Awards at UW-Madison recognize businesses that serve financial, social and environmental goals

November 21, 2016 By David Tenenbaum
Wisconsin natives John and Tashia Morgridge initiated and funded the first Force for Positive Change awards in Wisconsin. “There is an unmet need to recognize people who have a positive impact within the state,” said John during the ceremony. “The key to what was in the room was integrity and people,” said Tashia. “I think those two words, together, represent what is good about Wisconsin.”

Wisconsin natives John and Tashia Morgridge initiated and funded the first Force for Positive Change awards in Wisconsin. “There is an unmet need to recognize people who have a positive impact within the state,” said John during the ceremony. “The key to what was in the room was integrity and people,” said Tashia. “I think those two words, together, represent what is good about Wisconsin.” Nick Berard

Four Wisconsin businesses with missions that merge entrepreneurship, social change and sustainable practices each received a $25,000 “Force for Positive Change Award” during a ceremony Friday, Nov. 18, at the Discovery Building at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

The event that was designed to spur further innovation, and to support businesses that benefit society and/or the environment without relying on grants or philanthropic funding, says Laura Heisler, director of programming at the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.

“The impetus came directly from two of UW–Madison’s most generous alumni, John and Tashia Morgridge,” says Heisler, who also directs outreach at the Morgridge Institute for Research. “John and Tashia had the vision, and they articulated a desire to see sparks fly around opportunities to merge the world of entrepreneurship, good business practices, self-sustaining businesses and social change.”

“I love to see the next generation of enthusiasts, who are willing to be professional in the way in which they approach social entrepreneurship,” said Tashia Morgridge after the ceremony. “They are energized, enthusiastic, capable, educated and dedicated. They know it might not work, but the essence of entrepreneurship is to take a chance.”

Award winner WholeTrees designs and fabricates building components from culled trees that are too small or odd-shaped to have value as saw timber. Pictured is the roof structure at Festival Foods, Madison. “Nationally, poorly managed forests are a big problem,” said CEO Amelia Baxter. “These thinnings are all considered junk. There’s no millable yield, no tax advantage so these forests will eventually be developed or cleared. We try to find the highest value for these cullings, which is to use them for their innate structure capacity.”

Award winner WholeTrees designs and fabricates building components from culled trees that are too small or odd-shaped to have value as saw timber. Pictured is the roof structure at Festival Foods, Madison. “Nationally, poorly managed forests are a big problem,” said CEO Amelia Baxter. “These thinnings are all considered junk. There’s no millable yield, no tax advantage so these forests will eventually be developed or cleared. We try to find the highest value for these cullings, which is to use them for their innate structure capacity.” Courtesy of WholeTrees

The winners, chosen from more than 180 applicants from across the state, serve what is called the “triple bottom line,” which typically adds social and environmental goals to the usual business goals. “These are companies that are very good at making a profit while delivering a product or service that has a positive social impact,” Heisler says.

The Morgridges are natives of Wauwatosa who have a long history of philanthropy at UW–Madison and elsewhere, Heisler says. “Last year John and Tashia received a global humanitarian award in San Jose, and they were so inspired by the social entrepreneurs they met and heard about that they asked, Can we do something like that here, for Wisconsin? Can we identify what is going on in the state and hold out the best models to inspire others who could see themselves as entrepreneurs who also have the desire to make a difference in the world?”

At Friday’s ceremony, John Morgridge said the couple had been inspired by social-entrepreneurship awards they had witnessed last year in San Jose. “We are always willing to steal a good idea.” Asked why people and businesses may be concerned with more than the traditional bottom line, he added, “There is a human desire to be part of making this a better place.”

The event was organized by a broad range of Wisconsin partners, including WARF, the Morgridge Center for Public Service, the Wisconsin Technology Council, the Morgridge Institute for Research, the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, the Wisconsin Campus Compact, StartingBlock Madison, The Water Council, the Social Good Summit and UW–Madison School of Human Ecology.

Thirty-six organizations from across the state advanced to the finalist phase. A panel of expert judges from the public, private and academic sectors as well as investors and granting organizations reviewed each final application and interviewed a representative of each organization.

Riverview Gardens has created interactive social enterprises that provide unlimited job-training opportunities with sources of revenue, as well as an accessible, community park space, in Appleton.

Riverview Gardens has created interactive social enterprises that provide unlimited job-training opportunities with sources of revenue, as well as an accessible, community park space, in Appleton. Courtesy of Riverview Gardens

The winners were (descriptions were provided in award applications):

  • Fix Development, Milwaukee, “demonstrates that socially just, environmentally sustainable and culturally rich commercial real estate projects can be financially successful, even in our lowest income neighborhoods, by using a private-sector, neighbor-led, locally crowd-funded model that disrupts traditional real estate and financial systems.”
  • Purple Cow Organics, Middleton, believes “the health of the soil impacts the health of all living things.”
  • Riverview Gardens, Appleton, is “a nonprofit social enterprise providing job training for people in need, to transform their lives and our community.”
  • WholeTrees Madison, Muscoda, Stoddard, “demonstrates the greenest and most profitable use of forest products by bringing trees to high-value construction markets and inspiring a green construction industry.”