Entrepreneur Spotlight Feature:
Freedom Blend Coffee - Opened Sept 13, 2017
Carlos Sims Jr., Coffee Roaster, General Manager
Written by Cally Reed, UNI Center for Business Growth and Innovation
What if I told you that there is a way to help break the cycle of poverty by drinking your morning coffee? Freedom Blend Coffee leverages one of America's favorite ways to get caffeinated (coffee!) to do just that. The company focuses on training young people who live in low-income impacted areas in Des Moines’ urban core as a means by which they start to break the cycle of poverty for people right here in Iowa. It was a pleasure to have a conversation with Carlos Sims Jr., the GM of the shop to find out where the idea came from and how the Freedom Blend vision comes to life each day!
Tell me about Freedom Blend. How did it start?
“Freedom Blend was born out Freedom For Youth. Mark Nelson began the organization when he left his corporate job to undo poverty. Even while he was an executive level professional, he had a heart for youth. He would make regular visits with people who lived under the bridge. Alleviating poverty has always been a defining point for the organization.
That leads naturally to where Freedom Blend got its start. Low income people often times do not have basic job training experience, or the skills it takes to keep a job. Born out of this need for job employment training, Freedom Blend is a great place for young adults to learn how to relate to a boss, learn time management, and a host of other transferable skills they carry with them for future employment."
Although Freedom Blend does not intend for the barista positions to be a long term solution for any of their their young employees, working at Freedom Blend provides a consistent income for people who may otherwise be caught in the cycle of poverty.
‘Give someone a fish, they eat for the day;
teach someone to fish, and they eat for a lifetime.’”
What was your “aha moment” for when you knew roasting coffee and managing young adults at a coffee shop in Des Moines made sense?
“The thing that motivated me to be a part of Freedom Blend is that I want to see lives transformed."
Carlos has a life story that is similar to his employees, he was raised by a single mother and had a lower income when he was growing up. He had different disruptors that broke the cycle for him --he credits playing sports and then going to college to play a big part in it.
“I wanted to be a part of breaking the cycle of poverty.”
Is there something about serving coffee that you see impacting the community?
“People (metaphorically) 'sitting at the same table.' I’ve seen a suburban family having coffee with a lower income family. Coffee is one of the most popular drinks in America, so it makes sense that people of all backgrounds stop by the shop, and I’ve already seen reconciliation happening.”
What resources were most useful to you in the beginning?
“A book called, “When helping hurts” - it’s about alleviating poverty in a way that doesn’t hurt people. Helping people to be self-sufficient. And modeling the way Jesus is, modeling how he lived throughout the Bible extending help to those who need help and associating with the lowly.
What is one motivator you use at the shop to motivate or inspire your team on Monday on morning?
“We begin the day with a staff meeting where we debrief the last week. The team talks about our wins losses, and strategize about how to do better this week. I am intentional not to go right to the office to work, to linger around the staff on Monday morning and ask employees about their lives. I try to communicate “Hey we’re doing a great job, let’s press in this week. I have a set weekly touch point with leaders, to make sure the ship is steering in the right direction. And I end the meetings with a ‘let’s go get ‘em!”
Do you have one piece of advice, inspiration or caution for entrepreneurs who are considering going into business?
“Word of caution - as a leader of a business you’re tempted to think of your employees and customers as a means to an end. We are who we are because of the people we employ and the people who support our business. You wouldn't be able to manage your business without your employees, and you wouldn’t be able to produce a product without customers.
It’s all cyclical.
When you put your employees first, your employees feel valued.
When your employees feel they matter, they put your customers first.
When your customers feel important, your customers invest in your business.”
Are you working on any new project that you’re particularly excited about and would like to share with our readers?
“We have a new line of coffee that just became available online. We’re excited to expand our product offering so we can employ more people!”
What’s your favorite coffee at Freedom Blend?
“I’m very plain. Black coffee. Light roast.”
The team at Freedom Blend are using something as simple as a cup of coffee to teach people skills to create a long-term sustainable skills that last a lifetime. This conversation has been a reminder to me to focus on human flourishing as a motivator no matter the industry I work in -- day in and day out.
Do you have an business idea for a new social entrepreneurship venture or a new perspective on focus and motivation at work? Let us know about it in the comments!