Increased scrutiny seen to benefit B Corps

Members of the coLAB team, from left Kate Gallagher, Courtney Rinden, Caitlyn Bordon and Bree Gillespie hosted a celebration Nov. 29 to commemorate the company’s certification as a B Corporation. Based at Lancaster coworking space the Candy Factory, coLAB is a consulting firm that helps nonprofits. – (Photo / Amy Spangler)

The owners of The Stroopie Co. didn’t need a label to let customers know they wanted to make more than profits and cookies. But they decided to pursue one anyway.

The business, which bakes and sells crispy Pennsylvania Dutch cinnamon cookies, was founded in 2008 with a mission of providing employment to refugee women. Jennie Groff and her husband, Jonathan, doubled down on that cause when they assumed ownership of the business in 2010, even taking the top prize in The Great Social Enterprise Pitch, a local competition for socially responsible businesses.

The Groffs decided to take the company’s mission one step further by becoming a certified Benefit Corporation. The certification, also known as B Corp certification, comes from B Lab, a Philadelphia-area nonprofit that combs through companies’ operations for evidence of socially and environmentally responsible business practices.

The Stroopie Co. is now one of 56 Pennsylvania businesses to boast B Corp certification. The Groffs see the recognition as a formalization of their for-profit company’s commitment to a cause.

The certification, though, exists outside of any legislative framework and carries no direct legal or financial benefits. And business owners that opt to pursue it have to pay fees based on the size of their company and, in many cases, commit dozens of hours to the application and documentation process. They must also adopt enough B Lab-approved procedures — like offering employees paid time off for volunteering or creating written policies for prioritizing local vendors — to receive the requisite 80 of 200 possible points on B Lab’s assessment.

The commitment needed to pass muster with B Lab — on top of the fact that certification carries no promise of financial benefits — might be why The Stroopie Co. is one of only four midstate businesses that can boast a B Lab seal of approval. Other companies have gained certification over the years but were not recertified, another level of scrutiny to which B Corps have to commit every several years.

The expense in time and resources has not dissuaded the Groffs. Nor has it dissuaded a growing number of other business owners, mostly in Lancaster County, from chasing the B Corp label. At least 70 businesses in and around Lancaster have taken an initial assessment this year, with hopes of either becoming fully certified or at least learning some good business practices from the process.

Many feel that adding an additional layer of scrutiny to their practices is simply the right thing to do.

“These businesses we have in our hands are incredible gifts to nurture and use well,” Jennie Groff said. “This is just one more way we can do that.”

Good for business?

Central Pennsylvania’s other three certified B Corps are consulting firms Work Wisdom LLC and coLab Inc., and painting contractor Two Dudes Painting Co. All four companies are based in Lancaster.

Leaders at these businesses said they, like Groff, felt that B Corp certification provided an extra layer of authenticity to social and environmental practices they already had in place.

Two Dudes is the oldest and largest of the midstate’s B Corps, with 53 employees and a history dating back to 1987. Company co-founder Peter Barber started pursuing the B Corp certification around early 2016 before receiving the official approval in September of that year.

The biggest hurdle in the certification proved not to be implementing major policy changes, but rather documenting informal practices and principles that already existed, Barber said. The company, for example, had a general preference for local vendors before starting the certification process, but had no written buy-local strategy. It also tried to save energy where it could, but had never formalized a framework for doing so.

“There’s nobody out there that’s going to tell you their business doesn’t care about the community, they don’t care about their workers. Everybody is going to talk the game that they’re doing that kind of stuff,” Barber said. “How do you create very definitive standards?”

Kate Gallagher, CEO of coLab, and Kedren Crosby, president of Work Wisdom, say they had similar experiences.

Both consulting firms were founded specifically for the purpose of creating positive social impact — coLab through consulting services for nonprofits, and Work Wisdom through consulting services for socially responsible organizations. But putting everything into writing, they said, took time.

Crosby estimates the process took her company about four months from start to finish before it received certification this past March. Gallagher’s firm, which was already legally structured as a benefit corporation at the state level, received its certification this November after several months of trying to find time for the process while juggling all of the other obligations that come with running a business.

That’s not to say they did not have to make any changes. Gallagher, for example, added a money-back guarantee into coLab’s contracts — a big step for a consulting firm that might devote months of services to a single client.

Gallagher, Crosby, Barber and Groff all say the process was worth the effort — and not just for the privilege of putting a B Corp certification logo on their websites.

While Two Dudes cannot attribute any increase in business directly to its B Corp certification, Barber said, the process of taking B Lab’s assessments and learning how to formalize certain business practices likely made the company more efficient.

“Has it gotten us more work? I don’t know,” Barber said. “Has it made us more profitable? It may have.”

B Corp certification also adds a layer of formality to a company’s business practice if it ever needs to bring on new investors or sell to a new owner, Groff said.

On top of that advantage, the label has given Stroopie an avenue through which to share its story with other companies looking to make a positive impact in their communities.

“I kind of have a family of other businesses that are working toward similar things,” Groff said.

Lancaster leads the way

All four of the midstate’s B Corps call Lancaster County home. The Lancaster area, in fact, ranks second in the state for total number of B Corps. Only Philadelphia — which hosts 25 — has more.

The nonprofit ASSETS sits at the hub of much of the county’s B Corp buzz. The Lancaster-based organization, which offers business development programs focused on addressing social disparities, has been educating the businesses with which it works about the certification, encouraging them to at least go through B Lab’s initial impact assessment.

The free assessment is catered to businesses based on factors like size and industry and generally takes between one and three hours to complete, according to B Lab. It gives companies a framework through which they can start thinking about ways to improve their social and environmental impact — even if full certification is not in the cards.

The assessment is also a key tenet of B Lab’s Measure What Matters program, which provides guidelines for organizations like ASSETS that want to help businesses find quantifiable, concrete ways to increase their positive social and environmental impact while increasing profits.

ASSETS hopes to see 10 percent of Lancaster County’s 12,000 to 15,000 businesses take the assessment in the next three to five years, said Craig Dalen, a former B Lab employee who now serves as ASSETS’ director of impact business strategy.

Dalen also hopes to see between 120 and 150 businesses go on to gain full B Corp certification.

It is a lofty goal, but one Dalen feels confident Lancaster County’s businesses will meet. The county already has a strong record of corporate responsibility, he said, as evidenced by companies’ contributions to events like The Extraordinary Give, a countywide effort that raised more than $8 million for local charities in November.

Dalen knows the full certification process can feel daunting, both to small business with few resources to spare and large companies with complicated procedures that might take significant time to change. But he feels confident businesses will rise to the challenge — for the sake of both their communities and their own bottom lines.

B Corp versus benefit corporation

Not all B Lab-certified B Corps are legally structured as benefit corporations, and not all benefit corporations are B Lab-certified B Corps.

Business owners can structure their companies as benefit corporations or benefit LLCs under Pennsylvania law, in much the same way that they can choose to be S corps, C corps, sole proprietorships or any other kind of business.

Legally defined benefit corporations must submit annual reports to shareholders outlining the ways in which they contributed to the public good. These reports are also shared with the state, making them a matter of public record.

The benefit corporation structure is available only at the state level, and only in certain states. Companies registered as benefit corporations in their home states have to register under different business structures — like LLCs or C corps — at the federal level.

B Lab’s B Corp certification, on the other hand, is a label that has no ties to a business’s legal structure. It is similar to the LEED certification for environmentally friendly buildings in that it is connected not to legal requirements but rather the standards of a non-governmental nonprofit.

B Lab strongly encourages its certified B Corps that are not structured as benefit corporations to pursue becoming one in states that offer the option to do so.

Lancaster B Corps

The Stroopie Co.
Description: Cookie maker with an emphasis on hiring refugees
Number of employees: Seven
Founded: 2008
B Lab-certified: May 2016

Two Dudes Painting Co.
Description: Commercial and residential painting company
Number of employees: 53
Founded: 1987
B Lab-certified: September 2016

Work Wisdom LLC
Description: Consulting firm with a focus on workplace culture
Number of employees: Zero (Six consultants provide services as independent contractors)
Founded: 2015
B Lab-certified: March 2017

coLab Inc.
Description: Consulting firm with a focus on nonprofits
Number of employees: Four
Founded: 2014
B Lab-certified: November 2017

For more information

Business owners can take B Lab’s free impact assessment test at bimpactassessment.net/assets. Creating an account on the site will also put the test taker in touch with ASSETS, which can answer further questions.

ASSETS is also hosting a series of seminars over the next several months focused on socially responsible business practices. More information is available at assetspa.org.

ASSETS works primarily with companies in Lancaster County but is also able to provide guidance and resources to businesses in other parts of the midstate.

Together, we can build an economy that works

Picture a group of 10 Lancaster entrepreneurs starting or growing their businesses. They are a more diverse group than you often see in Lancaster—4 are African American, 3 are white, 2 are Latino and 1 is African. They all have one thing in common: They are entrepreneurs with a dream of improving their lives by starting a business of their own.

You know how risky starting a business can be. Imagine, then, the risk involved in not only being responsible for a loan of your own, but also guaranteeing the loans of 9 other individuals. But that’s what they did. Through ASSETS’ Lending Circle program, entrepreneurs support each other for a full year of business growth. They commit to each other’s success. They improve their credit and access traditional capital. They formalize their businesses and increase their income. They increase the diversity of Lancaster’s economy. And they do it together.

This is the power of ASSETS, which you help to make possible with your financial support.

With your help, ASSETS supports businesses and helps to create thriving wage jobs. Through your generous support, ASSETS helps local businesses be a driving force for good. And it is not just the Lending Circles that are working.

We are:

  • Training social enterprises through the Great Social Enterprise Pitch to hire refugees and people with barriers to employment.
  • Helping women start and grow businesses through the ASSETS Women’s Business Center to achieve parity in business-ownership.
  • Working with existing for-profit companies to Measure What Matters – to consider their social and environmental impact in the community in new ways—through restructuring businesses to offer employee ownership, diversifying leadership and management structures, adding more local women-owned or people-of-color owned businesses to their supply chains, and becoming certified B Corps.

The BBC has called Lancaster “America’s Refugee Capital.” If we can resettle 20x more refugees than any other place in the country, we believe that we can build an economy with the highest rates of women- and people-of-color-owned businesses and the most B Corps per capita. Will you help us work toward this vision?

Together, we can build an economy that works.

Your donation will help us meet our $40,000 fiscal year-end goal and continue to build an economy that works for all. You can give on-line today!

Meet the 2017 Great Social Enterprise Pitch Participants!

Congratulations to the eleven social enterprise idea teams that will move forward as part of the 2017 Great Social Enterprise Pitch!

These teams were selected by organizers from a pool of 36 applicants to participate in the free Idea Incubators involving a robust four-month learning program designed to develop the proposed social enterprise ideas. Applicant ideas were evaluated based on the clarity of problem the enterprise addresses, the enterprise’s proposed impact on that problem, the demand for the proposed products or services, the potential for profitability, and the leadership of the enterprise and its capacity to scale to address the problem. Preference was given to ideas that develop or support thriving wage jobs for people with barriers to employment.

Check out the 2017 Ideas:

Fellow Foodies
Healthy, locally-sourced, prepared meals delivered to busy families and produced by employees who previously struggled to find a good job with good wages.

Fruition Collective
An event space in downtown Lancaster for underrepresented artists and entrepreneurs.

Green Matters Natural Dye Company
Bringing pollution-free color to the textile industry.

Languages Beyond Borders
Supplying the Lancaster community and neighboring communities with trained, professional interpreters hired from the local refugee population.

Meraki Mocha
Empowering individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities through a farm-to-table café.

Mind, Body, Battle Incubator
Empowering the mind, fueling the body, and using athletics to strengthen the community.

Mundo
An innovative cleaning service using environmentally-friendly products and ensuring a living wage for cleaners.

Nepali Spice Company
Customized Asian spice blends for restaurant, manufactured by Nepali refugee women.

Popped Culture
A gourmet popcorn company that connects youth with jobs, mentor-ship, and entrepreneurship training.

The Townie
A publication featuring local artists and writers who represent the entire community.

Unbanned
A restaurant serving food from countries that have recently been banned from entry into the United States and staffed by refugees.

The 11 teams will attend a four-month series of learning sessions led by ASSETS focused on feasibility and business planning. In September, they will each launch a crowdfunding campaign to generate awareness and dollars in support of their concept. Five concepts from the Idea Incubators will then be invited to pitch their ideas to a live audience for over $50,000 in cash prizes and pro-bono services at the LIVE Pitch.

We’re so excited to see these ideas grow, evolve, and blossom! Keep checking back for more information as we progress through the 2017 Great Social Enterprise Pitch! Also, follow us on social media to stay in the loop during the Incubator phase of the competition. Search #InsideTheIncubator on Facebook and Instagram to follow along the journey!

Nimble Thimble gets NuLife: Downtown sewing shop opens door to a program for at-risk women

ASSETS client and participant in the 2015 Great Social Enterprise Pitch, NuLife, is making news!


Schirlyn Kamara, left, runs a nonprofit called NuLife that makes and sells recycled fabric products. They are going to take over most of the space occupied by Nimble Thimble, owned by Mort and Ruth Nierenberg, both pictured, and are receiving help from Millersville University students who are remodeling and repurposing the space for a service learning class at MU on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017. SUZETTE WENGER | LNP Staff Photographer

A couple of months ago, Schirlyn Kamara stopped by the Nimble Thimble sewing shop in downtown Lancaster.

She runs NuLife, a social enterprise that teaches at-risk women to sew. They make items from recycled fabric — clothing, accessories and household goods — to sell online.

Kamara thought Nimble Thimble might have some leftover fabric or other supplies to donate. While there, she got to talking with Mort Nierenberg, who runs the shop at Central Market Mall with his wife, Ruth. The couple are in their late 80s.

“He jangled his keys at me … and said, ‘I think I’ve been waiting for you,’ ” Kamara recalled.

Sometime this spring, Kamara plans to move NuLife into Nimble Thimble’s location on the lower level of the mall at 45 N. Queen St.

The details are still being worked out, but NuLife is planning to have classroom and retail space there. Nierenberg, an expert sewing machine repairman, plans to continue doing repair work there while passing on his skills to a new generation.

He said the prospect of handing off the shop space to NuLife makes him “joyous.”

The Nierenbergs have owned and operated Nimble Thimble for about a half-century. They moved it into the mall when they bought the building in 1978, according to newspaper records. They subsequently sold the property, but remained as tenants.

“It’s a huge project,” said Howard Jones, a board member of Handz on Hope, the nonprofit organized by Kamara that is NuLife’s parent organization.

MU assisting

Ruth Nierenberg, seated, who owned Nimble Thimble for over forty years, watches as Millersville University students Juan Martinez and Courtney Lynn help to remodel/repurpose the store for a service learning class.
SUZETTE WENGER | LNP Staff Photographer

Kamara has plenty of help, thanks to two Millersville University professors and their students.

About 25 undergraduates in professor Minoo Ghoreishi’s service learning seminar have been visiting Nimble Thimble weekly this semester to take inventory and clean out decades of clutter.

Later on, the students will design and set up displays, create signage and complete other tasks. Last semester, they taught basic business classes to NuLife clients, and that will continue, Ghoreishi said.

Meanwhile, more than 65 students in classes taught by professor Lexi Hutto have been creating brochures, videos and a social media campaign for NuLife.

Future projects include a marketing plan, merchandising and fundraising. Hutto said she is seeking donations of displays and other supplies.

The two professors’ classes are independent of each other, though some students have been in both, including senior Juan Martinez.

The seminar, he said, “teaches us to teach other people,” as well as to identify community needs and take action.

“A lot of people who go to Millersville (University) plan on owning their own business,” senior Courtney Lynn said. The seminar gives students a realistic feel for what’s involved, she said, likening it to an apprenticeship.

Senior seminars are required in a number of MU majors; service learning is one of the options for business majors.

“We want students to be community oriented,” Ghoreishi said. “We really emphasize the ethical angle.”

Helping nonprofits

Adam Good hands off a sewing book to Jordan Johnson, both Millersville University students who are helping to remodel/repurpose the Nimble Thimble for a service learning class.
SUZETTE WENGNER | LNP Staff Photographer

Each year, participants enter a national competition sponsored by Enactus, a nonprofit devoted to using entrepreneurship to promote social welfare. MU has won the regional championship five times since 1998, Ghoreishi said.

Hutto and Ghoreishi have worked with other nonprofits. Students get hands-on experience, and cash-strapped organizations get assistance they could not otherwise obtain.

When students work for a real-life client, “I think they take it more seriously,” Hutto said. “It takes a lot more effort, but I think the rewards are worth it.”

Kamara said it’s been her dream to have a shop to sell NuLife goods.

Besides a retail area in the front room, there’s a workshop, a storage room, a back room where the classroom will be, and even a small kitchen: about 4,000 square feet in all.

A 2015 participant in the Great Social Enterprise Pitch, a project of ASSETS and the Lancaster County Community Foundation, Kamara has received donations through crowdfunding and from the foundation, and is seeking additional support.

“We’ve got a lot to do,” she said.

Sweet Jobs Give Immigrants New Opportunities

ASSETS client and participant in the 2015 Great Social Enterprise Pitch, The Stroopie Co., is making news!


The Stroopie Co. in Pennsylvania Employs Refugees to Make Unique Cookies

If you’ve ever heard of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, you’re probably aware that it’s home to one of the biggest populations of Anabaptist religious sects, such as the Amish and Mennonites, in the United States. You may not know that it sits near the heart of Pennsylvania’s enormous sweets industry, just next door to the candy-making mecca of Hershey; and that the county accepts hundreds of refugee immigrants every year.

The Stroopie Co., a small Lancaster company that manufactures Dutch-style cookies, has a mission to hire and train refugee women as its workforce. The company’s hiring practices reflect its community’s history and spirit.

“We were looking for a really practical way to love our neighbor well,” says Jennie Groff, who co-owns “Stroopie” with her husband, Jonathan. She worships in an Anabaptist church that focuses on supporting refugees. “The company fits my roots,” she says.

Stroopie’s was started in 2008 by Ed McManness and Dan Perryman, who remain part-owners. The goal was always to provide “meaningful employment” to local refugees; McManness’s family had enjoyed Dutch “stroopwafels” — a cinnamon cookie made in a waffle iron with a layer of caramel inside. The circular cookies rest perfectly on the lip of a mug of steaming hot tea or coffee, which softens the caramel filling. The Stroopie Co. makes one version half-dipped in chocolate.

“They’re hard to find in the States. It gave us something we could market,” Jennie Groff says. “We knew if we were going to establish a social enterprise, we needed to provide a great product.”

The Groffs joined the enterprise in 2010, bringing with them Jonathan Groff’s lifetime of experience in his family’s candy-making business.

Today, Stroopie’s employs six refugee women — three from Myanmar and three from Syria. Another employee manages the staff and acts as an ESL teacher. Employees typically stay a year or two before moving on, Groff says.

“The refugee women we’re hiring, they’re super-motivated, thankful, great workers. Just a huge, huge asset to our company. I just can’t imagine taking our family and having to start over in a new place. We view it as a deepest privilege to provide a job with dignity.”

Mary Myint, an “expert Stroopmaker,” offers her testimonial on the Stroopies website: “I like my job because my schedule is nice for my children. When we lived in Myanmar and Malaysia, we were scared of the police. In the USA all the people are equal, so my family loves the USA.”

Workers start out making $11 an hour, Groff says, then move up to $12 an hour after training. The owners want to eventually pay a wage of $15 an hour, and perhaps even start giving the women part ownership of the company.

Getting to that point, however, requires that Stroopie’s take a big next step.

Filling Out the Mission

“We need to make a profit in a more sustainable way before we can consider granting ownership shares,” Groff says. “We are holding our own, we’ve been breaking even. … For a small company, that’s something to celebrate.”

In 2015 Stroopie’s won “The Great Social Enterprise Pitch,” a local competition meant to encourage businesses that “perform a social good while also making a profit.” The prize: In-kind products and services worth more than $25,000, meant to help the company grow. Stroopie’s used its winnings — along with money raised from Indiegogo as part of the competition — to open a retail storefront in Lancaster, where the cookies are made and sold directly to the public.

“The biggest thing — it gave us a platform to tell our story,” Groff says of the competition. “The community really rallied behind us.”

The company also distributes its product in nearly 70 stores across the United States and is pitching bigger retailers.

“We feel like we’re poised and ready to grow,” Groff says. “We’re still relatively small, but every year we gain momentum and get our story out there.”

Groff says she is confident the company will continue to grow, increasing profits and employing more refugees.

“Both have to be equally strong — you have to have passion for both things — or it’s not going to be sustainable, it’s not going to work,” Groff says.

Meredith Jorgensen: From Journalist to Entrepreneur

Meredith has, by many journalists standards, had a successful career. After attending Ithaca College, Meredith would land a job with WGAL News 8 in 2003 and has been there ever since. The creation of Life & Legacies, one of her proudest accomplishments, would emerge from one of the most tragic events in her life. The news that her Grandfather and Grandmother were both diagnosed with two different kinds of lung cancer rocked the family.

Meredith, along with her father, raced to Florida with a camera and she asked every question she could think of. “I was afraid that they were going to die and I wasn’t going to know everything I wanted to know.” For two hours, Meredith would learn about her grandparents lives and would have their stories forever. Four months later, her grandmother passed away.

Relieved that she could save their story, Meredith began forming an idea with her good friend Joe Mitton, a cameraman at WGAL. Meredith and Joe wanted to create a business centered around recording the stories of others, helping  their customers create a legacy for friends and family. For seven years, their dream would be just that, a dream. It may have continued to be a dream if Meredith had not learned about the Great Social Enterprise Pitch from WGAL.

Realizing that she and Joe had a great idea for the Pitch, they attended one of the Learning Circles in preparation. Meredith says it was perfect for them. While they had the skills and ability to create their product, Meredith and Joe learned the details of how to run a business through the Learning Circles and the Pitch. “ASSETS was so great about the real nitty-gritty of being a business owner. What is your financial model, how can you make this a viable business? We were able to figure out all of this stuff out at the meetings for the Pitch.”

With a real business plan in place, they were blown away by the support shown by the community when the Pitch began the crowdfunding phase. While Meredith and Joe set the bar at 1,000 dollars, community members in Lancaster donated over 5,000 dollars.

With this money and their own capital, Meredith and Joe opened the doors to Life & Legacies in November 2015. “In seven years, we had done nothing with a great idea. In six months, we took that idea and went from 0 to 60 and finished the Pitch with a fully-formed business.” While running a business is challenging, Life & Legacies is growing faster than they had ever expected. Meredith knew that the business would take a great deal of work to maintain, but she didn’t realize how much it really took until the business was actually started. However, Meredith has loved the challenge and her passion for hearing more stories is what keeps her going. “I just want to interview more people, there’s more stories to tell! The greatest part of my business, is I get to hear all the stories.

Meredith takes great pride in creating the business. “I am a cancer survivor, a wife, a television journalist. And still, opening this business is one of my greatest accomplishments.” For anyone who has a dream or idea, she says “it is very scary, you have to push past the fear, have faith, and be as prepared as possible.” In the end, however, you’re going to have to make a leap of faith.

Eastern Mennonite University Alumni Help Build ASSETS

Jessica King ’96, executive director of ASSETS, visits with The Stroopie Company owner Jennie Groff (right, facing) and two employees, both refugees. (Photo by Jon Styer)

WITH HOLIDAY DEMAND ON THE UPSWING, The Stroopie Company went to two shifts in early November, allowing them to churn out up to 6,000 Dutch stroopwafels (cinnamon-y, carmel-y goodies best enjoyed with a hot beverage) a week. All six workers running the show at the company’s small production facility in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, are refugees: three from Burma and three from Syria. Once a day, they sit down with the store manager, who is also a certified ESL teacher, for a half-hour English lesson.

As a certified B Corporation, The Stroopie Company measures its success by social and environmental standards in addition to the profit column – hence the language classes and $11-an-hour starting wage offered to refugees otherwise facing limited employment prospects. Alone, however, these commitments don’t solve the challenges of solvency and profitability facing any small business. To help meet them, The Stroopie Company has turned to ASSETS, a nonprofit that has worked to create economic opportunity and reduce poverty in and around Lancaster for more than 20 years.

One of the organization’s new programs, says executive director Jessica King ’96, is called the Great Social Enterprise Pitch, which offers a series of business-planning workshops to 10 entrepreneurs who prioritize social and environmental well-being. After the workshops, five participants pitch their ideas to a panel of judges and compete for more than $50,000 in cash and services.

King with Director of Development Tina Campbell ’99 (left) and Finance Director Rosanne Jantzi ’89. (Photo by Tyler Naples)

“It gave us the confidence that we had a great idea going,” says Jennie Groff, one of the company’s owners. “We really feel like we’re poised to grow.”In 2015, The Stroopie Company won the competition, coming away with donated legal services, a free photo session for a new product catalog, and cash that it invested in new equipment.

Lancaster is a welcoming and generous community that resettles more refugees and gives, on average, more to charity than anywhere else in Pennsylvania. By integrating this philanthropic impulse into a workable business model, King says, “impact businesses” like The Stroopie Company are able to fund their own pursuit of a greater good.

“[The Stroopie Company] is a means to an end. The end is about helping their neighbors have better lives,” she says. “There are a lot of ways you can do that. Making cookies is their way of doing that.

“It’s amazing to see the kind of impact that [employers] can have on the lives of people around them, their neighbors and their employees, regardless of what their business is. It’s the spirit of ‘how’ they do it,” King continued. “It might not be all that bright and shiny, but it really matters to people. That’s what really gets me excited.”

Through its various programs, ASSETS provides training and lending to entrepreneurs from underrepresented groups as well as the impact businesses committed to social and environmental goals. During the most recent fiscal year, it supported the creation of 40 new businesses and more than 70 jobs, provided loans or long-term training to more than 150 entrepreneurs, and involved nearly 1,500 businesspeople and community members in other programs and events.

“We believe in the power of business to transform our communities for good,” says Tina Campbell ’99, director of development. “But we are also convinced that it must be equitable transformation – that all races, ethnicities and cultures must be included for true economic development to happen in our own communities.”

According to board member Kevin Ressler ’07, an important part of this vision has been ASSETS’ expanding focus over the past several years to supporting impact businesses in addition to entrepreneurs from underrepresented groups.

“This work breaks down the barriers of ‘us’ and ‘them’ and begins to see that ‘we’ is our only hope moving forward to maintain a country full of communities that don’t just co-exist but co-create and thrive together.”

Since 2008, The Stroopie Company has employed 16 refugee women in its kitchen. Many have used it as both a landing and a launching pad, a welcoming place to build experience and improve their English before moving on to other things. Recently, when a TV news crew stopped by for an interview with one of the Syrian workers, Groff called in an employee who’d just left to provide some translation help. Watching from the sidelines, Groff was struck by the poise and fluency the former employee had developed, at least in part, right there in the stroopwafel kitchen.

“She came here hardly wanting to say anything. To be able to see how she’s leaving us – it just was hugely encouraging,” says Groff. “That is totally what motivates my husband and me. It is just so rewarding to see our refugee employees come in and gain confidence. You can just almost see it happening before your very eyes.”

Top 10 Milestones at ASSETS in 2016

First of all, THANK YOU to everyone who made 2016 a great year for ASSETS. We couldn’t have done this without you. We’d like you to help us celebrate some of our highlighted moments of 2016:

  1. We opened the Women’s Business Center and hired Melisa Baez as the first director of the Center! The Women’s Business Center at ASSETS is developed in partnership with the Small Business Administration to assist small business owners who are starting or expanding their small business.
  2. Two clients became certified B CorpsThe Lancaster Stroopies Company and Two Dudes Painting. B Corps certification is geared towards for-profit companies to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.
  3. ASSETS became a certified SBA Microlender.
  4. We hosted two Cultivate Lancaster events, with a total of over 300 people in attendance.
  5. For our third annual Great Social Enterprise Pitch, we sold out the entire Ware Center!
  6. We launched the ASSETS Business Directory features the businesses of our wonderful clients.
  7. ASSETS is honored to have won the Samaritan Counseling Center Business in Ethics Awards.
  8. Our Director of Programs, Jonathan Coleman, received the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce Young Professional’s Network (YPN) Innovation Award.
  9. Our Director of The Women’s Business Center, Melisa Baez, received MEDA’s “Ten Young Women Changing the World” award.
  10. And….. ASSETS helped over 40 businesses launch!!

Thank you so much to everyone. W wish you a wonderful and prosperous 2017!

 

 

Organization offers weightlifting, fitness as outlet for at-risk youth

ASSETS client and participant in the third annual Great Social Enterprise Pitch, Will Kiefer of the Bench Mark Program, is making news!


Will Kiefer, left, coaches a program student, Dom, on Olympic-style lifting. – (Photo / Scott Kingsley Photography)

When Will Kiefer took a study abroad trip to South America as a pre-med student at Franklin & Marshall College, he had no inkling that the trip would lead him to the unique idea to start his own business.

January marks the three-year anniversary for the Bench Mark Program, one of the more selfless and significant small businesses in the region. Kiefer and his staff provide long-lasting, positive support to at-risk youth who wouldn’t receive that support from anyone else.

Bench Mark uses a unique approach to provide an outlet for physical fitness, academic counseling and career coaching. Students received guidance for as long as is needed with the ultimate outcome being academic success, employment and mentorship opportunities.

“When I was in South America, I did research on the communities that I was involved with,” Kiefer said. “When I came back to Lancaster, I was looking for the community connection. I realized that I didn’t really know Lancaster at all. I started asking myself, what do I have to offer other people? I enjoy weightlifting and fitness.

“I asked some professors for their thoughts on what I could do,” Kiefer continued. “I thought that I could have a positive impact on high school students who had low self-esteem.”

A few connections later, Kiefer found himself working with at-risk youth and youth who had been incarcerated. That was the start of the Bench Mark Program. Rather than relying upon traditional therapy methods that have been used and reused over and over again, Bench Mark focuses its program around weightlifting and fitness as the bond to overcome adversity, and it creates a safe and positive environment that doesn’t exist on the streets.

Despite the program’s growing reputation, what Kiefer and his team do isn’t something that comes naturally, and it also isn’t easy to make connections with these kids.

“On the back of my business card it says two things: ‘Be who you are’ and ‘Figure out who you want to become.’ ” Kiefer said. “That philosophy has allowed us to build a connection that allows the young people to ask for help. They come in with low expectations — it’s just another program, it’s just another white guy who has the solution to all my problems.

“I allow them to explore the space, listen to music and they can work out if they want to, or not,” Kiefer went on. “I give them days, sometimes weeks, before I even ask them about what’s going on at home or if I can help them. Then we go through this period of confusion — What’s this guy trying to do? Is there a fee? Is there some work I have to do here? After that phase passes, then they let me in a little bit. They are refreshed when they come here and figure out that we don’t have an agenda.”

Many of the cases that are referred to Bench Mark are kids involved with selling drugs. Kiefer and his team know that being involved in the illegal drug trade is easy, and it’s lucrative for these kids. If Bench Mark doesn’t provide them with a viable alternative, those youth will not give Kiefer and his team the time of day. That’s why they move quickly to find jobs for these kids that keep them busy, safe and making money, so there is no reason to go back to selling drugs.

One of the most challenging aspects of Kiefer’s work is when he wears his hat as development director. As a nonprofit organization, Bench Mark essentially survived the first two years strictly off of private donations. Board members kicked in substantial funds, and then some corporate donors came on board. In year three, Kiefer now has all of the paperwork and documentation required to go back to foundations and other entities in order to create the funding that would make Bench Mark a sustainable business model — a model that Kiefer hopes to export to other communities.

He is working with the School District of Lancaster and the Lancaster Office of Juvenile Probation, and his vision has him expanding next to Columbia, and then to York County.

“I was ready to pull the plug on this so many times,” Kiefer added. “A year and a half later, the kids are saying, ‘this has changed my life’ and ‘you are the dads that I didn’t have.’ We really hope this can be a sustainable program, and we are closer to that happening than ever before.”

 

Q&A: Luis Miranda is bringing fitness to southeast Lancaster

ASSETS client and participant in the third annual Great Social Enterprise Pitch, Luis Miranda of BootCamp900, is making news!


Luis A. Miranda Jr. talks about the BootCamp900 inside San Juan Bautista Center. (Blaine Shahan, LNP Staff Photographer)

If money was his only goal, Luis A. Miranda Jr. said, he wouldn’t have chosen southeast Lancaster city as the starting place for the fitness program he calls BootCamp900.

But the 31-year-old, who was born and raised here, saw a need and felt called to address it. Since 2012, the part-time business gained momentum.

This spring, at the urging of Fran Rodriguez — whose Latino Empowerment Project he graduated from — Miranda entered Lancaster’s third annual Great Social Enterprise Pitch and won second place.

He still has a day job at Community Action Partnership of Lancaster County, but hopes to expand BootCamp900 and hire its first employee in 2017.

How much did you win through the pitch?

I won $5,000 cash, was chosen as “crowd favorite,” and received $6,775 in pro-bono services (such as marketing and branding packages, legal services and accounting help). Also, during the crowdfunding phase of the pitch, I was able to raise over $6,000 from the Lancaster community.

Even more important, through this experience, the exposure I received and my growth as a person and a businessman, were huge. I do not think there can be a dollar figure attached to that!

What’s the most important thing you learned through the pitch program?

I learned that as a society we value profitability above everything else, but many times the biggest reward is serving others with our gifts and services, and profits simply follow. Socially responsible businesses flourish now more than ever as we seek greater meaning of life and our impact in a world that means more than money.

What does the name BootCamp900 mean?

BootCamp comes from the intensity of the training, very similar to a bootcamp. The 900 comes from the fact that if done correctly, the movements and intense training will help participants burn up to 900 calories within the hour.

Your pitch noted that you were in prison as a teen. Was it hard deciding whether to mention that?

The hardest part was determining whether that was going to create a stigma in the mind of the audience, wondering if people would automatically reject me and the venture.

That was an experience in my life that I cannot take back, and that I have learned from and have grown from tremendously.

I decided that regardless of how people reacted, I would prefer to be honest and live in the truth of who I am based on my experiences and life journey.

I would not let that experience define me any longer, but I will let it help others, therefore I had to mention it.

How did the pitch change your BootCamp900 strategy?

My original strategy was to focus on creating affordable access to health and wellness in the Southeast side of Lancaster City. I also hoped to help the youth that found themselves in the same position I found myself at the age of 17 by providing them a safe haven to learn life’s critical skills through a health and wellness platform.

As part of the pitch process, and the individuals that helped make this program successful, I was exposed to more opportunities for BootCamp900 to be an even greater social venture. I learned that you cannot do everything, but what you do choose to do, you must do well and with purpose.

My strategy grew from not just providing opportunities to one vulnerable population — youth — but now expanding the opportunity to previously incarcerated individuals.

What did you do before starting BootCamp900?

I worked at several jobs including a foundry, warehouses, etc. But I knew where my passion was all along, and that was health and wellness.

What’s the hardest decision you’ve faced with starting BootCamp900?

As an entrepreneur, the hardest thing is to believe in yourself when no one believes in you or your idea. That is the hardest decision; will I give this up now or push through this tough time?