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Violet George, 7, gets her tube replaced by Coach Meredith Altemose for Kids on Bikes at Bear Creek Regional Park on Wednesday, July 27, 2022. The all girls beginner mountain biking class lasts for five days and features games, drills, and single track.
A Kids on Bikes all girls mountain biking class lends their ears to coach Meredith Altemose on Wednesday, July 27, 2022. The Kids on Bikes non-profit connects youth with bicycles to “break down barriers, bring community together, and get kids active again.”
Nora and Chloe smile wide during “Red light Green light” for the Kids on Bikes all girls mountain biking class on Wednesday, July 27, 2022, at Bear Creek Regional Park.
A Kids on Bikes all girls mountain biking class practices drills on the basketball court at Bear Creek Regional Park on Wednesday, July 27, 2022. The non-profit connects youth with bicycles to “break down barriers, bring community together, and get kids active again.”
The husband-and-wife-owned clothing boutique Yobel has kept margins on their fashion items as low as possible to be accessible for Colorado Springs shoppers. The social impact business sells fair-trade, sustainable men’s and women’s fashion in the downtown storefront they moved into two years ago. (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette)
An example of one of the products sold at Yobel is Hot & Tot watches that incorporate wood into the watch and trees are planted for watches sold. (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette)

Newsroom Intern
Violet George, 7, gets her tube replaced by Coach Meredith Altemose for Kids on Bikes at Bear Creek Regional Park on Wednesday, July 27, 2022. The all girls beginner mountain biking class lasts for five days and features games, drills, and single track.
A Kids on Bikes all girls mountain biking class lends their ears to coach Meredith Altemose on Wednesday, July 27, 2022. The Kids on Bikes non-profit connects youth with bicycles to “break down barriers, bring community together, and get kids active again.”
Nora and Chloe smile wide during “Red light Green light” for the Kids on Bikes all girls mountain biking class on Wednesday, July 27, 2022, at Bear Creek Regional Park.
A Kids on Bikes all girls mountain biking class practices drills on the basketball court at Bear Creek Regional Park on Wednesday, July 27, 2022. The non-profit connects youth with bicycles to “break down barriers, bring community together, and get kids active again.”
The husband-and-wife-owned clothing boutique Yobel has kept margins on their fashion items as low as possible to be accessible for Colorado Springs shoppers. The social impact business sells fair-trade, sustainable men’s and women’s fashion in the downtown storefront they moved into two years ago. (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette)
An example of one of the products sold at Yobel is Hot & Tot watches that incorporate wood into the watch and trees are planted for watches sold. (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette)
It’s not all about the money.
It’s about the mission.
As a push for purpose-driven business intensifies, the Colorado Springs-based National Institute for Social Impact (NI4SI) is helping entrepreneurs adapt by weaving social impact into the fibers of their businesses. What began as a Colorado startup in 2017 has grown into a nationally known nonprofit guiding companies on their journey to becoming social impact businesses.
With NI4SI, entrepreneurs in Colorado and across the country can engage in conversations, attend certification courses and measure their community impact with SROI — social return on investment.
U.S. consumers are choosing now more than ever to spend their money with businesses that have social impact. For the first time, the consumer market is dominated by the purpose-driven consumer, with 44% opting for products and brands that align with personal values, according to research from IBM. That compares to the 37% identified as value-driven consumers, who put the most emphasis on value and convenience.
As the purpose-driven consumer base grows, so does opportunity. NI4SI co-founder and CEO Jonathan Liebert expects the number of social impact businesses to explode into the millions in the next five years as younger entrepreneurs start businesses to meet consumer demand and create jobs for people who want to work for purpose-driven missions. NI4SI works with existing businesses, but also with entrepreneurs as they approach new business concepts. Future entrepreneurs are being introduced to social impact through classes taught by Liebert at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
Liebert said people often tell him: “I think my business is a social impact business.” They cite charity donations or recycling as their community impact, but Liebert calls this corporate social responsibility — not social impact.
The difference? Money. Social impact businesses are on a mission for a greater purpose, specifically solving or aiding a community need; any revenue stream works toward the vision.
Liebert got his start as a social entrepreneur while working as a therapist at AspenPointe, now Diversus Health. He said self-purpose was key to treatment of patients struggling with mental health, and Diversus research showed that working or volunteering helped people develop that purpose, get better faster and stay healthy longer. However, people receiving treatment couldn’t always find employment.
Diversus Health developed a solution: The nonprofit created businesses that could employ patients. Liebert was in charge of building such businesses. Over 20 years, he has run 13 social impact businesses across a variety of industries and co-founded NI4SI around five years ago with Stacey Burns, chief impact officer, to continue the cause. (Libert is also the CEO/executive director of the Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado.)
NI4SI has helped small businesses, nonprofits and some larger national companies to evolve a purpose-driven strategy.
“The social impact sector, or purpose-driven sector, takes the best of a for-profit business, and it takes the best of the nonprofit organization, and it kind of blends them together,” Liebert said.  NI4SI’s work with nonprofits, he said, sometimes establishes a revenue line to support the mission and make the organization more sustainable.
Local nonprofit Kids on Bikes began working with NI4SI four years ago to evaluate its long-term community impact. Kids on Bikes has been connecting children with bicycles and bicycle education through programming and partnerships since 2005, but their conversations with NI4SI helped them focus on the mission with new perspectives and insight.
“It was a game-changer,” said Executive Director Daniel Byrd. “It really helped us refine programming and further address focusing on what we want to do.”
For every $1 that Kids on Bikes receives through donations or revenue, it gives $2.72 back to the community, according to their calculated SROI, Byrd said. Social return on investment is a measurement that converts community value into a dollar amount to account for social, economic or environmental impact a company has. Social impact businesses have higher rates of return compared to investment at ratios of 2:1 or 3:1, according to Liebert.  
Since the two-year evaluation with NI4SI, the directors of the program have their eye on long-term goals beyond the core vision to enable access to bikes for every child in the Pikes Peak region. Now, the organization pays more attention to factors like diabetes prevention.
“The bicycle is a tool for better health and wellness. We eliminate the barriers for owning a bike for kids so they can be better, healthy adults,” Byrd said.
Byrd began his professional career as a social worker, working with homeless children. Biking was part of Byrd’s personal wellness, but he realized youth could benefit from owning bicycles too. His interest in helping children in the Colorado Springs community brought him to Kids on Bikes. The organization has grown to engage over 1,000 children each year through roughly 20 local, annual programs, according to Byrd. The Pedal Station Community Bike Center which opened in 2018 for retail, repairs and classes, operates on volunteer work and donations, but provides a revenue line to directly benefit the cause.
Liebert said social impact businesses should have a mission that is relevant to the local community. “You’ve got to make sure that the mission, that the purpose that you have is something that’s important to the business and the business owner, but you’ve also got to make sure that it’s a need in the community. That’s the most important thing,” Liebert said.
“Each community is different. What I love about this is that what’s going to resonate here in the Springs isn’t necessarily going to resonate in Denver.”
Social impact businesses and nonprofits exist across a variety of industries and can have an equally diverse set of social impact goals. Liebert said the Springs community is likely most invested in social issues like homelessness, veterans and the environment, a testament to the local military population and love for outdoor trails and spaces. A relevant cause attracts a greater number of people, for the right price.
Liebert gave the example of a $5 cup of coffee. “That’s something that can be done on a regular basis, and it can be multiplied to a significant level so you’re not just talking about a small portion of the community that’s able to give these funds, you’re talking about everybody,” Liebert said. “If they can make a purchase that they’re going to make every day and use that purchase that’s already in their budget to create an impact, well, why wouldn’t you?”
The husband-and-wife-owned clothing boutique Yobel has kept margins on their fashion items as low as possible to be accessible for Colorado Springs shoppers. The social impact business sells fair-trade, sustainable men’s and women’s fashion in the downtown storefront they moved into two years ago.
Emily and Clay Ross often joke about how easy it would be to own retail without adhering to ethical practices. “Retail is a breeze if you’re not doing it right!” Clay said. “This is ‘heart work,’ but it’s hard work.”
The couple sources their products from close to two dozen countries including India, Australia, Thailand, Guatemala and the U.S. — explaining that their criterion still applies to sellers in the U.S. because unethical practices don’t only take place overseas. Their criterion includes ethical, safe, anti-sweatshop work environments for craftspeople in programs that support a range of social missions.
“We’re very proud to share the stories of our artisans. It is our favorite thing to talk about,” Clay said.
Yobel has been a social impact business since it was founded in 2008, before social impact became a commonly used descriptor for purpose-driven businesses. NI4SI’s co-founders Liebert and Burns were some of the first Yobel customers when the couple bought the business from a friend in 2019. At that time, Yobel was an accessory store in Ivywild School.
“They have been our cheerleader. They show up big time,” Clay said of Liebert and Burns.
Emily recently quit her job in human resources to work full-time at Yobel. In the future, she plans to design items for the store, which she described as fashion-forward, versatile and urban chic. The store also recently launched “The Look Up Gallery” featuring art from local artists above their merchandise as part of the First Friday Art Walk.
Yobel won Social Impact Business of the Year at the sixth annual PRISM awards in July, co-hosted by NI4SI. “The award is affirming to our work and hopefully encouraging to others to want to do things better,” Emily said, showing off the glass award on display at the Yobel checkout counter. There were two winners this year; another downtown shop, Frayla Boutique, was the other one.
People from other cities have asked NI4SI to replicate the work that has been done in Colorado Springs for their own hometowns, telling Liebert, “We love what you’re doing in Colorado Springs. We love the ecosystem that you’ve built. Can you help our city develop a system for social entrepreneurship?”
Liebert said the institute hasn’t expanded to locations in other areas but has more national companies on its docket and continues to grow as it comes out of the pandemic. Most of the businesses they work with are small or medium sized, but they’re getting larger corporate clients, too.
However, Liebert said they will continue to keep a focus on Pikes Peak region. “How we give back to the community will be continuing to do work for small businesses as we get into bigger ones.”
Waiting tables, working the counter at a fast-food restaurant or chopping vegetables in a restaurant kitchen may not be one’s dream job, but i…
Newsroom Intern
Annika Schmidt is a newsroom intern for The Gazette.
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