A New Neighborhood for Social Impact Businesses

Seeking Sustainable Growth in North-Central Denver

Syntrinsic Investment Counsel (whose mission is helping people use capital to solve social challenges) is among a number of social impact focused businesses that have moved to the Cole, Clayton and Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods. Denver's North-Central neighborhoods are becoming a hub for impact-focused and cultural businesses.

The area has obvious appeal for the growing numbers of businesses interested in social good as well as financial wealth. Situated off I-70 with access to the light rail and a new bike path and greenway that will connected to the light rail station at 38th Street and Colorado Boulevard, the neighborhood is experiencing exciting growth. It’s also is close to new development underway at the National Western Complex and is in close proximity to the trendy RiNo neighborhood.

While there isn't a lot of built-out office space, what exists is relatively affordable. Plus, in an area long dominated by light manufacturing, there are plenty of opportunities for Denver’s makers, artisans and small business to build out according to their own requirements. This appeal is exactly what also makes gentrification a real possibility. Groups like the Globeville, Elyria-Swansea Coalition are working to prevent displacement of established families and preserve the economic and racial diversity in this part of the city. More broadly, there is unease locally and nationally about how business growth isn’t all good. But many of the businesses settling into area are purposefully engaging and embracing the community, determined to show a new way to grow, to do well while doing good. 

That’s how Syntrinsic’s founder Ben Valore-Caplan sees it. “It was great to be in LoDo ten years ago when we first started. We needed to establish ourselves and a LoDo address helped legitimize us. Plus, it was an exciting place to be,” he says. But the company focuses exclusively on managing investments and building capital for nonprofits, mission-led businesses and families trying to align their values and wealth. “When you work so closely with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Denver, Colorado Public Radio and Mile High Early Learning, it makes sense to be helping support the same communities as our clients,” Valore-Caplan says. With partners, he bought the historic Medical Depot at 3840 York Street, renovated the space, moved his firm in and is purposefully curating other tenants who also are committed to doing good, not just making money. The business is even committed to keeping the property unfenced, allowing local families to easily access the developing bike path and greenway. Valore-Caplan’s vision is to build an epicenter for mission-led work in Denver.

Desiree Keen, co-founder of Rivers and Roads Coffee at 25th and Bruce Randolph is similarly determined to make her business as much about heart as profit. She and husband Michael lived in the neighborhood while working for others. After an illness, though, Desiree wanted a different kind of work. “We had to hold ourselves accountable to care for our community and our family,” she says. “I wanted to put love above all else and get away from fear.” Their cozy space hosts a donations-only family dinner on the second Thursday of every month. All proceeds support community projects and organizations in the neighborhood, and the dinner purposefully bring together new and old residents. The former garage also houses one of two glassblowing studios in the neighborhood.

Wonderbound’s decision to move from Park Avenue West and Broadway to 40th Street was more pragmatic. “We had to relocate,” says Lauren Turner, the dance company’s Marketing and Communications Manager. With their building for sale, the dance company needed a building with room for their 11 fulltime dancers to rehearse. They found it in a building formerly owned by AT&T in Elyria-Swansea. “The neighborhood is definitely changing,” says Turner, whose father grew up just a few blocks away. But the company is aiming to be a positive force, inviting everyone in the community to watch open rehearsals for free, five days a week.

A roster of other mission-led businesses are moving into the area, aiming at a more sustainable model for Denver’s growth.

Categories: Energy, Industry Trends