Monday, November 24, 2008

Cherry Hills Community Church Business as Ministry Meeting

Last week, I was invited to attend the monthly business as ministry meeting at Cherry Hills Community Church by Harold Britton, the Rocky Mountain Church Connections Director for WorldVenture. This meeting of business people is held at Cherry Hills every third Wednesday of the month. Thomas Beck and Bruce Swanson of WorldVenture spoke on their organization’s new Transformational Ventures project. Swanson directs the project while Thomas Beck lends his business expertise as a Synergos/Vantage Alliance consultant and as a past founding partner in Blockbuster, Boston Chicken and Einstein Brothers Bagels.

Over the years, WorldVenture has been a traditional mission sending organization. Recently, they have been introducing a business as ministry initiative by employing the organization’s unique strengths in the area of connecting business people in the United States with business as ministry entrepreneurs overseas. The project identifies overseas business as ministry opportunities and then partners them with existing business as ministry organizations like Partners Worldwide and the Business Professional Network to review business plans and determine future activities. WorldVenture mobilizes domestic business leaders to mentor these businesses and provide technical assistance. The whole project is designed to increase the impact of Christian businesses in developing countries.

Tom Beck identified that one of the top problems for businesses in the developing world continues to be the lack of access to capital making business expansion difficult. This is a similar problem for faith venture start-ups in urban areas of the United States. Beck shared how they have been developing a revolving investment fund for business as ministry. Individual investors place money into a fund that provides financing to developing businesses. This fund achieves returns but the investors are choosing to leave profits in the fund to provide additional resources to other businesses. This type of investment instrument is something that I’ve hoped to develop in the future for domestic faith ventures. I believe it could be a very valuable tool to helping create opportunity for disadvantaged communities.

Another area of interest for me was the possibility of creating a domestic/ international business as ministry partnership. Swanson shared that he knows of a business as ministry opportunity in the Middle East that needs used auto parts from the United States. That seems like a natural partnership opportunity for a domestic auto yard hiring individuals rebuilding lives from felony convictions.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

If This Master's Degree Had Existed 10 Years Ago...

I've had several friends complete the Global City Doctor of Ministry program at Bakke Graduate University over the last few years. It's a fascinating doctoral program that I've been interested in myself but it's the old conundrum of balancing work, family and life. A few weeks ago, a friend of mine mentioned that BGU is now offering an MBA program. I went to the web site and discovered my dream master's degree: they have developed a Master of Arts in Social and Civic Entreprenuership. This program provides a balanced curriculum of business training, social entrepreneurship and theology. It's the perfect degree for someone wanting to build an academic background in the area of faith ventures and business as ministry. Unfortunately, like most master's degrees, it comes with a fairly steep price tag so you really need to analyze the cost benefit of pursuing this particular academic degree. And one must also remember the value of on-the-job experience. But if this degree had existed 10 years ago when I had the time to pursue master's work, this would have been my choice.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Viva Las Vegas?

Today, I came upon a fascinating post in Andy Crouch’s Culture Making Blog. Throughout my writings, I hope it comes through how much I value the healing nature of redemptive social networks. On the flip side, negative social networks can be corrosive as this study shows that the more time spent away from Las Vegas reduces one’s risk for suicide.

Interviewing Grace

In most job interviews, an employer looks for the most qualified person for the job. At Bud’s Warehouse, we put a different twist on the idea of “most qualified.” As a faith venture that provides employment and job training for individuals rebuilding lives, our interviews are less about finding the most qualified and more about finding someone who can’t find a job elsewhere because of a felony conviction or a past addiction. If someone appears able to find a job somewhere else, we are less likely to hire them and quick to refer such a person to a job placement organization like Denver Works.

One of my favorite stories is about how far we are willing to take this idea. Last year, an owner of a neighboring business discovered someone stealing copper from our yard at 3am in the morning. He called the police with a license plate number and they arrested the individual. The next day, the police called us to see if we wanted to press charges. The policeman, who was familiar with our project, suggested that there might be some other way to resolve the issue. Our warehouse director Bob Klinger offered that the man could volunteer at the warehouse to pay off what he stole. The man agreed and started working at Bud’s later that week. We really liked him and discussed him coming to work for us. But he disappeared the day after he paid off his debt. We were saddened by his departure because we thought it would be fun for him to share about the job he literally stole.

I am in the process of hiring a program manager to assist in managing our job-training program at Bud’s Warehouse. In many ways, I like to apply the same standard to finding a candidate for the job. I like to promote someone from within who has succeeded in the program who can now pour his life into others struggling with the same problems. Or I like to hire someone who has succeeded outside our organization in a similar type program. I am a big believer that the most gifted Christian leaders minister out of their own brokenness. The most effective urban ministries share a common characteristic of empowering those that they serve into leadership roles. It’s an approach that was first modeled by Jesus with his ragtag troop of disciples. And it’s a direction I will continue at Belay Enterprises. Our management staff loves to share that almost everyone at Bud’s Warehouse has a past felony conviction. I think Jesus smiles at this example of his grace.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Building the Foundation for Felony Employment Success

Steve Pankoski of Stryan Steel Systems attended our last Faith Venture Focus Event and shared valuable insight about employing felony offenders. In his opinion, the key to success in working with past offenders is realizing that your business is God’s business. With that in mind, a Christ-centered owner, who has a God-directed commitment to hiring past offenders, is free to trust them like any other employee and serve them with the same attitude as Christ. This provides the foundation that allows felony offenders to overcome past bad decisions and reach their God-given potential.

Pankoski started Stryan Steel Systems in 1995 after 16 years as a Denver area custom homebuilder. The company manufacturers and installs an innovative structural floor system that overcomes the swelling soil issues of the Denver Metro area. His labor-intensive company requires employees that are adept in the construction and installation of these systems. As a result, there are many ideal employment opportunities for individuals transitioning from prison into the work environment.

Pankoski’s commitment to working with felons began after locating his company’s office next to a half-way home for individuals re-entering society after prison. What began as a relationship of convenience has now become a core part of Stryan. Pankoski takes pride in watching individuals find faith and a better life through on-the-job experience in his manufacturing company.

While the non-profit faith venture Bud’s Warehouse provides job training for individuals rebuilding lives from prison, real momentum for felony career opportunities will only increase when for-profit faith venture companies discover the rewarding ministry of working with past offenders as employees.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Lost Boy Faith Ventures

I define a faith venture as a Christ-centered business that employs individuals or communities rebuilding lives from addiction, homelessness, prison, or poverty. Many of my posts to this blog discuss faith venture with an eye on serving individuals rebuilding lives from prison and a felony conviction. But faith ventures aren't limited to just felons. They can be international faith-based microenterprise funds that serve whole communities rebuilding from poverty. Or they can be domestic firms seeking to meet the needs of other disadvantaged communities.

At our last Faith Venture Focus Forum, I was introduced to Billy Williams of Urban Mattress. Billy is a serial entrepreneur with extensive experience from several different business startups. His latest venture sells mattresses and sleep systems in Boulder, Colorado. The faith part of his faith venture comes in his commitment to hire recent immigrants from the Lost Boys of Sudan to staff various roles in his business. They have had to develop unique strategies to overcome language difficulties to create opportunity for this disadvantaged immigrant community while ensuring that the needs of their customers are served.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Food Drive Leading Indicators

Economists have a selection of economic statistics that they examine to predict the future direction of the economy. Sometimes I wish the nonprofit sector had its own leading indicators to help nonprofit managers make future decisions. We are often stuck trying to predict the future by relying on second-hand information from the for-profit sector or on just gut feelings.

This past weekend, I had first-hand experience with a non-profit leading indicator while helping out on my sons’ Cub Scout food drive. It’s pretty apparent that the economy is starting to impact charitable giving. Every November, our Cub Scout pack canvasses the same neighborhood for canned food donations. This year, food donations were significantly down from the prior year. What is interesting is that this decline is in a community that has been minimally impacted by job losses or income declines. For most of our neighbors, their only experience with the recession has been with the decline in the value of their retirement accounts and exposure to media accounts of economic anxiety. Where irrational exuberance caused people to mindlessly invest in real estate and the stock market, irrational depression is now bringing about a pull back in charitable giving. At a time when food banks are seeing an increase in demand for food, people with the resources are pulling back from giving because of fear for the future. This same fear is spreading to church giving. I’ve heard of churches in our community now facing sudden and dramatic drops in giving. I know some people are financially hurting and that impacts giving. But for some, fear is driving the decision to give less.

It’s a tendency that followers of Christ need to fight…and the battle starts with our own giving habits. I remember my mother sharing stories of how her parents used to provide food for individuals in need during past times of economic troubles. We need to make every effort to keep our giving at the same rates as before. If our budget is tightening, we should try to get creative in saving money in other ways so that we can continue to help others. And as followers of Christ, God’s call on us might be to give more at a time when others are in greater need.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Forum Thanks

We just completed another exciting faith venture focus group yesterday. I received the following email the other day from Tom Siegle who attended the first focus event:

Jim - I got a lot personally from the Forum, in particular found it
uplifting to be among a group of businessmen focused on furthering God's
Kingdom, with a vision of business as so more than a means to an end.
It also clarified for me very clear and distinct objectives for
supporting and enabling Godly business people in their ventures:
1. To provide a platform in the business world for Christians to impact
people in a positive way for the Kingdom; and
2. To provide positive work opportunities around Godly people, who are
strong role models, for those that are marginally employable or
Thanks for the invitation.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

November 6, 2008 Faith Venture Focus Event Sold Out

I am excited to announce that our second Faith Venture Focus Event scheduled for November 6th, 2008 is completely sold out! Our first event on October 16th, 2008, generated a lot of enthusiasm which has resulted in 13 christian entrepreneurs signing up for tomorrow's event. We had hoped to limit the event to 10 individuals but decided to expand the number since this is the last event for 2008. We will announce future Faith Venture Focus Events for January of 2009 soon. If you are interested, let us know.

Accidental Entrepreneurs

At our first Faith Venture Focus Event on October 16, 2008, we asked an enthusiastic group of 9 entrepreneurs what ignited their desire to start a new business venture. We were looking for insight that could be applied to other faith venture start-ups that seek to provide opportunity for disadvantaged communities through business. Several of them shared how they were entrepreneurs by accident. They found themselves in a situation where they had to start their own business because of life circumstances.

Hal Goble, the founder of Water Technology Group, shared that early in his career as an engineer, he went to work for a company that ended up going out of business. He then found a job in another company and the same thing happened again. After having two companies close on him, he decided to never put himself in that same predicament and he opened his own company.

Bruce VerSteeg of Omni Building Corporation found himself in a similar situation only it was one where he was having a hard time finding work. He started his contracting business because he needed to support his family. In the same way, emerging faith entrepreneur Steve Van Diest shared how he was right now building a business because of brokenness. After returning to Colorado after a tough season as a missionary in Mexico, he is starting a venture, as a way to combine his ministry desires with the need to support his family.

Because so many found themselves in entrepreneurship by accident, the group found common agreement around the idea of providing help through a board of technical experts for business start-ups. A common regret voiced by the group was the necessity of having to learn by making all of the mistakes. A group of experts to provide assistance could help shorten the learning curve and make success more likely.

There was much enthusiasm about Anson Garnsey’s suggestion of creating 5 member boards to provide technical advice to new faith venture entrepreneurs. This seemed to affirm Belay’s desire to move from traditional microenterprise as a way to help emerging faith venture businesses towards creating teams of experts to provide technical expertise. Where traditional micro-enterprise doesn’t seem to work very well in domestic settings, providing entrepreneurial coaching offers a more organic way to promote faith venture development. These faith venture forums are a first step toward creating a faith-based version of the Small Business Administration’s SCORE program.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Hope International

I had an exciting meeting yesterday with Chris Horst of the microfinance organization Hope International based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Chris recently moved into the Denver area to establish a western presence for this expanding ministry. He stopped by Bud’s Warehouse for a tour and to learn more about our organization. Hope International is exploring starting a domestic business as ministry initiative sometime in the next few years.

Jeff Rutt, the owner of Keystone Custom Homes in Lancaster County, started the faith venture Hope International in 1997. At the time, his church had been involved in providing short-term assistance to a church in the Ukraine. After being challenged by a pastor to find long-term solutions to poverty, Rutt was led to the growing sector of microfinance loans as a creative solution to breaking the cycle of poverty. Hope provides small loans to individuals in poor communities who are unable to obtain loans from bank sources. Over the years, Hope has grown to serve numerous countries throughout Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa and the Caribbean.

Yesterday, Chris explained to me that what makes Hope unique, as a microenterprise organization, is its strong focus on holistic ministry through its programs. They seek to not only meet physical needs through the development of small businesses but to also develop relationships that help meet the spiritual needs of the community. This approach is similar to the one that Belay Enterprises initially used in its urban Denver microenterprise program 10 years ago. Unfortunately, Belay discovered the difficulties of working in domestic urban settings because of differences in the scale of money needed to make local initiatives succeed. Where $200 may make a big difference in the business of someone in the Ukraine, a domestic microenterprise program may need to loan out $2000 or more. I shared how Belay wants to rebuild its for-profit business development goals but with the aim of providing resources through networking and teambuilding instead of only relying on small loans.

I look forward to further discussions on how Belay Enterprises might be able to partner or assist Hope as they develop domestic business as ministry initiatives. I'm excited that Hope comes from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where my family has been involved in the building industry and the Moravian church since the 1950’s. I’ve always enjoyed the fact that the Moravian church was one of the early originators of the business as ministry movement hundreds of years ago.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Dangers of Entrepreneurial Micromanagement

In today’s Wall Street Journal, there is an article on how the control habits of micromanagers actually hurt the companies that they lead:

Two years ago, Greg Cushard was leading eight or nine meetings a week at
Rubicon Oil Co., the truck-refueling company he founded and runs. He would
interrupt conversations among subordinates, identify mistakes and make even
mundane decisions, he says.

"I acted like a quarterback ... more than a coach," Mr. Cushard says. He had little time to think about the business. Employees "stopped making suggestions because they were afraid they'd get shot down."

Prompted by advice from his top lieutenants and executive coach, Mr. Cushard resolved to stop micromanaging. Leadership experts say micromanagers --
from small-business owners to managers in large organizations -- share an
unwillingness to trust subordinates; still, many can be successful, to a

The great danger of micromanagement is that it saps the initiative of the micromanaged. Individuals are unwilling to make decisions apart from management directives.

The issue that struck me is how often this occurs in entrepreneurial upstarts. I think by nature most entrepreneurs are control freeks. One of the benefits of entreprenuership is that the entreprenuer moves from a time-based system to a results-based environment. An entrepreneur’s day-to-day activities are intimately related to results. For instance, if you don’t spend time selling your service or product, the business will fail so you are less likely to spend time on activities that aren’t directly related to selling the service or product. This results-oriented mindset predisposes the entrepreneur to micromanagement tendenices…especially if the venture is a small start-up.

When you’ve built a business from day one, it’s hard to resist the urge to dabble in all aspects of the business. Since entrepreneurs are pre-disposed to micro-management, they need to be intentional about creating environments to prevent it. As soon as possible in the start-up process, the entrepreneur has to move in his or her mind from the role of individually building a business to developing a team to build a business. Employees need to be empowered to set goals and work independently within the larger framework of the mission of the venture.

For faith ventures, this is an important lesson to remember. By nature, faith ventures tend to be even more dependent on the leadership and vision of the founder. The great challenge is empowering an organazation to accomplish the mission without holding it back because of micro-management by the leader. All levels of a faith-venture need to see themselves as serving God and a mission larger than anyone of the goals of each individual. A true faith-venture is run by God with every other employee as an important member of the team.

Belay Venture Partners Program Selects First Founder

I’m excited to announce that Belay Enterprises has chosen Brittany Marlett as our first participant in the Venture Partners Program. B...