When a Nonprofit Embraces Risk
Risk. It’s not a commonly embraced faculty in the nonprofit world. Yet when Slavica Park, Director of Economic and Workforce Development at the nonprofit Focus Points, spearheaded integrating a social enterprise into the organization’s arsenal, risk was something she had to embrace.
Through taking calculated risks, she was able to get a food incubator off the ground in record time. Yes, as a nonprofit department director she launched a social enterprise in the restaurant industry, one of the most difficult spaces with the highest failure rate out there.
Yet that risk paid off. Not only is Comal Heritage Food Incubator thriving, they are looking at expanding their operating hours.
To be fair, Slavica didn’t go it alone. In addition to the support of her organization, she had to strike up an unusual partnership, one with the development and real estate company Zeppelin Development. Thinking big and defining the social impact piqued the developer’s interest, laying the groundwork for this partnership. Zeppelin Development welcomed Comal as a new tenant in their TAXI campus. When they signed on, they came in big. Zeppelin Development heavily invested into the project, completely updating the property and outfitting it with a new kitchen.
This incubator would have never gotten off the ground without that buy-in.
But in order to hook Zepplin Development, Comal had to start with a big vision.Slavica points out that if she hadn’t been thinking really big, emphasizing the larger social impact and potential of the project, she wouldn’t have been able to get the company to invest.
Today the Comal Heritage Food Incubator provides skills in culinary arts, business training, and leadership skills all while serving up delicious dishes to passionate patrons in the Globeville area of Denver.
Their menu reflects their drive to celebrate the traditions of their program attendees. They work primarily with individuals originating from Mexico and refugees resettled in the Denver area. Monday through Thursday they offer a stunning Mexican food selection, with Friday serving up a vibrant Syrian menu.
While I haven’t had the luxury of visiting on a Friday, I’ve indulged in their midweek menu. As a former San Diegan, I can easily vouch for the quality of their Mexican food.
Comal’s popularity is growing, which led to the food incubator to announce a new permeate pop up launching in new Whole Foods Market Union Station come this November.
To date, four of Comal’s graduates have secured a business license and are in the process of starting their own restaurant and catering business. Other graduates have been able to secure jobs in the vibrant restaurant scene locally. Did I mention that all the individuals going through the program earn money while they learn? This helps tremendously as many are the sole income providers for their family.
Needless to say, Slavica has been able to achieve Focus Point’s economic and workforce development goals through developing this vibrant social enterprise.
As for the relationship with Zeppelin Development, well they couldn’t be more thrilled. The developer continues to promote the restaurant as well as working to continue the conversation around measuring social impact within their industry. Additionally, Slavica is working with them on an exciting new project. As she points out, if she can prove this model in the restaurant business, everything else is easier in comparison.
Slavica and other entrepreneurial-minded nonprofit directors are blazing the trail for this hybrid model in the nonprofit world. Denver alone has a vibrant movement in the nonprofit world heading this way.
It’s true: this type of innovative approach doesn’t come without risk.
But when you look at how many individuals have thrived in this training program, graduating to rewarding careers and achieving economic independence for their family, the risk is completely worth the social impact.
If you have a nonprofit and are curious how to apply these same principals in your organization to deepen your impact and create a more reliable funding source, I would like to invite you to an introductory webinar in November titled, “How to Create New Funding for Your Nonprofit: 3 Case Studies from Innovative Organizations like Yours.”
I will be partnering with Drew Hackman of Startup Hacking Consulting to host this incredible workshop on both Tuesday, November 21st and 28th at 1pm MST. Together we will explore the different revenue-generating models organizations like yours are launching, how to vet different opportunities to reduce risk, breaking down pricing models that work, and marketing approaches to convert one time customers into lifelong advocates.
Our goal is to activate another giant wave of nonprofits embracing this model, increasing their revenue and deepening their impact.
Also, if you haven’t dined at Comal for lunch yet, you need to get over there asap. Check out their Facebook page to peruse through countless mouthwatering food photos…..