of young, socially concerned OSU students in the Business Builders Club, the undergraduate entrepreneurship club at Ohio State. Each year it’s a dedicated team of hard working students that make the event possible.

David Miracle was the Director of this year’s Summit, which was held back in April at the Wexner Center. Miracle is currently a third-year business major at OSU. “I’ve always been interested in the idea of using business to make the world a better place,” said Miracle. But it wasn’t until he became involved in the Business Builders Club that he was introduced to the idea of social entrepreneurship.

Now, social entrepreneurship is his passion. This summer Miracle will be working with Nobul on the FrameWork Labor project, and he can’t wait. “I’m excited to really get my hands dirty in the field of social entrepreneurship,” said Miracle.

Local social entrepreneur Joe DeLoss founded both Nobul and Freshbox Catering. The idea for Freshbox began while DeLoss was working as the Director of Social Enterprise at Lutheran Social Services of Central Ohio (LSSCO). His job at LSSCO was to “create jobs that employ the people that LSSCO serves,” so DeLoss and LSSCO decided to launch a new company in Columbus, which ended up being Freshbox Catering.

According to DeLoss, Freshbox “was focused on providing top-quality food and transformative employment for people affected by poverty.” DeLoss launched and ran the company until May 2011, at which point he set off on his “new Nobul adventure.”

Nobul is essentially “a team of people committed to bold, entrepreneurial impact in the community.” The website says that Nobul’s Workforce Lab was created “to prototype empowering work environments for people deemed ‘unemployable’ by the greater community.” During the last year the business has simultaneously maintained several consulting engagements while engineering the next business adventure of their own.

Currently Nobul has four main contributors, and the team is pursuing a business opportunity to provide jobs for people re-entering the community from the corrections system. “We’ve got some great partnerships on the horizon,” said DeLoss. “Stay tuned.”

DeLoss’ involvement in social entrepreneurship began in college. Due to some nudging from mentors at the Capital School of Management, DeLoss interned with Keepsake Theme Quilts. After that internship he was hooked, and spent the next few years of school obtaining the skills needed for a career in social enterprise. Now, after successfully starting two local social enterprises, social entrepreneurship has become his life. For him, social entrepreneurship is a vital part of a community’s resilience. “We need permanent, sustainable solutions to community challenges. And we know that the old model of community investment often just bandages the symptoms,” said DeLoss. “We need entrepreneurs to make our communities stronger.”

Keepsake Theme Quilts, a social enterprise based in Bexley, was started in 1998 as an offshoot of Deaf Initiatives, a non-profit organization designed to strengthen the potential of deaf and hard-of-hearing high school students and adults. The goal of Keepsake Theme Quilts is to run a successful and profitable business while simultaneously furthering the mission of Deaf Initiatives. According to their website, “the idea for the social purpose business evolved from the desire to develop a product to support Deaf Initiatives as well as to create a work experience model for young adults who are deaf or hard of hearing.”

Aside from those who answer the phones, everyone who works at Keepsake Theme Quilts is deaf. Currently they employ 17 deaf or hard-of-hearing adults and 4 hearing staff. They also have a paid internship program available for deaf or hard-of-hearing high school students.

Paige Metersky, who handles most of the behind the scenes work at Keepsake Theme Quilts, such as managing the company’s Facebook page, is proud to work at such a “remarkable, hard-working, creative place.” She herself isn’t hard-of-hearing, but her young daughter is, so “I can appreciate the struggles they face,” said Metersky. “Imagine if you wanted to get a job and couldn’t get a job…you’re just as smart and hard-working as everyone else, but more limited in employment opportunities.”

Keepsake Theme Quilts is able to take away that one barrier that has limited them and provide an opportunity for meaningful employment, while earning a real wage and working together to produce a high quality product. Everyone who works at Keepsake Theme Quilts knows sign language, the rooms are large and open, which is essential when using a visual language to communicate, and assistive technology for individuals that cannot hear has been installed to help facilitate communication between the deaf and hearing.

Those who work at Keepsake Theme Quilts are able to take any customers personal collection of fabric items and turn them into a “long lasting, comfortable quilt,” said Metersky. In fact, “I’ve had several made within our family of our family reunion t-shirts.” It’s very typical for someone graduating from high school or college to get a quilt made highlighting all his or her activities, awards, and memories. Another cool thing about Keepsake Theme Quilts is that it “has that recycled vibe.” “You make the memories, we make the quilts,” said Metersky.

Sean McGee is the Managing Principal of a social enterprise called CauseImpact. CauseImpact provides coaching, facilitation, and consulting services to both non-profit organizations and for-profit organizations. However, whether CauseImpact is working with non-profit clients or for-profit clients, it’s important that they “work with organizations or companies who are focused on creating positive change in the world.”

CauseImpact believes that, “by helping them to become more innovative and entrepreneurial, we can increase their mission impact while helping them to generate more revenue.” Their model is focused on sustainability. “We don’t want to just give them a fish, or simply teach them to fish; we’d like them to be able to identify and develop new food sources altogether,” said McGee.

For McGee, the social entrepreneurial bug didn’t hit him until 2004. According to McGee, he was always interested in entrepreneurship and was even involved in a number of startup businesses at a young age. However, instead of following that path right away, he went on to study electrical engineering at Ohio State. During that time he found himself drawn to the wine business, and by the time he was 24 he was running his first retail store.

McGee spent the next 17 years starting, expanding, or extending wine-related businesses in retail, wholesale, on-premise and on the Internet, but he wasn’t satisfied. “I reached a point where my successes far outweighed my failures, but I found that my heart wasn’t really in the wine business anymore,” said McGee. “I started looking for an opportunity where I could make a contribution to something more than just the financial bottom line.” This brings us back to 2004. McGee began hearing new terms being thrown around, such as “social enterprise.” He started working with some local organizations, and “became fascinated with this innovative blend of social impact and financial return.”

McGee met Dave Parker, the Principal and Founder of CauseImpact, through the Central Ohio Diabetes Association, where McGee was managing a joint project with the Fisher College of Business. They hit it off immediately, and within a couple of years, Parker invited him to take an ownership position in the firm. McGee jumped at the chance, and today he makes sure CauseImpact keeps running smoothly.

According to David Bornstein, author of How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas, “Social entrepreneurs identify resources where people only see problems. They begin with the assumption of competence and unleash resources in the communities they’re serving.” Throughout Central Ohio there are many social entrepreneurs doing just that- combining business-like disciplines and innovations with the passion of a social mission.

More information about Nobul can be found at www.nobul.com.

More information about Keepsake Theme Quilts can be found at www.tshirtquilts.com.

More information about Cause Imapct can be found at www.causeimpact.com.

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