#LancasterPitch 2.0

Screenshot 2015-10-20 15.32.26Amidst a bustling Friday evening in the city, ASSETS in partnership with the Lancaster County Community Foundation, brought the Great Social Enterprise Pitch back for its second year. For 8 months prior, local social entrepreneurs worked with Jonathan Coleman and Jessica King, of ASSETS, and Melody Keim, of Lancaster County Community Foundation. Sharing, shaping, collaborating, these minds met nearly every week to bring their powerful ideas to life in Lancaster. The crowning jewel in the process? The Live Pitch.

This year’s Pitch drew an inspiring crowd. As the Pitchers prepared to share their business ideas with the public, community members, friends, and family filled the auditorium at Robert Fulton Elementary School.

Mayor Rick Gray kicked off the evening’s program with remarks on the need for Social Enterprise in Lancaster, and then, one by one, the Pitchers shared their visions.

Life & Legacies, a joint-venture by Meredith Jorgensen Cooke and Joe Mitton, took the stage to tell their story about the importance of giving others a voice. With a storefront already secured on Prince Street, the duo explained how they intend to let everyone’s story be heard with the help of digital media. Next, Make 717 shared their enthusiasm for creation through a “maker space.” With the help of local community partners and subscription membership plans, Ben Eisemann and Bruce C. Schreiner hope to empower artisans, machinists, and designers alike. The Stroopie Company, represented by Jennie Groff, pulled at heartstrings when Groff began her pitch by touching on the Syrian refugee crisis. The Stroopie Co. offers meaningful employment refugees–a fitting pursuit, given that Lancaster is home to over 5,000 refugees. Selling cookies with plans to open a sweet shop on North King, the Groff family demonstrated their company is ready to scale. 

Sarah Rutt, of Revolution, pitched next. Rutt explained how the social enterprise offers experiential training and business skills to homeless women. Selling handcrafted jewelry, the Revolution team has already begun working with Water Street Ministries. Far Far Away Books wrapped up the pitch presentations, with the idea for a mobile book-seller for low-income neighborhoods brought to life by Garrett Drew Ellis and his daughter. Ellis hopes to share his love of learning and reading with people of all ages, though his target audience is parents and children.

Screenshot 2015-10-20 15.35.25With the “Pass the Hat” voting underway, Gabriel Mandujano, of Wash Cycle Laundry began sharing his passion for triple bottom line business. Emphasizing sustainability–environmental, economic, and most importantly, human–Mandujano shared the triumphs and trials he’s faced in business. Social enterprise confronts entrepreneurs with unique challenges, but the rewards can also be uniquely fulfilling, he encouraged the audience.

Finally, Jonathan Coleman and Jessica King, of ASSETS, announced the winners. After a week’s worth of deliberation, the judges awarded the top prize to The Stroopie Co. Make 717 took second prize, and Revolution secured the audience vote and donations, totaling $597.46, in addition to third prize.   

As the program came to a close, the celebration was only beginning! Audience members were invited to join ASSETS and the Lancaster County Community Foundation for the after party, hosted at the Parrot Gallery at Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster. Guests enjoyed light refreshments, conversation, and music, provided by Lancaster’s own one-man band, Nick DiSanto. All were invited to share their thoughts and hang them on the “clothes line” strung throughout the venue. While some shared their appreciation for decorations and atmosphere, the overwhelming majority spoke to the “amazing community that supports this kind of endeavor.”

With many, many thanks to all the community members, guests, and partners, ASSETS is proud to stand with Lancaster to build a better community through business. We’re looking forward to next year, and you can be sure the #LancasterPitch will be back–only next time, it’ll be bigger, better, and more impactful. We hope you’ll join us.

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IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Jessica King working to create opportunity

LNP features ASSETS Executive Director, Jessica King, in October 11th’s In The Spotlight. You can view the original post, including images, here.


Jessica King has spent her career helping others improve their lives.

As executive director of Assets Lancaster, she helps carry out its mission to create economic opportunity and cultivate entrepreneurial leadership to reduce poverty and build sustainable communities.

And she’s one of dozen people named to Lancaster Mayor Rick Gray’s Commission to Combat Poverty.

When the mayor announced he’d be forming the commission, King contacted him about her interest.

Coincidentally, she said, she and others had recently been thinking about what could be done about poverty. And that was before Franklin & Marshall College released a report in August suggesting economic strategies that boosted downtown may have caused decline throughout much of the rest of the city where mostly minorities live.

“I think there was a growing groundswell of organizations doing a more coordinated effort,” she said.

The problem of poverty is daunting, she acknowledged. But there’s also precedent for seeking other solutions, she said, such as work the Lancaster County Coalition to End Homelessness is doing.

Helping others is ingrained in her Mennonite upbringing.

“If you don’t do military service, you do civic service. It’s just part of the tradition,” she said.

Before joining Assets, King, who is from Lancaster County, had lived in Pittsburgh.

There, she worked with the Pittsburgh Urban Leadership Service Experience, the Thomas Merton Center, which works on peace and social justice issues, and helped found the Union Project, a $3 million project that turned an old abandoned church into a community space for entrepreneurs, artists and non-profits to work.

“We used to call it an urban barn-raising. We took our Mennonite roots and turned it into an urban experience,” she said.

Family: Husband Chad Martin and daughters Esmé, 10, and Eleni, 6, Martin.

Pets: Flopsy, an angora rabbit (he earns his keep, see hobbies.)

Hometown: Born and raised in Lancaster County, with a formative decade in Pittsburgh

Residence: Southeast Lancaster city.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in English/liberal arts from Eastern Mennonite University, MBA with a focus on environment, equity and economics from Bard College.

Words that describe me best: Entrepreneurial, persuasive, empathetic.

My first job was: Inventory and stocking shelves at my mom and step-father’s paint store.

Favorite thing about my job: Working with a team of fun, motivated and inspired people; supporting beautiful businesses and social enterprises that are improving lives and communities; walking to work. But overall the opportunity to implement innovative things to impact people’s lives and the community in positive ways.

The most challenging aspect of my job: Turning my thoughts to other things at the end of the day!

I work to fight poverty because: Everyone deserves opportunity. We have enough resources to do better. I also work to fight poverty because I recognize the privilege I’ve had as a white, educated person with access to significant social capital. I have to use that privilege for change in solidarity with those who haven’t had that privilege. Our lives, our communities and our collective well-being are completely tied together. I am not OK while half (or more) of my neighbors live below the poverty line. I firmly believe that economic opportunity is the root cause of so many of our social challenges: Crime, violence, food insecurity, health disparities, educational attainment and more. We can do better.

Someone I admire: My mom. She was widowed when I was a child and she held our lives together. This built a lasting respect for single parents and those who have survived deep loss.

Favorite music: High school drum lines and American roots music.

Favorite meal: B2 at Rice & Noodles.

The person I’d most like to have dinner with: My dad. He died when I was a child and I’d like to know him.

Always in my refrigerator: Kale, eggs.

Hobbies: Sewing, spinning yarn (including pet angora wool,) gardening.

The best gift I’ve ever received: My kids and unconditional love.

People would be surprised to know: I’m pretty shy and introverted.

My unfulfilled ambition: Living in a zero-energy house with a few acres to have sheep, goats and chickens and a huge garden.

My mom always told me: Be clear on your motivation and the way will become clear.

Pet peeve: People who talk too much.

My idea of exercise: Yoga or a long walk in Lancaster County Central Park.

I collect: Fabric for sewing and fiber for spinning. Always ideas for things to make but never enough time. Apparently this eventually turns into a collection!

The best advice I ever received: Be kind, because everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.

Great Social Enterprise Pitch: The Stroopie Co. takes top prize

To view the original post from LNP, including photos of this year’s Great Social Enterprise Pitch, click here

A less than cookie-cutter approach to making cookies wound up winning big Friday night in Lancaster.

The Stroopie Co., which makes traditional Dutch cookies with the help of refugees, took the top prize at the Great Social Enterprise Pitch.

“We are just so absolutely thrilled. All of the ideas were just so phenomenal and to be picked as first is really just big affirmation for our social enterprise idea,” said Jennie Groff, a co-owner of the business. “It feels absolutely amazing.”

For their win, Groff and her husband, Jonathan, earned themselves $5,000 plus in-kind products and services worth more than $25,000 meant to help jump-start The Stroopie Co.

The Groffs say they want to hire four more refugees as part of their planned growth which includes the opening of a shop in downtown Lancaster in the spring.

In its second year, The Great Social Enterprise Pitch is a project of the Lancaster County Community Foundation and Assets Lancaster meant to encourage such social enterprises — organizations that perform a social good while also making a profit.

This year’s Great Social Enterprise Pitch began in March with 12 entrepreneurs and then was whittled down to five finalists who competed Friday in a friendlier version of ABC’s “Shark Tank.”

The pitches took place before five judges and an audience of more than 300  at the city’s Fulton Elementary School. Each presenter had five minutes to present their idea.

Stroopies, by the way, are a traditional Dutch cookie made by pressing two  halves of a cinnamon waffle around a caramel filling. The idea is to put them on top of a cup of hot tea or coffee to bring out the caramel flavor.

After her pitch, Groff had volunteers pass out samples to everyone in the audience.

Besides The Stroopie Co., the other finalists included:

• Make 717. A community space for artisans, machinists, and designers that would include equipment and mentors. Presented by Ben Eisemann and Bruce C. Schreiner, Make 717 took second place, receiving $1,500 as well as in-kind services.

• Revolution. A company that trains homeless women to make handmade jewelry from donated leather straps. Presented by Sarah Rutt, Revolution placed third and got $1,000 as well as in-kind services.

Revolution also won the evening’s audience vote, receiving $597.84 donated by the crowd.

• Far Far Away Books. A mobile book-seller for low-income neighborhoods that would sell books from a book bike. Presented by Garret Drew Ellis.

• Life and Legacies. A video documentary company that helps people tell their life stories.  Presented by Meredith Jorgensen Cooke and Joe Mitton.

After all the pitches and while the judges deliberated, Gabriel Mandujano described how he started Wash Cycle Laundry as a way to meet a need while employing people who needed another chance.

The laundry service uses pedal-powered trikes to make pickups and deliveries of laundry. The business began in Philadelphia and now also operates in Washington D.C .and Austin, Texas.