Social Enterprise Story - Mile High Workshop

Mile High Workshop (“Workshop”), located in Aurora, CO is a non-profit social venture whose mission is to “create employment opportunities and provide job training for members of our community seeking to rebuild from addictions, homelessness, and incarceration.” The organization was founded four and a half years ago as a project under Mile High Ministries, a faith based organization serving disadvantaged communities in Denver since 1988. Workshop’s business is focused on contracted manufacturing, fulfillment, and services to other businesses.  Workshop’s initial lines of business included purified water delivery and and contracted manufacturing of dog beds. Thanks to a successful fundraising campaign, the organization purchased a Computer Numerical Control (CNC) Machine to expand their market opportunities. Workshop only pursues contracts and partnerships with organizations and “makers” who align with and value their mission. The organization has turned down business opportunities that did not align well with their values. They now have substantial contracts with Coorstek and CORA, and produce a wide range of products ranging from tote bags to organic pillows in their sew shop.

In their job training program, Workshop provides meaningful job opportunities alongside emotional and mental health support. Program participants meet with case workers or a social worker once a week to identify areas of progress and provide relevant information related to: business education, financial management, banking, personal relationships, and addiction recovery.  Workshop currently works with 20 to 25 people in the training program and a lengthy waiting list at any given time. As the organization acquires additional equipment and contract relationships, they will have the opportunity to help more workers on the path to full recovery and stability.

Despite their broad reach and impact, Mile High Workshop faces the same funding difficulties faced by all early stage social ventures. Andy Magel, director, expressed how one of their biggest barriers to greater impact is funding; “We’re told “no” most often because potential funders feel we’re too small or too young. They feel we’re a higher risk proposal because we have only existed for 4.5 years at this point. Occasionally the “no” could be related to issues of fit or geographical preference, but it’s typically related to scale and organizational youth.”

Currently, two thirds of Workshop’s budget is covered through earned revenue from contracts and direct sales.  The remaining funding comes through individual donations and grants from foundations. As a result, charitable dollars are leveraged more than 2 to 1 thanks to the organizations business model and successful sales team. Despite frustrations with limitations from a lack of capital, Andy offered encouraging words to other social entrepreneurs: “I guess I’d just encourage others (and myself) not to forget that we have multiple revenue streams and not to neglect donors, philanthropy, or earned income, but to do our best to pursue both so that we can fuel our impact as much as possible.”

As social ventures utilize more blended funding models to address needs in our communities, the philanthropic community will need new approaches to more effectively support organizations that can leverage donated dollars with earned revenue, making those dollars go further.

As entrepreneurs are creatively and effectively creating deep impact, the traditional risk-averse and institution focused funding models will need to adapt. Innovation best comes from younger organizations with limited operating reserves. The risks may be higher, but the impactful returns will likely be higher as well.

Andy and the team at Mile High Workshop are excited about the future and pursuing ways to expand their production space to allow for more workers and positive community impact. Andy and the Mile-High Workshop welcome all interested parties to contact them to learn more about their organization, potential partnerships and investment opportunities, and how you can help. As the organization grows, they hope to attract more impact investment to fund new equipment, better training opportunities, infrastructure, or eventually, for the workshop to have its own specialized space.

- Javaun Garcia and Ed Briscoe