Where to begin...
Ten years ago I had a BIG idea to start an organization focused on creating wealth and opportunities in under resourced communities. Eventually this idea would be formed into The Stewards Market, a non-profit organization with the purpose of starting, growing and transferring ownership of social enterprises. Many of you already know the story. In fact you have been part of it for over a decade. Today I am letting you know the decision was made to officially close the doors at The Stewards Market. As you continue reading this post you will see that this is a reason to celebrate!
Why was it so important to start Stewards Market?
In 2001 I officially retired from professional sports and was ready to take on a new adventure. Opportunity brought me into Chicago’s booming futures market. Within weeks of moving to Chicago, I also found myself involved in a wide range of volunteer opportunities targeting the Cabrini Green neighborhood. For two years I developed great relationships with several of the families living in this community. Over time I noticed disconnect between Cabrini and the flourishing communities nearby. It became apparent that in order for communities to lead their own transformation, a period of local wealth creation had to take place. This is what Stewards Market set out to do. Stewards Market became the platform by which three revenue generating social enterprises were launched.
So why wind down Stewards Market activity now?
When we formed the organization we did it with three things in mind:
1. At that moment, a non-profit organization was the most likely method for raising start up funding for the social enterprises we were launching.
2. The goal was create sustainable businesses that we could transfer into the ownership of the communities we served.
3. We would never maintain the non-profit solely for the sake of having it remain. We have too much respect for those serving our communities. With limited resources and increasing needs, it would be irresponsible to take support away from other groups. We hope to inspire other organizations to explore mergers, partnerships and even dissolution if it is best for our communities.
At The Stewards Market there has only been one exit strategy for the businesses we launched…transfer of ownership from The Stewards Market to individuals within the communities we serve. In 2015 we accomplished this! First we merged the assets of King Lizzy Apparel and King Lizzy music, forming King Lizzy Creative. Next we trained a small group of young men from Chicago to become business owners. Finally, we structured a deal that allowed the young team to purchase King Lizzy Creative from The Stewards Market in in latter part of 2015. It was an amazing experience!
With King Lizzy Creative off on its own, only SOAP remains in our portfolio. In January we brought Liz Rytych onboard as our business development specialist. Liz is focused on adding new hotels to our amazing list of clients. Our year-end goal is to provide month service to 20 local hotels. We are well on our way. Most recently we added The Langham Chicago and are close to finalizing Chicago Athletic Association. It will come as no surprise that we will eventually seek to sell SOAP as well. We will assess our opportunities as the year-end approaches.
It will be a tremendous blessing to know that our social enterprises will carry on in the hands of young talented people. We pray that the businesses will continue to grow and have more impact each year.
It is already happening! For the past year I have been devoting my time in two areas:
Last July I joined the amazing team at Roosevelt University, within the Department of Human and Community Renewal. Within the department I am Personal and Career instructor working solely with our state’s formerly incarcerated. Through a coordinated effort and amazing relationships with employers, our clients are being restored and experiencing new opportunities.
Outside of the classroom I have the pleasure of working with impact entrepreneurs working on some of the most amazing projects. Some of the folks I work with include Goodcity Chicago, Joshua and Lindsey Dugue, Stephen Cutter MORTAR, Kinslahger Brewing Company, NIWA and others. I approach each project as an investor, strategist, fundraiser and mentor. It is also opportunity to speak from my successes and my mistakes.
Overall, my passion is to help further connect the social impact community that already exists here in Chicago. That was true 10 years ago, and it remains a goal of mine. I have no intentions of leaving the social impact world; it is what I love and exactly where I know I belong. Thank you for the years of support and guidance. Let’s stay connected and continue to transform Chicago into the city we want it to be.