Kindness is profitable, says a group founded to foster such companies. SocialVentures' annual Positioned to Prosper event is Aug. 6.

Eleven Central Ohio businesses driven by both profit and mission will stand in the spotlight this month. They will report a 24 percent increase in revenue from 2017-18 and 49 percent growth in employment over three years. Earnings of $60 million and employment reaching nearly 1,100 people. They’re part of a thriving social enterprise ecosystem that’s the focus of local nonprofit SocialVentures.

At SocialVentures’ Positioned to Prosper event Aug. 6, companies such as Besa Promise, Fairhaven Lawn Care and Freedom a la Cart will showcase innovative business models that turn a healthy profit while also making an impact on social issues. Hosting this event is one of many ways SocialVentures provides the infrastructure for these companies to make Columbus a frontrunner in social enterprise.

When SocialVentures CEO Allen Proctor founded the organization five years ago, he identified 18 social enterprises in Central Ohio. In 2018, there were 98.

“It’s not just a five-year anniversary for our own organization, it’s also really the five-year anniversary of the acceleration and growth of the social enterprise sector,” Proctor says.

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SocialVentures works in three areas:

• Building a movement by making consumers and companies aware of and interested in purchasing from social enterprises.

• Offering business acceleration services such as mentors and business reviews for entrepreneurs.

• Increasing social enterprises’ access to capital.

The organization provides an online marketplace of social enterprise businesses in Central Ohio— the only listing of its kind nationwide, Proctor says. SocialVentures began as the investment fund Community Investment Network of Central Ohio. Proctor then added a nonprofit, the Center for Social Enterprise Development, to help train and support entrepreneurs. As momentum grew, the two names caused confusion. So in 2017, Proctor rebranded to SocialVentures, a 501(c)(3) that also manages the private investment fund Social Ventures Fund.

Over the last five years, SocialVentures benefitted from the support of 62 donors, contributing a total of $1,268,335 to advancing social enterprise in Central Ohio. But the sense of community it builds among social enterprise businesses may be SocialVentures’ greatest impact to date, says former board member John Rush.

Rush is president and CEO of CleanTurn, a professional cleaning and interior demolition company that employs people with significant barriers to employment.

“SocialVentures connects social enterprises with resources in the community to help them with their launch and consulting on how to best market their business,” Rush says.

A big push in 2018 for SocialVentures was facilitating business-to-business relationships. Proctor says the organization asked NiSource, OhioHealth, Safelite and Abercrombie & Fitch what would make large companies channel part of their purchasing to social enterprises, and he created a buyer’s guide resource.

SocialVentures also piloted a program in partnership with the Better Business Bureau of Central Ohio to credential social enterprises.

Sheri Chaney Jones, president of Measurement Resources, helps SocialVentures and other social enterprises measure their impact with metrics such as jobs created, donations made, individuals moved into better socioeconomic positions or jobs provided to underemployed individuals. Jones says a credentialing program that validates a social enterprise’s impact would provide an important vetting process that isn’t being done anywhere else.

The new Validated Social Impact Seal will go before the International Association of Better Business Bureaus and move forward from there. As a social enterprise owner, Rush sees a growing need for credentialing as companies look to leverage the growing number of buyers who want services tied to social issues.

Other 2019-20 SocialVentures projects focus on funding.

The Social Ventures Fund will make its first round of investments as the first private social enterprise fund in Ohio: five loans of approximately $50,000 each. The fund closed in early 2019 with nine investors and $274,000 in funds.

Over the next two years, SocialVentures will create its own social enterprise to generate earned revenue and bring its reliance on grant support from 98 percent to 60 percent. “Social enterprises are the main engine attacking the social and economic divide in this country and they’re doing it by selling goods and services,” he says.

Mary Sterenberg is a freelance writer.