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Deaf we can!

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Social enterprise Deaf Can Coffee has won itself a million-dollar award for topping the inaugural Pitch for Purpose competition mounted by JN Foundation through its Social Enterprise Boost Initiative (SEBI).

The team took the stage two Fridays ago to compete with four equally strong competitors who, unlike them, possessed what some would consider two of the most important senses for the occasion — the ability to speak and hear. But Deaf Can defied all odds and not only won the competition, but also took the online voting award, People’s Pitch, donated by Digicel Foundation.

Carlyle Gabbidon, manager of the establishment which brews a variety of coffee mixes, says that his team was confident going into the competition. And, with the aid of interpreter Antoinette Aiken, they effectively communicated their business value proposition and its contribution to the deaf company.

“I had a gut feeling that we were going to win. We are excited that we won two of the awards. We are energised,” he declared. “We consider this a win, not only for us but for the deaf community. And our immediate plan will be to purchase a mobile unit to take full advantage of sales and marketing opportunities.”

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He indicated that the prize funds will be used to inject capital into the operations of the social enterprise, to increase its viability as a business and allow it to continue to stimulate change, as part of its social mission.

Noting that their journey came with its share of struggles, he said, “Commitment, mentorship and guidance allowed us to grow the business to include a coffee shop, and take advantage of mobile opportunities at various spaces and functions.”

He also projected that the company could be a model entity, nationally. “We have a training centre which trains others in the deaf community and, so far, about 20 persons are employed,” he explained. “We are empowering the deaf community through employment, and we strive to demonstrate that the deaf can do anything, with determination and commitment.”

Deaf Can offers an enticing menu of frappes, milkshakes, espressos, nitrogen coffee and their special, Brewster. To facilitate communication with their customers, they use an electronic menu, among other technologies.

“The hardest part is really to communicate with our customers. However, we use technology and that makes it easy for hearing persons to communicate with us. They can also touch what they want on the menu and that’s what we prepare,” he told the Jamaica Observer.

Saffrey Brown, general manager, JN Foundation, beaming about the success of Pitch for Purpose, said the competition emerged from the desire to provide solutions for funding, which is one of the biggest obstacles faced by start-up social entrepreneurs.

“We value the work that social enterprises contribute to community development, and we also acknowledge that for these entities to excel to meet their business goals and social objectives, they need to access proper financial support,” she stated.

“Therefore, the Pitch for Purpose competition provided developmental awards to the country’s promising social entrepreneurs.”

The competition also featured Bresheh, which manufacturers bags; Aquaflow, which developed a pump-and-spray water system; Educatours JA, which facilitites interactive educational tours; and Kimroy Bailey Robotics. The participants were each allotted five minutes to make their pitches to the judges, and an additional five minutes to respond in a question-and-answer segment. Bresheh placed second and was presented with the Business Development Support award by JN Small Business Loans.

“We will provide Randy [McLaren of Bresheh] with the support to take his business concept and operation to the next level, as well as offer loan opportunities to achieve his goals,”Jacqueline Shaw-Nicholson, communications and client services manager at JNSBL explained. “The entire concept has been structured to engage him on a bi-monthly basis, to participate in an eight-week training programme, commencing March 2017.”

For its part, Digicel Foundation said it was pleased to participate in Pitch for Purpose because it aligned with the values of a programme it runs.

“We have a programme dedicated to providing funding opportunities for social enterprises, which was established in 2012,” Patrice Sterling-Smith, social enterprise and special projects programme manager at Digicel Foundation said.

SEBI, launched in 2013 with funding support from the United States Agency for International Development, targets social entrepreneurs, providing leadership, mentorship and exposure to build and maintain viable companies so that they can meet their business objectives and serve their respective social initiatives.

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