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Four take-aways from Innovation for Social Change

What do a farm-to-table restaurant, an outdoor clothing brand, a youth sports marketing firm and a laundry service all have in common? They all are using business as a platform to do good and ignite social change. As part of Philly Tech Week 2018, the Science Center teamed up with Venture Café Global Institute and CIC to present Innovation for Social Change: a Venture Café Experience. Representatives from Philadelphia-based organizations including the White Dog Café, United By Blue, LeagueSide and Wash Cycle Laundry provided us insight into their company ethos and philosophies.

Here are our top take-aways from the panelists:

For profit. For good.

We learned that to do good, businesses have more flexibility operating as a for-profit entity. For Judy Wicks, social activist and founder of the White Dog Café, a for-profit entity was more nimble. She could make decisions faster and avoid having to spend time and resources asking for money. Once White Dog became profitable, Judy was able to create her own non-profit using 20% of the restaurant’s profits. Each of the panelists agreed that creating a for-profit was a more sustainable business model for the work they wanted to do. “Social entrepreneurship is not just some little tiny group of people,” Wicks said. “It’s about changing the way we do business.”

Money doesn’t solve problems. Action does.

As Brian Linton, Founder & CEO of United By Blue put it, “Throwing money at issues doesn’t solve them. You need to roll up your sleeves and do the work yourself.” For every product sold by United By Blue, the company removes one pound of trash from the world’s oceans and waterways. Everyone at the company is rolling up their sleeves by removing plastic bottles, styrofoam, tires and old appliances from creeks, rivers, beaches and streams.

Judy Wicks added that, “When you separate doing well, from doing good, you separate profit from goodness. That’s how we create all the problems in the world… I actually believe that all businesses should have a social mission. That all businesses should do good while they do well.”

Empower people while powering the workforce.

A self-described data enthusiast, Gabriel Mandujano, Founder & President of Wash Cycle Laundry, was looking for a sustainable approach to creating entry-level jobs and upwardly mobile opportunities for cities’ most vulnerable adults. Mandujano was alarmed by employee retention statistics for welfare-assisted citizens and returning citizens. As he put it “Once you hear the statistics, you can’t unhear them.” Fast forward eight years and Wash Cycle Laundry has created more than 50 jobs, with over half filled by motivated adults re-entering the workforce after overcoming a period of incarceration, drug addiction, homelessness, or welfare dependence. What’s more, the company has saved over 1 million gallons of water with its high-efficiency machines, and has hauled 4 million pounds of laundry by bicycle across Philadelphia and Washington D.C.

Brand what matters.

Emily Haas, the first employee to join LeagueSide founders Evan Brandoff and Zubin Teherani, says creating relationships is an important part of the company’s philosophy. LeagueSide, a Venture for America-backed company, was inspired by Brandoff’s experience volunteering for a basketball tournament in inner-city Detroit. He witnessed first-hand how engaged families were during the games, but later learned that families face huge financial burdens when enrolling their kids in youth sports leagues. LeagueSide helps mitigate these costs by partnering with companies to use youth sports sponsorships as a new marketing channel – from placing logos on jerseys to tabling at tournaments across the country. Combining the power of branding with youth sports is changing the game for youth everywhere.

These panelists made it clear that no matter what your business specializes in, creating a community of shared values focused on stimulating social good can positively impact both the world and profit margins.

Venture Café powered by Quorum will return in the fall and take place every Thursday afternoon/evening at 3675 Market Street.