In the past decade, entrepreneurs have shown an interest in creating both innovative businesses and a social impact. The entrepreneurial spirit has collided with a social consciousness to create a hybrid sector of startups called social enterprises, which are “for-profit or nonprofit ventures that benefit a charitable, human or environmental cause.” Among them is Salemtown Board Co., a skateboard shop in North Nashville that is “striving to do our part in changing our city by creating jobs for young men who need them here in Salemtown.”
Social entrepreneur and founder of Salemtown Board Co. Will Anderson found a need right in his own neighborhood of Salemtown: Like Germantown—its better-known sister neighborhood—Salemtown has experienced the devastating consequences of segregation and gentrification. Anderson explains that Salemtown Board Co. strives to “honor and respect the community members, and promote dignity where gentrification dishonors and robs.”
After looking around his community and asking, “What does Salemtown need?” Anderson saw a need for employment. Anderson believes that the young men in his community have a good sense of pride in themselves, but often don’t have the opportunity to engage with the professional world and are intimidated by it as a result. “An economic gap is a cultural gap,” explains Anderson. Salemtown Board Co. has set out to bridge that gap by providing training, jobs and professional mentorship to equip men with tools to navigate the professional world.
Serving social causes with an entrepreneurial mindset can be effective in solving problems of resources, operational costs and systematic inefficiency which inevitably arise when combatting large-scale social issues. The goal of a social enterprise is to use entrepreneurial thinking to solve some of society’s most pressing problems. Looked at a different way, the goal is to create a scalable and valuable product that also serves to better the social cause. This latter perspective is where social enterprises can face contradictions in their business and social goals.
After a social enterprise has hit the ground running, some of the biggest obstacles it faces involves scalability and growth-potential. Since its beginnings in 2012, Salemtown Board Co. has “wrestled with how to better multiply [its] impact.” Anderson explains that Salemtown Board Co. needed to find a way to accommodate waste, which for them meant hiring and training more people. He also found that people wanted to support the Salemtown Board Co., even if they weren’t in the market to buy a skateboard.
Anderson took the advice given to him by a mentor and opened a nonprofit called Maple Built, which expands upon Salemtown Board Co.’s primary goal of “creating opportunities for learning and mentorship” through woodworking. “Now we can cycle through employees and act as a bridge to other employment,” explained Anderson.
During his time in the social enterprise world, Anderson has noticed “a demand for both profitability and sustainability,” something he hopes big businesses will also notice and apply. If it were a true symbiotic relationship, every social issue would be best solved in the market place, and there would be no reason for a business not to serve a social cause. It takes creativity, patience, trial and error to start any business or nonprofit, but especially to start something that reconciles the two. For Salemtown Board Co., that has meant being attentive to the community’s needs and adapting to the changing climate of the social enterprise world.