Detroit SOUP was supposed to be just one dinner. A forgotten city ravaged by the collapse of the auto industry, Detroit was in desperate need of help. In 2015, Amy Kaherl and a few friends bought ingredients for a soup and invited their networks to come together to talk about how they could make an impact. The idea was simple: $5 to attend, those with projects in need of funding could pitch, and the room would vote on who got to take home the pot of money.
More than 100 dinners later, 45 projects, 39 nonprofits, and 25 for-profit enterprises have raised over $130,000. SOUP has also expanded beyond Detroit: now over 120 cities around the world are hosting dinners. To say that they have left their mark is an understatement: over thirty one initiatives would not have moved forward, if not for SOUP.
We spoke with Amy about how she’s seen Detroit change, what she’s learned as an entrepreneur, and which up-and-coming social impact initiatives we need to be following.
How have you seen Detroit change?
I grew up in the suburbs of Michigan and moved to Detroit in 2009. It’s changed immensely. People who used to be afraid, now come in. Eater wasn’t here when I came here. Now there are local coffee shops. It says a lot about the community when it has a local hang spot. Eater just announced the new Spring restaurants coming out and I was like, whoa. People are now convinced.
Where is Detroit still struggling?
[While the city has made progress], has it changed for black entrepreneurs? I’m not sure. That’s the tale of two cities. Who is Detroit changing for? Desegregation is something we’re working towards. We’ve had an opportunity for a while to do really interesting things and you have to have really special people taking huge risks.
In building SOUP, what has surprised you?
Seventy percent of the people at SOUP are there for the first time. I’m happy and still a little surprised that we have so many people coming to the dinner. It basically runs by itself - we put out some flyers - but it kind of happens on it’s own. We usually get 150-200 people to show up.
As a business, what’s been your biggest challenge?
Funding is really important. We’re a nonprofit supporting the social entrepreneurial ecosystem and as a community, we should be supporting it together. Detroit is still relatively high poverty. [We’re looking for] those that have the vision and want to make these dinners happen. You can help by donating, attending, etc.
In this journey, how have you grown?
I never saw myself as an entrepreneur. I always thought I was kind of smart. Now I think I’m really smart. Now I have confidence in myself. [That being said], I can always be doing more.
What’s one of the biggest things you’ve learned?
I’ve learned how important it is that Amy and SOUP be two separate things. For a while there, when the city was changing and my face and story was used as a change agent, I’d go to a bar and at 1am people would want to talk to me about their business.
Something I’m still learning? To balance ambition with being proud of what I’ve already accomplished. And to let myself take breaks. You figure it out over time. It’s all about the mission of the organization and I have to take a deep breath.
What’s advice you can give to other entrepreneurs?
I think the struggles are beautiful; that’s what it means to grow. We have an illusion of growing like it should always be easy. We have an unrealistic obsession with perfection.
When we asked you to choose some of your favorite initiatives, how did you decide which ones to suggest?
All of the initiatives I suggested are past SOUP winners. They’re very active and huge participants in the social entrepreneur ecosystem. They have an action plan, they’re organized, they’re very committed.
Detroit Horse Power is a 501©(3) nonprofit founded in 2015 by former Detroit elementary school teacher, David Silver. They teach urban youth to ride and care for horses as a way to develop critical skills that will set them up for future success. Their planned urban equestrian center will be built on repurposed vacant land in Detroit and offer year-round youth programming while supporting a stronger community.
The Lawn Academy provides leadership training and mentoring to youth, ages 12-17, through community service opportunities and academic modules - while assisting the elderly and handicapped/disabled with free lawn care services. They provide an avenue for young men to contribute to their community by taking care of the elderly and the disabled. Many of them struggle with finding reliable, trustworthy sources for lawn care while the young men can build character by providing service to those in need.
Rebel Nell started with the sole purpose of employing, educating and empowering disadvantaged women in Detroit. They make jewelry from unique local materials, while providing a transitional opportunity for women in Detroit. Rebel Nell’s goal is to help these women move from a life of dependence to one of self-reliance, overcoming barriers to employment through the fruits of their own labor. Working directly with local shelters, they identify women who are ready to make this transition to a new phase in their lives.
LUCK Inc. exists to safeguard the community through the educating and training of its at-risk youth, the imprisoned, and returned citizens in critical thinking, effective communication, and mediation certified training. They focus on internal decision-making by strengthening their participant’s abilities to de-escalate aggression within self and within the immediate environment. LUCK guides the participants into critically thinking themselves into better attitudes, choices, and, ultimately, a better quality of life.
Are you a social entrepreneur? Red Bull Amaphiko is looking for creative and entrepreneurial change makers to attend their Amaphiko Academy in Baltimore, taking place August 11-20, 2017. Click here for more information about how to apply. Applications close on April 20, 2017.