SEA Change—The Social Enterprise Accelerator—is an organization that supports social entrepreneurs by helping them develop a sustainable business model, access funding and solidify their meaningful impact. In this episode, we talk with Lauren Edwards, the Columbus director of SEA Change and owner and principal of Next Step Business Consulting.
What does Lauren do?
With Next Step Business Consulting, Lauren helps organizations develop their next step, thus the name, for their social enterprise. This includes program development, streamlining processes and logistics, recognizing areas that may have duplicative efforts and so on. Essentially, she helps with anything where an enterprise can save time, money or both.
What’s Lauren’s personal goal in this?
Put simply, alleviating poverty.
“It’s not just happenstance that [poverty] happened. We as a society made decisions that put people in places where they could not build generational wealth and they could not achieve growth in their careers,” Lauren states. “It’s something that’s so unfortunate and that needs to be undone and there are tools out there.”
Supporting social enterprises is one tool in the toolbox for our society to use to help alleviate poverty. Poverty is something that is so ingrained in our society, that it affects a multitude of areas. This is the reason why Lauren does what she does because she can work with all different types of social enterprises and all of them play some sort of role in alleviating poverty.
“Last time I checked, [Columbus] is the second most income-segregated community in the country,” she says. “There are some awesome charts put together by the Pew Research Center that show what the government sets as the poverty level and they show what one working parent would have to make or how many hours they’d have to work in order to make that. It’s unreasonable, and it has been for 80 years.”
What can young social entrepreneurs do to get going, specifically in Columbus?
Once you have an issue you’re passionate about, find other people who are working to solve that same issue. Whether you form a partnership or simply gain valuable insight, that’s a great first step.
“You may think of someone as a competitor, but you should at least approach them about a partnership,” Lauren explains. “Ultimately, you’re in this social service sector because you want to help people.”
The SEA Change Pitch Day, which showcases local social enterprises that went through the SEA Change programming, is a great place to find inspiration – and possibly an organization with whom you can share your expertise: Every entrepreneur needs help; that’s just part of the business. If you have a passion, find a way to get involved and use your talents.
How did Lauren get involved in social entrepreneurship?
While working with a Columbus nonprofit called Local Matters, Lauren helped educate individuals about healthful food choices on a budget. They’d have hands-on cooking and gardening classes that taught a range of people from children all the way up to senior citizens. More and more people kept asking her if she would teach these tips at corporate events, and that’s when she had her lightbulb moment. That evolved into a program called Wellness Matters, which not only is helping the companies that pay for it retain and engage their employees, but it’s increasing the health of their employees as well.
How did SEA Change get started?
The Business of Good Foundation, based in Northeast, Ohio, saw a gap in the ecosystem for social enterprise when it comes to education. They discovered that there was a program that was already running at Brown University called SE Greenhouse, which is a 12-module online curriculum. Brown University agreed to let The Good Business Foundation use the program and eventually they brought it to Columbus, where it was developed into what is now SEA Change.
What exactly is a social enterprise and what challenges do entrepreneurs face?
As Lauren points out, there are many definitions of what a social enterprise is, especially since the term is fairly new. It really boils down to the use of traditional business values in solving a social challenge. When someone is just starting out, they’re often flying by the seat of their pants or they do it grassroots. It isn’t until a year or two that they realize the depths of being a successful entrepreneur. Things like plans, budgets, finances, and projections aren’t quite developed but need to be. That’s where SEA Change’s expertise steps in, providing advice and connections to help fill the gaps.
What does the SEA Change program do?
It’s a 14-week program that has entrepreneurs go through 12 modules. What they’re trying to do is help people figure out how to move forward. Now, this doesn’t always end how one might expect. Some entrepreneurs completely pivot their ideas or discover their ideas would be better suited as a nonprofit. It just all depends on what works for their personal, financial, social impact goals.
“If people put in enough work, they can figure it all out while they’re in the program because we’re providing them with business experts, facilitators and mentors that answer their questions.”
What do the next five years look like?
The next larger goal is to make SEA Change a self-sustaining nonprofit. Lauren and the folks at SEA Change hope that the expansion includes online spaces but also additional cohorts, either in other cities or by multiplying current efforts in Columbus.
“We want to grow pretty exponentially and try to help as many people as we can figure out what they need to move forward and help them reach as many people as possible,” Lauren says. “We have a cohort of 15, but if all 15 of them went out and started businesses, that’s thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people that would then eventually be touched by the help they received through SEA Change.”
What are some other ways people in Columbus can get involved?
On October 13, there’s an event called Festival For Good at Land Grant and BrewDog in Franklinton with lots of special vendors and social enterprises that are all giving money to charities of their choice. It’s a great way to learn more about what’s going on locally, and it’ll have lots of fun activities like a raffle and games.
SEA Change Pitch Day is happening August 22 at 5:30 p.m. at the main library in the Metropolitan Library in Columbus. SEA Change identifies 15 organizations that will give a pitch for a share of funding and resources. It’s open to the public and free, with food, drinks, and mingling. As an attendee, you’ll also get to vote for one social enterprise to be crowned the crowd favorite for a prize. Last year, SEA Change helped award about $100,000 in cash and another $40,000 in in-kind donations.
Register to attend Positioned to Prosper 2018: The State of Social Enterprise in Central Ohio, happening on August 7 from [5:30]-8:30 p.m. at the Columbus Museum of Art. This is a free event ran by SocialVentures that will share a detailed analysis on entrepreneurial ventures and first-hand accounts of the great things currently in progress. It’s perfect for networking and learning more about the social enterprises in Central Ohio.
Lauren touched on a lot in this podcast, so be sure to check out all these amazing resources: