Serena Connelly is my kind of entrepreneur. Serena wanted to learn – and to demonstrate – how business tools can be used to make a positive impact on society. But she didn’t just talk about social entrepreneurship. She didn’t just convene summits, put on high-profile seminars or publish whitepapers. No – she started an It’s A Grind coffee shop franchise in the Deep Ellum neighborhood of Dallas.
As many of you know, It’s a Grind was no ordinary coffee shop. It was a social enterprise, founded on principles of respect for employees and seeking to meet basic human needs (including a living wage and health insurance for hourly employees). It was a social experiment.
Today we learned that after three years, the Deep Ellum It’s A Grind will be closing because it has not achieved financial sustainability.
Many in the Dallas social entrepreneurship community are expressing sadness about the closing of It’s A Grind. However it’s important for us to focus not on the end of this project, but rather on the successes and lessons that have come from it.
The closing of It’s A Grind says absolutely nothing about the use of entrepreneurship to change our world for the better. It only says that the coffee shop business is a tough competitive environment, like all small businesses in America. All you need to do is listen for a few minutes about the It’s A Grind experience to realize that the project has provided a deep set of learnings to its founders, employees, and supporters.
Here’s one such lesson: one of the wonderful things about working in a socially conscious business is that every day is full of meaning. Sure, every job is a grind sometimes – but in a socially conscious business each participant is working to change the world for the better, even if what they happen to be doing at the moment is making coffee or washing dishes. So if you are searching for meaningful work, you might join such a business – or start one.
I hope Serena will take her hard-won lessons from this experience and make fresh attempts at new models for improving our society. I hope she will share their learnings with us in writing and in person. Most importantly, I hope others in our community will take inspiration from Serena – to stop just talking about social entrepreneurship, and go do it. Yes, some days it’s a grind and sometimes projects must be ended – that’s the reality of a startup. But without taking the risk, there is no chance of success, and there is no progress. If all we do is talk about it, we fail before we even begin.
So hats off to Serena Connelly for working hard, taking big risks, and providing leadership to social entrepreneurs in Dallas. Now let’s show her some respect by picking ourselves up and getting to work!
Co-Founder, Soap Hope
Where 100% of profits lift women from poverty