Simon Veasey, iSE’s director of business development, has just returned from a holiday in Orlando, Florida. But it wasn’t all Mickey Mouse and Disney — he also made time to visit some of the city’s social enterprises. He has been kind enough to write the guest blog below for us.
I just got back from leave in Orlando, where I met some interesting social enterprises.
Orlando is a modern, pristinely clean city, with a tropical climate that makes it the go-to holiday and retirement destination for millions across the world every year. But what many people don’t know is that away from Disney and Universal, Orlando is also a thriving hub for social enterprise — #whoknew!
I was intrigued to find out more.
I hooked up with Ben Hoyer and Kyle Steele, two of Orlando’s leading social entrepreneurs at Down Town Credo, a social enterprise coffee shop, co-working space and barbecue in the heart of Orlando’s attractive business quarter.
Down Town Credo nestles naturally in amongst the high rise and perfectly manicured landscaping. Indeed, there is little that signals its social intentions until you pick a coffee or a sandwich from their varied menu and realise that each item only has a “suggested” price. You can pay what you like or what you can afford — and any additional payment goes back to supporting Down Town Credo’s providers and international coffee growers. It’s a concept that seems to work well judging by positive online reviewers.
Sitting down with Ben and Kyle I naively ask about “social issues” in Orlando. To the visitor there doesn’t appear to be any at all! The reality is very different, as the pair explained. Orlando is in the top ten human trafficking locations in the world, the thriving tourism economy is driven on low wages and the popularity of the area has raised property prices to a level that are unaffordable for many of the workers in the industry. Over 1,000 individuals a day move into central Florida and many of these people are competing for a dwindling supply of affordable accommodation. Working poverty is very high.
‘Doing’ social enterprise in the US is certainly different. For instance, America doesn’t have a specific social enterprise legal structure. The only broadly appropriate legal form is that of “Benefit Corporations” which has no real legal standing.
Rally is Orlando’s social enterprise incubator and brings together budding social entrepreneurs and commercial organisations with a social conscious in a package very similar to iSE’s FUSE programme back here in Birmingham. However, the Rally model provides participants with the opportunity to pitch for a $25,000 grant while the commercial organisations are introduced to investors.
Ben holds a growing list of high net worth individuals who have a desire to invest both time and money in start-up organisations that have a social mission. Mentors approach the incubator to “give something back” by supporting the start-ups and donate or invest as required which helps to fund the training and development programmes. It is a very different culture to this side of the Atlantic.
The lack of an asset lock encourages investment by individuals and corporations especially when those donations and investments are backed up by significant tax benefits — but both Ben and Kyle concede that without the safeguards of a legal structure it can be harder to differentiate between a social enterprise and a corporate and I was left with the impression that they would welcome a stronger legal definition as this would strengthen their marketing message to customers.
All in all a fascinating couple of hours seeing an area of Orlando I wouldn’t normally visit on vacation, and enjoying good coffee with like-minded individuals.
If your family holiday takes you to Orlando, make a bit of a detour and visit Down Town Credo. You’ll be impressed.
Simon Veasey, iSE