Growing up in the Rust Belt—a name given to parts of the northeastern and midwestern US that experienced massive declines in manufacturing starting in the 1970’s—you can still see the economic and social impact decades later when the factories shut down. Even though Pittsburgh has made great strides due in large part to healthcare, higher education, and technology—there are still so many areas that are fighting hard to create vibrant, thriving communities.

We wrote about marketing for social enterprise startups following a workshop for New Sun Rising’s Launch Sto-Rox cohort that took place 12 months ago. Last night we had a chance to reconnect with the 10 for-profit and non-profit businesses and organizations that were part of the program. We heard about their progress, their challenges, and their growth as a community.

Imagine launching a new venture but instead of only having to worry about your own success, you have the added pressure of helping to revitalize an entire community. Daunting yet every one of the 10 organizations fully embraced the challenge. You could see the pride as their faces lit up, recounting their journeys as entrepreneurs as a group, and as a community.

Jackie Page-Heidelberg, chef and owner of Love Rocks Café, talked about being a catalyst for other businesses to thrive. Developing friendships with other local businesses and non-profits out of a shared respect for what they’re trying to accomplish. She also shared her personal journey--finishing culinary school later in life where she was required to create a vision for her restaurant—and today where she is working in that space that only started as a dream.

When asked what they hoped to accomplish over the next 12 months, the responses were all positive and all focused on growth—“helping more people,” “expansion,” “more after school programs,” “more arts education and access to resources for young people.”

When we conduct marketing workshops, we usually don’t have the chance to follow the organizations once the session has ended. Reconnecting 12 months later was an amazing experience. The chance to hear their stories, their struggles, and to see just how much the community has changed.

You can see the momentum. You can feel the energy. Taris Vrcek, Executive Director of the McKees Rocks Community Development Corporation, was proud to announce the Roxian Theater will reopen after sitting vacant for years—creating a another destination to foster more connections with local residents and attract new visitors.

The key takeaways:

You can’t do it alone. One of the great things about the Launch Sto-Rox program is the sense of community and support that’s created among participants. We heard a number of participants refer to each other as friends--bonds that can only happen through their shared experiences.

Strive for something bigger than yourself. At this pivotal point for McKees Rocks, this small group of entrepreneurs has a chance to define the future for this community. Incredibly powerful and motivating.

Their initial charge was relatively simple. “Beginning in March 2018, participants will strengthen their business plan, build their leadership, connect with peer and professional networks, access funding, and engage the Sto-Rox community.” Twelve months later you can definitely say they’ve accomplished all that and more. Truly amazing!