Building Flint's social enterprise and investment systems

A Powers graduate, born and raised in Flint, Steve Wolbert is hard at work in a city close to his heart. After graduating from Michigan State back in 2005, Wolbert moved around for awhile before finally settling down back in Flint. It was in 2010, while brainstorming with a friend, that SIPI came into focus.

“This is personal. Being from Flint,” Wolbert said as he sat in a chair in the former rectory of St. Michael Catholic Church, which is now home to SIPI.

“If we can help people move from beyond their current situation into employment opportunities, we really believe that that’s a way to create impact in the community,” Wolbert said. “So, we got together with a group of subject matter experts who didn't think it was a crazy idea and started a company.”

SIPI, which stands for Social Impact Philanthropy and Investment, is on a mission. “Our mission is to transform legacy cities into economic hubs of opportunity for everyone,” said Wolbert. 

They currently have partnerships with Disability Network to provide technology exploration for kids with disabilities in Genesee County high schools and Michigan Rehab Services. SIPI also is working on a pilot program with Michigan Works to help unemployed, underemployed, or those seeking new careers to train individuals in information technology. “There was a real opportunity there,” Wolbert said, “to help individuals and the people looking to hire individuals who have been trained with the skills. That became another focus, providing the trainings and building the curriculums based upon the resources that are out there to create a successful program.”
MADE Institute is just one of the local organizations partnering with SIPI.
Ruth Mott Foundation, in the last grant funded SIPI to work with the Neighborhood Engagement Hub, Urban Renaissance Center and the Flint Development Center. This time around, SIPI is working with the MADE institute, continuing their work with the Urban Renaissance Center and have added the Hispanic Tech center. SIPI also is  continuing to work with St. Luke NEW Life Center. 

What services does SIPI provide to organizations? “Whatever they need to be successful, that is what we are going to do. If we don’t know how to do it, we are going to find the right person who knows how to do it,” Wolbert said.

SIPI’s goal is to make organizations sustainable and allow them to serve more people—and move on to the next organization that needs their help. “If we can help strengthen the nonprofit sector to produce individuals who are ready for employment, we think that we can also start to recruit these social enterprise companies to come in here and locate in Flint,” Wolbert said. 

SIPI already has garnered some national recognition, including presenting at the National Conferences of University Economic Development Agencies. 

In the future, SIPI is hoping to have an Angel Fund or a way to give back financially, but they are not quite there yet. “That is a goal, to have one of the first ever social enterprise angel funds or social enterprise accelerators in the country. We are still figuring out how we do that and are hoping to realize that goal by 2019,” Wolbert said.
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