Sometimes a cookie isn’t just a cookie.
Many of Minnesota’s best companies make and sell products people love, from bath soap to ice pops, and then use their profits to give back to a cause, such as hunger or city parks. Known as social enterprises, these ventures show that the bank account doesn’t have to be the bottom line.
Minnesota businesses have a long history of supporting their communities, going back to entrepreneurial families like the Daytons and Pillsburys.
In a modern twist, socially minded millennials are stepping up to start companies that do well as they do good.
“Every business needs a social mission at this point,” says John Stavig, director of the Gary S. Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management.
“Great employees are going to demand it. Millennials want a meaningful career and to feel like they’re making a difference. And consumers are expecting it.”
Minnesota’s legal framework has broadened for companies taking this approach. Legislators created a new business category in 2015, the “public benefit” corporation or “B-corp,” for owners who commit to doing social good.
“It’s clearly easier than it’s ever been to launch a business with a social venture,” Stavig says, whether that means making a donation to a foundation that supports a like-minded cause, or sourcing and using products that support communities or help the environment.
Here are a few of the dozens of area businesses and nonprofits that are making a difference, one T-shirt or tallboy, or even cookie, at a time.
What it is: Beer, a soon-to-open East Town brewery and the “Finnovation Lab,” a social business incubator.
Who’s behind it: Jacquie Berglund, founder
What’s the cause and why: Hunger. The mission, Berglund says, is “to turn beer into food.” Choosing hunger as a target was a no-brainer. “We’re the wealthiest country in the world, and we have so many people who are not able to meet their basic needs,” Berglund says. “Let’s start there.” Finnegans is the second-oldest social business with a 100 percent donation model in the country (after Newman’s Own), and Berglund has become a go-to voice in the world of socially minded enterprise, mentoring local entrepreneurs who also want to give back. “The more social businesses we have in this community, the healthier the community we’ll have,” she says.
What they give: 100 percent of profits go to food shelves that work with local farmers to supply nourishment to the hungry. From its founding in 2000 up to last year, the company had given a total of $1 million in donations.
Cookie Cart cookiecart.org
What it is: North Minneapolis (and soon, Payne-Phalen in St. Paul) catering business and cafe that makes and sells homemade cookies.
Who’s behind it: Sister Jean Thuerauf launched the concept in 1988 from her home in north Minneapolis, where she’d invite teenagers to get homework help and in turn, help her bake. The nun died last year. Matt Halley is the executive director.
What’s the cause and why: Employing and teaching at-risk youth. Concerned about the influence of gangs, Thuerauf became famous in the neighborhood for opening her home to local youth. “She had more kids waiting out on her porch than could fit into her kitchen,” Halley says. Eventually, she gave teenagers jobs peddling the cookies from a cart on the street, and in the mid-’90s, opened a bakery and cafe. Today, some 200 teenagers are employed by Cookie Cart, where they also take classes in leadership, career planning and fiscal literacy.
What they give: It’s a true nonprofit. About $500,000 a year in sales of cookies (at $1 each) goes right back into the organization, providing for baking ingredients and the teen workers’ wages, $9 or $10 an hour.
Love MPLS Parks lovemplsparks.org
What it is: T-shirts and posters that artfully represent many of Minneapolis’ city parks.
Who’s behind it: Dan Woychick, founder
What’s the cause and why: Parks. Woychick, a designer, got involved with his East Harriet neighborhood board as parks liaison about 10 years ago, and quickly discovered how badly the infrastructure in city parks had aged. A lot of the philanthropy that existed went toward building new parks, but Woychick wanted to help the places where he had coached, picnicked, paddled and even proposed. In 2014, he launched an online store for his unique, retro designs that honor many of Minneapolis’ most famous lakes and green spaces.
What they give: 50 percent of proceeds go to People for Parks, a nonprofit that supports the Minneapolis park system.
Jonny Pops jonnypops.com
What it is: Natural-ingredient ice pops, which come on a stick with a message to do a good deed.
Who’s behind it: Connor Wray and Erik Brust, founders
What’s the cause and why: Addiction. Brust first came up with the idea for a new frozen treat with a cousin, Jonny, but before they could get the idea off the ground, Jonny died of a drug overdose. A few years later, while a student at St. Olaf College, Brust was brainstorming business ideas with friends — including Connor Wray. He told his friends about how addiction cut his cousin’s life short. Wray thought, “How can we incorporate what happened here?” The pals decided to turn the pops into a business, and named them after Jonny. Since debuting in 2012, the pops have spread to supermarket freezer sections nationwide.
What do they give: 2 percent of proceeds benefit the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, which works to treat addiction. Jonny Pops also donates products for special events.
What it is: Body care products that incorporate good-for-the-environment foods and essential oils.
Who’s behind it: Husband-and-wife team Nora and Jay Schaper, founders
What’s the cause and why: Clean water. Living in France in 1999, Nora Schaper discovered a wide world of beauty products derived from natural ingredients — a stark contrast to chemical-laden products she used back home. She made a few batches of her own bar soaps, lotions and bath bombs, and was soon selling them from Southdale Center. Eight years ago, she and her husband went into Bodylish full time. For them, giving back is twofold; there’s the financial contribution as well as the products they make, which are safe to drain out with the bathwater. “My father was an environmental engineer, so I grew up with water [conservation], and not littering, and being a good land steward,” Schaper says. “It all converged in this business, creating products that are healthy and safe.”
What they give: 3 percent of profits go to Minnesota Clean Water Action, an advocacy organization.