Impact Makers: Changing the way business gets done

2009 was an interesting year in Richmond’s business community. But what will 2010 be like? One local company has high hopes… and an interesting approach that is getting national attention.

Pictured: Impact Makers officially pledges their support for Rx Partnership and continues their mission to be an example of social entrepreneurship.

2009 was an interesting year for Richmond businesses. We saw many local companies end their runs as leaders in the community. Circuit City, LandAmerica, and S&K Menswear all went out of business. Even our beloved Ukrop’s will soon be no more as it was announced that the Ukrop family will finalize the sale of the company in the first quarter of 2010 to Ahold, an international group of supermarkets in Europe and the US.

What do these departures mean for Richmond’s business community in 2010? After all, several of the companies that went out of business last year were leaders in the community because they were well-established and, at one time, had the capital to give back.

Put simply, it’s time for local companies to change the way business gets done and how their efforts impact this city.

However, you don’t need to be a local retail giant to affect change. Impact Makers (a local IT and management consulting firm) is doing just that. They’ve made it their mission to help solve issues challenging our society and to better our community, a line of thinking that is gaining them notoriety as one of this country’s top social enterprises.

They don’t make news headlines daily, but every Richmonder needs to pay attention to Impact Makers as they help to build and sustain our community. They are successful because they adapted a business model where running a profitable business and doing good is one and the same thing.

After paying salaries and operating expenses, the company gives all of its profits to local, secular, nonpolitical, nonprofit partners that assist people in helping themselves. The company gave more than $53,000 to their nonprofit partners during the past two years and donated over 340 pro-bono consulting hours valued at another $34,000. Its current partner is Rx Partnership, which provides free prescription medications for Virginia’s uninsured. And unlike their business counterparts, Impact Makers’s influence in the community and its partnerships will be long-lasting; as a non-stock corporation, it has no shareholders and cannot be acquired by another firm.

Michael Pirron, CEO and founder of Impact Makers (and many other social entrepreneurs like him) believe that businesses are key in addressing and solving issues that affect the welfare of our society and our environment. Businesses influence how people spend. They also bring employment to the community and influence social and cultural behaviors through mass media advertising. This happens by telling people what is needed, what to think, and how to behave. With the development of new technology, businesses have access to many parts of everyone’s life. And if businesses are sending the right message, things change. Meanwhile, as Pirron notes, “Doing the right thing will increase companies’ bottom lines. Businesses will win over consumers and gain a workforce that feels good about their employment.”

Pirron also advises, “Everyone has the desire to do good. However, don’t do good only part time, after work hours. Do something that can sustain your income as you do good.” This is what inspired Pirron. He also knew he had to support his family while following a career path that was fulfilling.

Impact Makers encourages other Richmond businesses to become leaders in the community. Success will follow, just as it has for Impact Makers. In 2009, Pirron was selected as one of the America’s Most Promising Social Entrepreneurs by Business Week.

For those companies interested in going down the path of social entrepreneurship, Pirron suggests becoming a “B Corporation.” B Corporations are led by B Lab, an organization that sets social and environmental performance standards for its members to show that they are truly stewards of their communities. (Unfortunately, it is often very easy for companies to say that they are conducting business to foster their community when they are really not.) The B Corporation membership also gives additional benefits that will help them sustain their mission, and other discounted products and services to assist them in marketing and running their business.

What will the headlines be for 2010? It is up to the people of Richmond and local business to decide. Start with a plan and then begin to take the steps to make your presence felt in Richmond. Pirron knows that you will be very surprised with the impact you can have.

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John ONeill

John O’Neill is an adjunct VCU professor and President of Thinkhaus, a socially conscious graphic design company. He was recently featured as one of Style Weekly’s Top 40 Under 40.

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