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Social entrepreneurs focus of Forward Ventures

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Charles Thomas

Charles Thomas

Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Second Helping is a new venture that operates a food and coffee cart and employs women trying to get their feet on the ground after getting out of prison.

The venture was the idea of Melissa Mummert, a program coordinator at Changed Choices, a Charlotte nonprofit that works with women who have been incarcerated.

In developing her idea, which had the support of her nonprofit’s board, Mummert turned to Queen City Forward, a community-development organization that supports nonprofit and for-profit social entrepreneurs dedicated to achieving a social good.

Queen City Forward reviewed her plans and referred her to Social Venture Partners Charlotte.

Second Helping was a finalist in a funding competition sponsored by Social Venture Partners Charlotte.

Opening shop last October, Queen City Forward grew out of Bull City Forward, a similar effort formed in Durham in 2010.

Akin to a chamber of commerce for social entrepreneurs, Bull City Forward was created in response to efforts by Durham leaders to help foster nonprofit and for-profit social enterprise, and help it grow, says Christopher Gergen, the Durham group’s executive director and co-founder.

“We believe the social-enterprise sector is where our global economy is going,” he says. “Increasing numbers of organizations want to be doing well financially and doing good in terms of positive social impact in the world. And that’s where talent wants to work, where customers want to buy, and where ultimately investors want to invest.”

Bull City Forward now has roughly 160 members representing just over 80 nonprofits and businesses.

After San Francisco-based PlayWorks received a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to expand to nine new communities its program that places a full-time coach in elementary schools to work with kids on issues like team-building and problem-solving, for example, Bull City Forward worked in partnership with the Durham Public Schools to court it.

PlayWorks now operates in nine Durham elementary schools and occupies an office in Bull City Forward’s incubator space for social entrepreneurs in the Kress Building downtown.

Like the Durham group, Queen City Forward provides resources and connections designed to help its members grow, Gergen says.

Queen City Forward has raised a total of $90,000 in start-up capital from Foundation for the Carolinas, Duke Energy, Fifth Third Bank, and from individual donors.

It has assembled an interim board of civic and community leaders chaired by Mayor Anthony Foxx, and signed up its first three member organizations, including one that will occupy an office in incubator space the organization has leased in Packard Place, a 90,000-square-foot hub for entrepreneurs.

“We hope to build a community of social entrepreneurs who are focused on solving some of our most challenging community issues in a way that is self-sustaining for individual entrepreneurs and their businesses, whether for-profit or nonprofit,” says Charles Thomas, executive director of Queen City Forward and former director of education for The Light Factory Contemporary Museum of Photography and Film.

Gergen says Forward Ventures, the umbrella organization that operates the Durham and Charlotte groups, hopes to expand to other cities like Greensboro and Raleigh over the next two to three years.

Forward Ventures also is part of the Fourth Sector Cluster Initiative, a statewide network that has worked to spur other efforts such as an interagency task force created by Gov. Beverly Purdue.

“North Carolina has the opportunity to be a national leader,” Gergen says, “as a state that fully understands and embraces and supports what is being called the Fourth Sector.”

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