The Ripple Effect: These startups are doing well by doing good

There are plenty of entrepreneurs who would cringe at the thought of operating a business that’s focused as much on the greater good as it is on generating revenue. But here in the City of Good Neighbors, Buffalo boasts its fair share of businesses that are proving it’s possible to be both socially conscious and profitable.

Take, for instance, Urban Fruits and Veggies, which veteran businesswoman Allison DeHonney created in 2013 to address the critical issue of food deserts in Buffalo. Four years later, the company continues to grow, literally—it has an urban garden on the city’s East Side—and figuratively.

While Urban Fruits and Veggies has its own unique mission, it’s one of a growing number of new businesses in Western New York focused on the greater good.

The approach these startups have taken appears to be paying off. Here’s a closer look at what Urban Fruits and Veggies, as well as two other startups, are doing to, well, do their part.

Growing people, food and communities

The idea for Urban Fruits and Veggies actually wasn’t DeHonney’s. A leader in city government who was familiar with DeHonney’s business acumen and lifelong dedication to healthy living and eating approached her about taking on the startup.

“I took a few months to do some research and thought that I could build a business with a social conscious, one that has a triple bottom line business model, meaning it’s good for the community, good for the environment, and revenue generating,” said DeHonney.

“With all of my research, I honestly underestimated the magnitude of the work and the impact Urban Fruits and Veggies could have on the community, and I’m glad that I did,” she added.

Urban Fruits and Veggies has helped mitigate Buffalo’s food desert problem through a mobile farmers market that brings fresh, locally grown produce to residents in low-income neighborhoods. In addition, the company supports the farm-to-table movement by supplying a number of local restaurants, and hosts community events to educate people about eating healthy.

“The biggest reward will be if we start to see decreases in childhood and adult obesity, and in incidents of diabetes and hypertension,” she said. “If Urban Fruits and Veggies can play any part in the reduction of these numbers, then we have done our job.”

“Sweating it forward”

When fitness instructors Amanda Moses, Rachel McCrone, and Colleen Kirk decided to open Revolution Indoor Cycling in a small carriage house on Delaware Avenue in Buffalo in 2014, they did so with the mindset that their facility would do more than just offer spinning classes. They wanted Revolution to be a welcoming gym that merged fitness with public service, networking, and social life.

“At the heart of Revolution, we wanted to create a place for others, as well as ourselves, that encourages us all to be our best self. Physical wellness is a very big part of that, but so is building strong and healthy relationships,” said Moses.

Revolution frequently pairs public spinning classes with volunteer events, and has donated proceeds from special fitness classes to several local organizations, including Girls on the Run, Ronald McDonald House, and Ride for Roswell.

“We like to call it ‘Sweating it Forward’ and it benefits all of us,” Moses said.

Recently, a Revolution client who was born and raised in Texas asked if the gym could help raise money for her friends and family devastated by Hurricane Harvey. Revolution’s owners pitched in, and even got a few other local fitness studios and shop owners to donate a percentage of their sales from a particular day.

The community has responded as well. Revolution now occupies a larger space at 1716 Main St., Buffalo, and has a staff of 12.

Moses said the team is just happy to be a part of a caring community. “We have seen such a robust community of socially-conscious businesses in our region.”

Tapping water from trees

Asarasi Sparkling Tree Water is a company that just might epitomize the concept of the socially conscious startup.

As the story goes, in 2008, Asarasi CEO Adam Lazar was visiting maple farms in Vermont with his young daughter. Lazar watched in shock as maple producers discarded thousands of gallons of sap water from which the maple sugar molecules had been removed.

There had to be a way, he thought, to repurpose all this unused sap water. His company has done just that. Asarasi Sparkling Tree Water has pioneered a way to access vast amounts of pure, drinkable water from a plant-based source, making it the first certified USDA organic bottled water.

“Asarasi has the potential to replace the entire bottled water industry as we know it at the same price consumers pay today for bottled water,” Lazar said in an interview on the website of 43North, a business competition made possible through New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion program.

Asarasi was a finalist in last year’s 43North competition. Now, the product can be purchased in stores and restaurants across the Northeast.

Demand for organic water is significant, Asarasi Chief Marketing Officer Brian Pare points out, citing a recent Mintel study, which found that 25 percent of Americans want the product.

“Consumers are searching for healthy, sustainable bottled beverages that they can trust and that don’t harm the environment,” Pare said, adding that the ability to make a difference is what drives the company.

“This is a product that can help impact the future of drinkable water scarcity all over the world,” he said.

Read more articles by David J. Hill.

A native of Hamburg, N.Y., David J. Hill lives in Buffalo and works in University Communications at UB. During his free time, he enjoys playing recreational kickball, sipping cold beverages on a waterfront patio, and spending time with his two adorable nieces.
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