It’s Social Enterprise Week in Minnesota. So What?

If you haven’t heard of social enterprise, you’re not alone.

Interested in having custom honey at your wedding? You'll feel good when you buy it from the Beez Kneez.  Photo w/founder Kristy Allen

Interested in having custom honey at your wedding? You’ll feel good when you buy it from The Beez Kneez — a local social enterprise that advocates for bees. Photo: founder Kristy Allen

But last year, Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak proclaimed the week of May 19th to be Social Enterprise Week.  So did St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman — and Minnesota’s Governor Mark Dayton!

Why? It’s not business as usual — it’s about businesses that focus on social-purpose too.

So this week, please make a special point to buy from a local social enterprise.  

When you buy from Peace Coffee the profits fund international agriculture and trade policy. When you buy from The Wedge, Linden Hills, and Seward Co-Ops you know they do more than traditional grocery stores; they evaluate the ecological, economic and social impacts of their business and their communities.  When a business buys services from Momentum Enterprises, they can then hire people with challenging problems and give them paid on-the-job training.

These purchases strengthen and expand our economy in ways that buying from traditional businesses do not, creating a win-win for our community.  Social enterprise products and services do double duty (double and triple “bottom lines”).  And you’ll find social enterprises in practically every type of business: recycling, online retailing, job placement, and a whole lot more.  Many of them are household names, but there are plenty of start-ups in the past several years.

Buying from a social enterprise is an easy way to put more of your money to work doing good.  Let’s make Minnesota a social enterprise leader!!

WHERE TO BUY GUIDE: a sampling of local social enterprises

The Arc Value Village Profits from the Twin Cities best thrift store raised $2 million to support children and adults with disabilities.  They even have a concierge!

Beez Kneez Honey House*  Buy from this social enterprise that delivers honey by bike!  They are tireless advocates for bees and offer education classes, which are going on right now.

Birchwood Café*  This “good real food” restaurant goes the extra mile to advocate for healthy food systems, supports local farmers, pays living wage salaries — and is 100% wind powered. Having raised $100,000 through a Kickstarter campaign, they reopened just in time for Social Enterprise Week!

Eat For Equity  People meet for dinner and give what they can: the meeting place, the ingredients (local, organic, fair-trade), food-prep, and money. The proceeds are donated to nonprofits. Check out their local events or “Collaboration-Kitchen” training. Launched in Minnesota, it’s spreading across the country.

Full Cycle  Need to fix your bike — or buy a refurbished one? Your purchase supports young people experiencing homelessness with paid internships, street outreach, food shelf and more.

Latitude Prints  When you buy business cards, brochures, or banners online, 50% of the profits support empowering women and children living in extreme poverty.

Midtown Global Market  This cultural marketplace supports economic development in diverse communities. If you’ve never been there, you’re in for a real treat.

Now Boarding When you use their pet airport boarding, doggy day care and training facility, profits go to fund the Animal Humane Society’s mission.


Unfortunately there isn’t a master list of all social enterprises. Not yet!  So where can you go for more information?

Social Impact App lists a few local social enterprises (and many across the country).

Social Enterprise Alliance TC hosts events where you can meet social entrepreneurs.

Minnesota Business often features social enterprises (sometimes called social ventures).

I hope this inspires you to “start seeing social enterprises.”

At Mentor Planet, we specialize in mentor-matching social entrepreneurs and social innovators.  I’ll be posting interviews with social entrepreneurs, start-ups, innovation and more! 



Successful Nonprofits: Going Beyond the “New Normal”

Should your nonprofit have a double or triple bottom line?

Should your nonprofit have a double — or triple —bottom line?

The world is changing — in a good way.  Here in the Twin Cities, and around the globe, there is a growing trend to use social enterprise to accelerate change — and make nonprofits more financially viable.

Social enterprise is not really new.  In fact, many local nonprofits have been operating one for decades.   What is new is how many are launching, innovating and scaling!  While they serve highly diverse missions and operate a variety of businesses, what they have in common is a double bottom line: social mission and profits.

Undaunted by “the new normal”  — major reductions in government funding or philanthropy’s reluctance to fund general operating costs — these innovative nonprofits are changing the way nonprofits “do business” by operating one. 

  1. Did you know that CityKid Java operates a $2 million coffee business? You may have seen it at Cub or Target.  Coffee sales made it possible for them to “donate” $45,000 to fund Urban Ventures youth programs.  They’re revved up and well-positioned to scale their “business” with a major rebranding underway, thanks to a pro bono team from General Mills. A targeted expansion is planned for specific markets across the country.
  2. With the Genesys Works “business model,” less than 25% of their budget relies on donations or grants.  What’s more, they are expanding nationally — achieving a 50% growth rateGenesys Works trains a highly diverse group of economically disadvantaged high school students.  In their senior year, they have an internship with businesses that are seeking technology-proficient employees. It’s a real win-win.
  3. Last year, PPL Enterprises merged with Rebuild Resources and then underwent a rebranding. Under their new name, Momentum Enterprises, they generate approximately $6 million in revenue from light manufacturing, recycling, and more.  With a new leadership team, they are well on their way to increasing profitability so they can achieve greater social impact and serve more participants.

Should your nonprofit start one?  If you have one, how can you make it more effective?  A smart organization does their homework.  So I encourage you, your board and senior staff to attend the national Social Enterprise Alliance Summit, which will be held in Minneapolis May 19-22.  It’s a great opportunity to hear directly from innovators and experienced leaders.  Choose a 4-day or 1-day registration. Go behind the scenes to find out what makes these social enterprises successful with Summit Tours.

Can’t attend the Summit?  If you’re in town, you won’t want to miss the opportunity to  network with 50 social enterprises at the first  Twin Cities Social Enterprise Marketplace, May 20, from 5:30-7:30 p.m.  It’s free and open to the public, thanks to the Greater Twin Cities United Way.  As the new president of the Social Enterprise Alliance Twin Cities, I encourage everyone to get involved and help us participate in building a thriving social enterprise community right here.

The Social Enterprise Alliance Summit in the News: MinnPost Minnesota BusinessStarTribune

Naturally, Mentor Planet will be part of the TC Social Enterprise Marketplace.  After all, we’re a social enterprise that mentors social entrepreneurs so they can accelerate impact!  Please stop by to say hello and meet some of our Mentor Partners.

Your Best New Years Resolution: Find a Mentor

Get the insight and support you need to move ahead.

National Mentoring Month just happens to coincide with our annual ritual of making New Years resolutions.  As we reflect on the frustrations or lost opportunities, and all that we dream about, it is the ideal time to take stock in what we really want to happen — this year!

All too often, we do nothing more than make a good list and attempt a few weeks of effort.  Then, little changes.

Life is about moving; it’s about change.  And when things stop doing that, they’re dead.  — Twyla Tharp

This year, try something new: Find a Mentor! Research shows that going it alone isn’t the quickest or best path to success. So regardless of what you do in 2011, a mentor can help you get there. They can help you be more effective, encourage you during setbacks, ask thoughtful questions, help avoid problems, offer real world solutions or realistic alternatives you might never have even considered.

Finding a good mentor is like finding a good job.  If you know what you want, and set clear goals, you’re more likely to find what you’re looking for — and make changes that are important to you.


1. Set Goals — What’s On Your List of New Year’s Resolutions?

Mentors can benefit you in so many ways that it’s important to think through what you want.  Make sure you look for a mentor that has the skills, experience, or insights that are right for you.

What do you want your future to look like? What do you dream about? What do you want to achieve? Do you dare to radically raise the bar? What would you like to change or improve? Are you unhappy at work? Career passion shouldn’t be an oxymoron. If you’re not sure what you want, a mentor can help you figure it out too.  Crystallize your goals to narrow your search:

  • I’m frustrated in my current job. I need help figuring out if I should stay or if I should make a change.
  • I want my own business. I have an idea but I’m not sure how to get started.
  • I’m really unhappy at work, burned out. I could use help figuring out how to juggle my job, my family, and having a life.
  • I run a nonprofit, but I’m having trouble managing my board.
  • I think I’m ready for a promotion, but my boss doesn’t think so.  What can I do?
  • I’ve been looking for a job for nearly 2 years.  I need someone to help regain my confidence.
  • I’ve always thought about working for a nonprofit. I’d like to talk to someone who switched from corporate life.
  • I’m doing okay as an artist, but I need someone to help me get to the next level.
  • I’m great at marketing, but I need more management experience.
  • I like my job right now, but I want to explore my options.

2. Select Criteria — What type of mentor do you want?

What makes a good match?  Think about a teacher or boss who made it easy for you to learn, and helped and encouraged you to achieve more than you thought you could. What type of person was it that helped you open doors, see strengths you didn’t know you had, or kept you focused and on track? What were the key things they did that led to your success?  Identify your top 3-5 must-haves. Narrow down your criteria so you don’t waste time interviewing mentors who aren’t a good fit.

Consider what’s really important: chemistry, communication, conflict of interest, experience, pet peeves, similarities, time commitment, trust, and values.

Example: Business Start Up I’m seeking a business owner who successfully operates an organic restaurant.  I would like one, like me, who is enthusiastic and positive, though a bit more down-to-earth.  I will probably need to meet every two weeks for a few months until I get my business plan figured out, and then monthly for the first year.

Example: Accelerating the Career Ladder I want a mentor with 10+ years of marketing experience in the health and wellness area who has been very successful in her career.  I prefer a woman — someone like me who is working long hours in a demanding job and yet still manages to have a great family life and take time for herself. I need to make sure it isn’t someone who works for one of our competitors, and I would like it to be someone who isn’t in the healthcare industry.

Example: Burned Out, Exploring Options I am hoping to find a practical person who has opted out of the fast track and simplified their life. Ideally, it would be someone who has retired early and switched careers to something they really enjoy. I certainly don’t need someone lecturing me — a know-it-all. I’d like to meet every week at first, until I’m on my way. Then monthly. Probably 6 months would do it.

3. Evaluate your options

You’ll be investing a lot of yourself.  Your mentor will be, too  — volunteering their time, insights, and experience. So  it’s essential that you carefully evaluate your options.  And be open.  Don’t be surprised if you end up refining your goals or selection criteria as you gain more insight into what you really want. Remember: the best relationships are give-and-take. Choose 2-3 candidates to initially talk with, and then select the one who will support you — make real progress toward your goals.

Find a mentor and you just might achieve those New Year resolutions!

Who Will Win the Change the World Contest?

According to a recent The Chronicle of Philanthropy post, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg believes businesses are more likely to change the world than nonprofits because they lack resources.”  Now that’s a quite a challenge to the roughly 1,000,000 US nonprofits.

Is business properly motivated to change the world for the better? Do they have the right mindset? Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is gaining momentum, as evidenced by the first virtual CSR conference. (You can access reviews at Fabian Pattberg’s blog.) Taking a closer look at just one issue, sustainability, there is reason to be cautiously optimistic.  According to a U.N. Global Compact/Accenture study, “93% of CEOs believe that sustainability is critical to their success.” They believe “a tipping point, meshing sustainability with core business, might be possible within a decade.” Can we afford to wait 10 years?

Two business giants think philanthropy is a way to change the world: Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. They believe in it so strongly that they launched a campaign to motivate other US billionaires to follow their lead — and donate 50% their wealth to charity. Apparently it’s working, others have already signed on.  That’s certainly connecting smart people and money for change.

Author Nancy Lubin, goes so far as to say the nonprofit world can teach business a thing or two, not the other way around.  In her new book, Zilch: The Power of Zero in Business, she says nonprofits know how to do more with less, while keeping innovation, passion, and creativity high.  Some might argue with Lubin, saying nonprofits are part of the problem, because, like business, they are too invested in their current way of operating — they don’t change, innovate or make any real impact. Others might argue that charities simply don’t operate on the mega scale of business.

But there is a hybrid in the contest too, social enterprise.  It’s a blend of business and nonprofits that are out to change the world — it’s integral to their mission.  And it’s growing.  At this year’s SOCAP10 Conference more than a thousand of the world’s leading social investors, philanthropists, entrepreneurs and thought-leaders met to invigorate social change.  There are organizations, such as Ashoka and the Social Enterprise Alliance, that support social entrepreneurs, nationally and internationally.  The Hub provides creative meeting places and support, bringing people together with the intention to solve some of the world’s most pressing issues.  More companies are touting a “triple bottom line” approach: people, planet, and profits.

Government is a huge player too: city, state, and federal budgets fund billions of dollars toward major projects, many of which are operated by businesses and nonprofits. As an example, The Corporation for National and Community Service is a public/private partnership with a $1.4 billion budget to mobilize more than six million Americans to solve critical problems through national service.  That’s scalable. President Obama launched a $50 million Social Innovation Fund to support promising nonprofit organizations working in low-income communities and leverages private funding.  It’s not a lot of money, in the scheme of things, but it’s a mindset toward more innovation and tangible results.

All the while, millions of people like us are taking action in big and small ways. We affect business, nonprofit, social enterprise, and government through our votes and activism. We’re buying local food, biking to work, writing our senators, and voting for what matters to us with every purchase we make — and changing the world.  Many of us — 41 million people (19% of American adults) — fit a consumer segment called LOHAS, with a focus on health and fitness, the environment, personal development, sustainable living, and social justice.  We’re becoming more connected too, through communities that are committed to making positive change, such as:

  • informs people about important causes and encourages them to take action — “165,399 actions taken this week.”
  • Worldpulse fosters women’s leadership worldwide, “telling stories of women who had lost everything except their passion for a better future.”
  • promotes volunteerism and nonprofit careers.

So maybe there really is a trend — a contest to see who can save the world. Maybe business will see the huge market potential in CSR.  Maybe nonprofits will see how more results-oriented thinking will help them be more innovative and mission-driven. Maybe social enterprise will become the norm.  Maybe our local and federal government will fund more innovation.  Maybe more individuals will get involved, rather than assuming someone else will naturally do the right thing.

We need everyone testing, experimenting, analyzing, and improving if we’re going to make real progress. I’m hoping everyone will enter the contest.  What can you do?  I’d be interested to hear your stories about what’s actually working to change the world.  Couldn’t we all use a bit more inspiration.