Conservation Entrepreneurship/Local Initiatives

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Local Social Entrepreneurship initiatives in or near Gainesville, Florida[edit | edit source]

On February 4, 2009, we had the opportunity to visit and talk with the directors of 3 local green businesses:

Volta Cafe (They buy their coffee from Intelligensia who practice Direct Trade)

Indigo Green Store


Visits to local Ecopreneurs -- what do we want to learn? what questions to ask?[edit | edit source]

Note: although in the form of direct questions, we may want to get at these topics through observation and our own analysis, as well as direct and indirect questioning of the entrepreneur. What is your business? (value proposition; need fulfilled).

Who is your customer? (segmentation; 80-20 principle)

Who are your competitors?

Understand start-up phase. Problems they ran into. How they overcame. How did they get funding?

Understanding the entrepreneur's personal perspective on business, social enterprise. "What do you consider yourself?" Non-profit or for-profit, and why?

Any links to conservation? to non-profits?

Working or partnering with communities? (ways, special challenges, lessons). From community perspective: producing commodities or adding value? (through processing or other ways of adding value?) From community perspective: participation; distribution of benefits.

Markets; niche? Certification? What are your views on the benefits and problems of certification? Fairtrade/organic. What about direct trade? How much more difficult/rewarding is it? What are the logistics involved?

How did you decide on Gainesville as a good place of business? Earned Media- how have you obtained it and how has it impacted your business?

Comments and Evaluation[edit | edit source]

Please address the following questions with regard to each of the businesses visited:

Responses to this assignment are seen below:

Value proposition
How do they create value for the consumer? What do they offer to the consumer? What need do they fulfill, or what problem do they solve? Try to encapsulate the value proposition of each business in a single sentence, and back it up in a paragraph. Example: “WalMart provides a wide range of consumer products at the lowest possible price. WalMart stores are no-frills (to say the least) and product quality is variable, but they offer a very wide range of product types and a substantial variety of low to mid-range quality products in each category.”

CAFE VOLTA: Volta offers a diversity of gourmet coffees, teas, and chocolates specially prepared to accentuate their unique flavors in an inviting and sophisticated feeling atmosphere in downtown Gainesville.Keeping the road safer and the Earth greener

Author: 19:11, 6 February 2009 (UTC) jay
Cafe Volta strives to offer the best coffees, teas, and chocolates available to consumers in Gainesville. The cafe stresses that coffee is not just coffee, tea not just tea, and chocolate not just chocolate, but rather that there exist many coffees, teas, and chocolates that have different flavor qualities that are brought forth by their proper preparation. The owner of Volta is a connoisseur and invites his clientele to be connoisseurs as well, or at least to feel like one. Value is created for the customer by the cafe providing access to a diversity of artisan coffees, teas, and chocolates not accessible elsewhere in Gainesville. Further value is added by preparing these products for the customers in what is presented as the ideal way to accentuate their subtleties. Further value is created by providing these products in an inviting atmosphere that encourages socializing and a sense of urban sophistication not widely available in Gainesville. Volta offers customers access to goods (that are backed by stories) not easily attainable elsewhere. It offers them in a non-chain atmosphere in downtown Gainesville, thus making it convenient for those who live, work, or socialize in this area of town.

Cafe Volta provides premium coffee-shop goods and services at competitive rates. The cafe is focused on social responsibility, while maintaining a snobby ambience. They partner with smaller-scale companies that source their products from smaller-scale farmers, and price their goods to compete with larger corporations. The service is exceptional and well educated to impress upon the customer that they deserve the best. 03:34, 11 February 2009 (UTC)


Author: Kifaro50 20:35, 8 February 2009 (UTC)
Indigo offers eco-friendly, sustainable products for the environmental and health-minded consumer. The primary value to the customer comes from products that allow customers to still have a great looking home, but to do so in a way that is environmentally sustainable. A house can have wood flooring or nice carpets, but these products do not have to be harmful to the environment to make. At the same time there are products offered such as dual-flush toilets and sunlight diffusers that help better utilize natural resources to reduce consumption. Indigo also creates value by offering products that are healthier, avoiding toxic chemicals such as formaldehydes in the glue of carpet. Finally, Indigo provides value to its customers through education, increasing awareness about the range of sustainable products, as well as offering classes on “green” topics.

Author: Emiliano 02:36, 11 February 2009 (UTC)
Indigo provides environmentally friendly and healthier products to responsible consumers. Indigo creates value by focusing on the green niche of the housing market. The owner states that today it is possible to compete in prices of products to conventional products with the obvious advantages of environmentally responsible products.

Author: Lichenology 02:34, 11 February 2009 (UTC)jay Indigo offers goods and materials to those seeking to design, remodel, and sustain homes using non-toxic and sustainable materials. Indigo offers value to its customers by linking them with product choices that are clean and safe for the consumers health and offer the consumer the opportunity to make ecologically responsible purchasing decisions. Indigo offers a relatively wide selection of products in a new and growing niche, products which are not easily found elsewhere in Gainesville. Another value that Indigo offers is that of supporting a local business which does its best in turn to support other local or regional businesses. It also provides value through the displays that it offers in the store for consumers to see and touch the materials that Indigo offers. Yet more value is offered by Indigo through the classes that they offer to the community. Like the other businesses we visited, Indigo offers value partly through the actual product it supplies and partly through the good (responsible morally and ecologically) feeling that customers get when purchasing the materials that they offer.


Author: Lichenology 19:12, 10 February 2009 (UTC)jay
Alternatives offers consumers an alternative to buying products from questionable sources and guarantees to its customers that its products are fair trade. There seem to be two main values that Alternatives provides to consumers. The first again, is the moral value of knowing that the products one is purchasing come from fair trade sources and thus in theory, purchasing them is giving a just income to the producers. The second value Alternatives gives is access to rare and exotic goods not easily attainable elsewhere. Additionally the products frequently come with a story of their origin and the producers who produce them. All of these together provide perhaps the biggest value that consumers get from shopping at Alternatives, to feel good about shopping, to feel that their purchases are having a neutral or better yet positive effect in the world. Lichenology 19:12, 10 February 2009 (UTC)jay

Author: Lynch 23:20, 10 February 2009 (UTC)
Alternatives offers consumers a unique variety of worldly products that tell a story not just about the purchaser but also about the maker; all of which is done with a clean social conscience. As was mentioned above, Alternatives offers a real story with every purchase. These stories create a link between the buyer and the designer/ maker that really adds value to the purchase. This value is something that you will rarely find in products offered at larger businesses- you don't buy a shirt at Target and enjoy telling your friends where you bought it and how it was made. In other words, the products at Alternatives allow you to stand out and be unique in your worldly fashion, all while supporting important social/ environmental causes.

Who is their target customer?

Volta offers ambiance and culture (in the sense of culto). When we spoke to the owner of Volta, it seemed that his target audience was more a way of thinking than a "type" of person. He seems to target a wide array of people- from the person who likes the modern cafe ambiance to the person who takes flavor (and particularly coffee) seriously. He adds the value of social consciousness with the products that he provides but does not make that his main focus area. His main focus is reaching people like he put it. ~Mira

According to Anthony, the owner of Volta, there is no one ideal customer. The store sees customers from every social and economic group, blue- and white-collar workers, and people of a variety of ethnicities and backgrounds. As Mira said, customers of Volta should represent more of a similar mindset than any obvious demographic characteristic. Volta’s clientele are likely to be those who know about and want quality drinks. These people combine this desire with a feeling of social responsibility and a desire to enjoy their pleasures in a way that does not lead to the exploitation of people in developing nations. They want good coffee and tea but they also want to see that the farmers who produce it are justly compensated and thus, through their purchasing power, to enact social change. Kifaro50 21:39, 8 February 2009 (UTC)

Alternatives has a unique customer base. Alternative's target customer is the young to middle aged cultured individual. Well-traveled, fashionably aware students are likely a major target for Alternatives. I think that the owner recognized this when she first opened the store near campus. A second customer that the owner appears to be targetting more recently is the middle-aged yuppie. These individuals are likely more financially stable and willing to pay more for some of the finer unique products found in Alternatives. Lynch 20:45, 7 February 2009 (UTC)

Middle-age women frequent Alternatives, and are the target market for the store. These women are often married to or are themselves people employed by the University of Florida. As such, they are socially aware and willing to pay a premium for responsible clothing and accessories. Other women, such as stay-at-home moms, are targets.

Indigo is primarily targeting the environmentally conscious homeowner. These people care about sustainability, while also enjoying the health benefits eco-products provide such as fewer chemicals. They are willing to pay a premium for these products. While Indigo also sells eco-friendly cleaning supplies that could attract a wider consumer base, the majority of their products are items such as flooring materials and water conscious toilets that are not likely to be of interest to non-homeowners. This is countered somewhat by the educational classes they teach about eco-friendly practices such as making and using rain barrels and environmental gardening, bringing other potential consumers, such as local college students, into the store. Kifaro50 23:07, 7 February 2009 (UTC)

Builders offer Indigo the market they desire. By gaining business with homeowners (i.e.- potential builders), they seek to create demand for their products in the construction industry of Gainesville. 03:34, 11 February 2009 (UTC)

Who are their competitors in terms of fulfilling the need described above? Think in terms of similar products or related needs; also think about different distribution channels for obtaining a similar product.

While Indigo claims a fairly small 'green household' niche, they are still in direct competition with other non-green household product businesses. When someone is planning to build or remodel a home they have two general options; go green or don't. In this general sense Indigo is in competition with businesses like Home Depot and Lowes. These massive businesses are likely able to draw customers away from Indigo with lower prices and the one stop shopping experience. Lynch 20:36, 7 February 2009 (UTC)

Author: Emiliano 13:43, 11 February 2009 (UTC)
Indigo's competitors competitors today are other building material shops like Home Depot and Lowes. Although Indigo seeks a different niche in the market, their local customer base is still skeptic towards buying green because of the common knowledge that these kind of products are more expensive. The owners of Indigo explain that green products are becoming more and more accessible, and if you make projections including savings and advantages of the green products they have definitely competitive prices.

As a coffee shop, Volta is in direct competition with other coffee shops, such as Starbucks. Volta must compete against the great publicity of Starbucks as well as ease of access with locations on the UF campus and around town. Volta strives to be more than just a coffee shop, also serving as a gathering place for people to come together and interact socially. As such, it is in competition with other public spaces that provide opportunity for meetings. This competition is most likely to focus on providing a meeting place for professors, graduate students, and other professionals such as lawyers. Finally, Volta caries socially responsible goods, such as direct trade coffee, tea, and chocolate. This may lead to competition with fair trade suppliers in Gainesville for customers interested in social and environmental responsibility. Kifaro50 23:24, 7 February 2009 (UTC)

It is interesting but there are a few places where Alternatives could have competition in a broad sense. There are several stores in Gainesville that offer novelty items, natural fiber clothing and/or crafts and many of them offer crafts from places where the crafts are inexpensive to buy and ship making them a retail item with a decent percentage return (like the one on Newberry just after 39th St). Alternatives offers a wider variety of items and value-added social awareness but at a higher price, in many cases. Depending on how specific the buyer is in their purchase mentality and willingness to pay for labor, effort and quality (including social consciousness and cause), this could be a competitive disadvantage for Alternatives. ~Mira

What core competencies have these business owners mastered?

Cafe Volta

  1. Innovation: Cafe Volta fills a niche; that of the non-corporate, local cafe. But it goes beyond this by providing very high quality products, that are very fresh, and are constantly changing.
  2. Educating Consumers: Both subtly and not so subtly, Cafe Volta educates its customers about the differences between different coffees, for example, thus encouraging the customer to become curious about all the subtle flavor differences and interested to experiment with them. The tasting charts on the wall of coffee flavor types are part of this as well, as are the public tastings/cuppings. The customer is educated to appreciate the high quality of Volta's products and find it objectionable to patronize other sub-par establishments.
  3. Interested/Engaged/Educated Staff'': By ensuring that the staff is interested in the products, through tastings and constant education, the staff become more than mere servers. Their knowledge and ability to recommend products and coach the customers are strong fortes of the cafe. This creates value for the customer by feeling engaged in a learning process. It probably creates profit for the cafe by encouraging customers to try new (and at times more expensive) products.
  4. Background in business: Anthony's eclectic background (including business) gives him a number of important skills and perspectives. His business plan would appear to be well researched, thought out, planned, and excecuted. He mentioned the lesson, which the cafe seems to embody, of it being important to appear more professional, large and wealthy as an enterprise than it may actually be.
  5. Finger on the pulse: Because of Anthony's passion (ensuring that he constantly is learning about developments in the products he carries) and because he deals with the cutting edge of small, constantly innovating artisan suppliers, he is able to transfer this to the customer, a feeling a being in the avant-garde of cafe culture. He and his staff also attend regional, national, and international conferences and competitions, ensuring that their finger stays on the pulse.Lichenology 19:45, 6 February 2009 (UTC)jay


  1. Educating consumers: They offer transparency and advising in eco-friendly products (from construction to cleaning products) in line with customer needs and requirements. They do outreach to possible consumers (particularly the Builder's Association) in order to double their mission- to expand and to make Gainesville a safer and more environmentally friendly place to live.
  2. Community involvement: They offer workshops and capacity building through SFCC and on their own to educate consumers and interested people on how to live in a more healthy, eco-friendly way. They help them to be more discerning when it comes to false advertising and "green-washing" leading to more informed consumer decisions.

  1. Publicity: Classes, advertising, and local business relations all increase the publicity and likely business for Indigo. The 'green clean' award that they created to offer local business who used green cleaning supplies is an excellent way to push for green living as well as a free way to advertise.
  2. Education: Classes taught to the general public on green issues is an excellent way to 'spread the word' and also gain exposure. The more that the community understands about green living the more likely they are to buy green produts from Indigo.
  3. Networking: Indigo appear to be involved with networking not only with local green product designers, but also with the greater architectural/ construction world. These connections can only increase business for Indigo. If Indigo is mentioned to home owners by the construction companies then Indigo is more likely to see green homegoods being encorporated into more local homes.
  4. Staff: The staff at Indigo appear to be very friendly and educated on all issues relating to green living. For this reasons Indigo is a great place to ask questions on a wide variety of green products that otherwise would be scattered across the internet. As a 'middle-man' company this business competency is vital. Lynch 23:35, 10 February 2009 (UTC)

As Laurie tells it, she started out with no business training and little experience working with communities or fair trade goods, from there she has had to develop a number of competencies:

  1. Recruiting and working with staff: Laurie has had to find employees that share her passion for empowerment of local people. She has had to train them to run the business in her stead as she often relies on them as she travels the world, working with local communities and sourcing products.
  2. Integrating for-profit and non-profit work: In addition to Alternatives, Laurie also runs a non-profit group dedicated to working with and empowering local communities. She has learned to balance and integrate the goals of these two entities, while maintaining aspects of their individuality.
  3. Sourcing products: Laurie sources many of the products she sells herself, going to communities and building relationships with the people there. For other products, she has suppliers in countries around the world who work directly with local people and she must coordinate and maintain networks with these people as well as communities across the globe.
  4. Passion for others: Talking to Laurie for just a few minutes reveals that what really drives her is a desire to help people in communities across the world and to raise awareness in the United States of these people and their needs. This passion is evident in her business and in the personal sacrifices she has made to start up the company and keep it running. Her passion and the stories and vibrancy she attaches to her products is part of what makes her store unique and attractive. Kifaro50 20:51, 8 February 2009 (UTC)


How well do they execute their strategy?

Volta Anthony and Volta appear to be the most business savy of the three businesses we visited. The planning, structure, and execution of Volta seem the most stable and well organized. Even though there already existed a number of coffee businesses in the downtown Gainesville area Anthony was able to carve out an even more specialized niche by offering something that he believed no other company was offering- high quality fresh coffee. I feel that once people try Volta coffee/ tea/ chocolate they will understand that it is of better quality than Starbucks or Maud's and Volta will see an increase in business. As long as Volta sticks to the strategy of seperating itself from the other coffee shops in Gainesville, I see him remaining on top of the quality coffee market in town. Anthony has also made a great business decision in his hiring and team management. Even though he did have one negative experience in the beginning, since then Anthony has hired staff that add a lot of personality and energy to the business. He appears to be dedicated to educating his team (and the public) about coffee/ tea/ and chocolate, and this will in turn translate into better business function. Lynch 21:38, 7 February 2009 (UTC)

Volta seems to be executing their strategy superbly. Whether or not the products offered there are as of high quality and sophistication as one is led to believe the consumer is certainly made to feel that they are and the premium is paid for them. The cost of the coffee beans themselves per cup versus the cost to consumer demonstrates that a significant mark up is being made over the cost of the high quality raw materials. The atmosphere and especially the staff do a very good job of presenting the products as the creme du le creme. The location chosen for the business and its spilling into the street seating make it an appealing place for passersby and its central and unique ambiance a convenient meeting place, ironically lacking in Gainesvillle. Volta has quite effectively grabbed an open niche in the market and appears to be snowballing in effect.Lichenology 03:53, 11 February 2009 (UTC)jay

Indigo seems to do well in its niche market. This currently seems somewhat limited to certain channels. For example, Indigo seems to be excelling in their goal of community education. Through a partnership with Santa Fe Community College they offer classes every weekend on a variety of environmentally responsible topics. According to the owner, these classes are generally booked well in advance, suggesting that the company’s goal of increasing awareness about issues of sustainability is being met. Financially the company seems to also be sustainable. The biggest challenge now will be finding ways to continue to expand their customer base amidst a suffering economy, perhaps through increased marketing. Kifaro50 21:24, 8 February 2009 (UTC)

Alternatives seems to do very well at the goal of providing a market for fair trade products, products which unless they have a market are ultimately not useful to the producers/producer groups/NGOs behind them. It also does well at providing a unique mix of goods for consumers who are looking for something fairtrade and/or of high quality and semi-exotic. Laurie mentioned that part of the mission of Alternatives is education and that she felt it was not doing as much in this arena as she wishes. That said she also mentioned doing sales of products with local churches, as well as a number of open houses during the year. Although not on a grand scale Alternatives is educating consumers and for students and residents in Gainesville Laurie is an excellent contact and source of information about fair trade, specifically in regards to crafts. It seems that the move to the strip mall while it has helped the business survive financially has taken it a bit out of the spot light culturally of Gainesville and provides it less of a chance to make a bigger statement particularly to the University community.Lichenology 03:38, 11 February 2009 (UTC)jay


Growth potential; opportunities to expand either horizontally or vertically.


There is always a demand for caffeine! And once someone is hooked on quality coffee such as that offered by volta, then there is no going back to your average cup of joe. I can easily see Volta expanding to other locations in the future. The quality coffe/ tea/ chocolate market is prime for the taking. There already exists a plethora of coffee shops in most towns, but I feel that most shops offer the same thing. If a coffee shop is going to make it they have to offer something that the others do not. If Volta is able to gain the repuation of the best cup of coffee in town then Volta will easily be able to expand. When Anthony said that people in Vail were interested in opening another Volta I immediately thought that it would be a good fit-cold weather and wealthy visitors who would be willing to pay for a great cup of coffee. The business model that Volta used is also one that can be adapted by anyone, so as long as Anthony partners with someone with a good business sense then I see additional Voltas succeeding just as the one in Gainesville has thus far. Lynch 21:59, 7 February 2009 (UTC)

Volta may have the opportunity to expand and yet at the same time may best keep its appeal and image by not expanding. Expanding vertically into coffee roasting or chocolate making would perhaps be of interest but given that they carry some of the best quality of these products, it may be hard for them to match the quality of those artisans for whom they are an outlet. In addition the additional space and equipment might make this an unattractive idea. However, all that said, to have the smell of fresh roasting coffee or cocoa would certainly add to the ambiance. Whether this would translate into sales or be worth the cost however is unknown. In terms of horizontal expansion, it would seem that in the years ahead (assuming that the bottom does not drop out of the gourmet market) Volta could quite easily expand horizontally as Anthony mentioned has already been solicited. I would argue however that beyond very modest expansion (to other places that Anthony likes to spend time) horizontal expansion could risk turning the anti-chain boutique into a chain. Thus expansion would need to go slow and be very specific about placement of other stores. The best choice for Anthony may be in fact to enjoy the relatively tranquility and easy control of having one (or two) stores in Gainesville and hiring himself out as a consultant to help other entrepreneurs start Volta-esque endeavors.Lichenology 03:38, 11 February 2009 (UTC)jay


I feel like Indigo has great potential to expand into their goal of becoming a "Green Home Depot"- although that is very contingent on many factors like market pressures (cost, accessibility, green incentives) and that many of these factors are leaning in a direction that favors this kind of expansion at the moment (with tax-breaks for environmentally friendly home repairs, updates and alternative energy). Assuming that is true and they are able to expand into a large material and home goods and home project planning store, there is even greater future potential to open up like stores in other locations...

Indigo appears to be at the very beginning of its growth with a good deal of room for expansion if the economic situation does not hamper it too much. The business seems to have filled an important and growing niche market in Gainesville and the region. Though it may be a tougher market, if the housing market recovers, perhaps trying to make in roads into the Ocala area where retirees seem to build and hopefully could be convinced of going green. Other opportunities for expansion will be to make more links with contractors and to figure out how to fit green building materials into stimulus spending and potential future tax incentives for houses built with eco material. Into the near future it seems wisest to keep a small inventory and continue to order on demand to keep overhead down. Perhaps work with suppliers and shippers could lessen to lag time between order and delivery.Lichenology 03:38, 11 February 2009 (UTC)jay

In terms of growth of the company, Alternatives’ opportunities are currently limited. The store is filled to capacity so there is not too much room to offer more products. Although Laurie says she does not foresee this happening in the near future, if the location of the store were to move there would be potential for expansion. Even if the location does not change, there is a chance that additional marketing or perhaps a partnership with Santa Fe or UF to increase education about local communities and their needs as well as about the products offered at Alternatives, could increase sales and thus provide opportunity to grow. Laurie has said education is something she would like to see happen more. Kifaro50 21:24, 8 February 2009 (UTC)


Alternatives It appears to me that the focus almost exclusively on "non-essential" products offered by Alternatives could be a risk. Especially with the economic downturn it would appear that disposable income is shrinking and Alternatives could suffer. Then again it is this very non-essential niche that Alternatives fulfills. To deal with "more essential" products would risk filling the store with even more products and competing with other stores like Wards, Mother Earth, Indigo, etc. Perhaps another future risk will be increased transportation costs for goods from far-a-way places in small quantities.Lichenology 21:22, 6 February 2009 (UTC)jay

Volta The above could also be said about Volta as they sell what could be considered luxury products that could be more cheaply replicated at home- they are products that are also consumed on the premises (often) so that one is paying for atmosphere- another luxury and "non-essential" item. Good point, Jay!

1. As was mentioned above for Alternatives, economic downturns may result in a decrease in business for Indigo. While green products are in many times economically beneficial in the longterm, they are commonly more expensive up front. During hard times people might opt to buy the non-green product solely based on price.

2. From a purely business standpoint, I feel that Indigo is taking a risk by choosing Gainesville as a business location. A large portion of the young population of Gainesville, who I would associate with more of a green attitude, are renters not home owners. I also feel that the median income per household would be lower in Gainesville than might be expected near a larger city. Relocating somewhere that is not such a college-based town might serve Indigo well. Lynch 20:22, 7 February 2009 (UTC)

I think that the risk that Indigo takes is not spending more on marketing at this point. They are a niche market but have come in at a really good time. Gainesville, as a location (due to the large quantity of builders and the higher property values by the University) is not a bad one at all. And with the presence of the university (green-consciousness) and the fact that they claim to offer comparable prices to Home Depot (for example) it seems that their applicability is pretty good. Their greatest risk, it seems to me, is that they have no inventory- which on the one hand is a benefit since they don't have to put money in up-front but...they have to depend on businesses that don't allow people to order directly through the company or find greater incentives for people to come through their business instead of going directly to the manufacturer. They could play up their value as "knowledgeable" a great deal more, it seems to me (although clearly giving classes through Sta Fe is helpful and good localized advertising).

Other local green businesses[edit | edit source]

  1. Citizens co-op. Many of you may already know about this amazing movement in our

community, but for those that don't...You can be a seed for change that will create more jobs in our town, more outlets for local farmers, and more community building. Purchase a membership for the Citizens co-op now, and help them reach the goal of 500 members before the summer. If you're already a member, go out and recruit just one more. The link to their website for more information, or to sign up is:

  1. Sweetwater Coffee
  2. Gainesville's Farmers Market located downtown on Wednesdays, from "4 to 7 pm"
  3. Book Lovers Cafe (and Books, Inc.)
  4. here is a link to another regional social enterprise we may want to visit or invite to visit with us. Lichenology 02:53, 28 January 2009 (UTC)jay