Reflections on 5 years:
Two SocialVentures board members look back—and ahead
The social enterprise sector in Central Ohio has expanded from 18 businesses to almost 100 since the launch of SocialVentures in 2014, accounting for nearly 2,400 jobs and $49 million in payroll.
The sector has become the largest local job creator for individuals traditionally excluded from employment: ex-offenders, recovering addicts, survivors of trafficking, chronically homeless, and the disabled.
Andrea Applegate and Tom Katzenmeyer have been on the board of SocialVentures since its founding, and the organization is marking its fifth anniversary at Positioned to Prosper on Aug. 6, an annual celebration of the achievements of local social entrepreneurs.
I talked with Applegate, president of Applegate Talent Strategies, and Katzenmeyer, CEO of the Greater Columbus Arts Council, to learn what changes they have seen and what they hope to see in the future.
What prompted you to be part of SocialVentures?
Applegate: I was running a nonprofit and eager to find ways to support our mission rather than depending on philanthropy and charitable donations. I could see how this new organization could help me and other nonprofits build financial sustainability into our business plans. I wanted to be a part of it.
Katzenmeyer: I saw a compelling need in our community for encouragement in this activity. Culturals have a lot of room to do more in social enterprise and there is lots of help to get started.
What trends do you see in philanthropy?
Applegate: There’s less of it, especially big-dollar corporate funding. Nonprofits are turning to individuals, but you need a lot of individual gifts to equal one corporate gift. The earned revenue from social enterprise is key to compensating for that trend by engaging donors not just by their charity but by their everyday purchases like coffee, box lunches, lawn care, etc.
Katzenmeyer: The exponential growth in the social enterprise movement locally, encouraged by our efforts and advocacy. More people are identifying with the social-good movement. They see how their purchases can make a difference.
Applegate: I am most proud of our willingness to confront tough issues, like moving from our initial focus exclusively on helping nonprofits to shifting to the reality that the momentum is with for-profit social enterprise.
What do you consider most important to know about the growth of the social enterprise sector?
Applegate: I think it’s extraordinary that purchasers have the ability to make a positive impact on negative issues that face our community and the world. SocialVentures is leading an effort to review, validate and communicate the social impact created by social enterprises in our community.
The Columbus Way has been identified as key to major achievements in our community. Do you envision social enterprise as an example?
Katzenmeyer: SocialVentures has built the movement through dozens of collaborations and partnerships. In some respects, the collaboration has demonstrated the Columbus Way as a grassroots rather than top-down effort.
What has surprised you over the past five years?
Applegate: How fast the sector has grown. People and programs are coming to Columbus because of our strong social enterprise sector. Philanthropitch coming from Austin is just the latest example.
Katzenmeyer: The variety and creativity in the marketplace that has been created, driven by consumer demand. Retail, education, food, drink, professional services—the list goes on and has endless possibilities.
What do you see as the major contribution of social enterprise to the community?
Andrea: I am amazed to see businesses successfully employ people who previously were written off as “unemployable.” They prove every day that if you give workers the skills, support and opportunity, they can do the job, too.
Katzenmeyer: They create revenue and jobs that drive social impact. Everyone benefits.
What do you hope the community can do better to help local social enterprises expand and prosper?
Katzenmeyer: Social enterprise needs continued private and public investment, advocacy and education. And we need to continue to market and feature the work to the general public. We need to drive business to these enterprises to ensure their success and growth.
Applegate: We need more regular people to know about and purchase from social enterprises. Influencers need to understand the value and impact social enterprise has on the community, then take an active role in supporting it. We need them to say, “That’s awesome, how can I help?”
Positioned to Prosper is Aug. 6. What is the best reason for readers to put this on their calendar?
Applegate: I look forward to it every year to see the progress we are making. We never thought it could become so great. It’s an opportunity to meet the players, see the impact on the community and on individuals, and figure out whether to become part of it.
Katzenmeyer: Come to test out ideas with players in the sector. It’s a high energy event to see ways a company can connect to that energy. Come to see what young employees are so excited about.
Allen Proctor is CEO of SocialVentures. Learn about all the local social enterprises at socialventurescbus.com/marketplace.