Michelle Stronz and Anthony Allen, Founding Partners of Formata, are social entrepreneurs and consultants working to build and strengthen business models and support systems for entrepreneurs looking to make income and impact through their companies. The two are also Co-Founders of the ARTTN Gallery, which is the first social impact enterprise they have launched in-house.
These busy entrepreneurs met with Innovation Destination Hartford to discuss what it means to be a social impact company and the ways they are working toward helping companies make impact.
IDH: Let’s get some background. How did the two of you come together?
STRONZ: Anthony and I have worked together for more than three years. He started as an intern for me. I invited him to be a consultant in my former consulting practice and then shortly after we started to talk about a space that we are both interested in, which we’ll broadly call the social enterprise ecosystem.
IDH: How would you define the “social enterprise ecosystem?”
STRONZ: Organizations that do good and do well. It’s a for-profit model that builds impact into the business model. In other words, impact is “baked into” the business model.
We believe we’re at the front of the wave on this—we are not alone—but we are at the front of the wave.
IDH: Tell us about Formata. When did you launch and what is the business concept?
STRONZ: Formata is a consulting firm that launched in January 2015. We provide strategy and leadership solutions to organizations of all kinds. We deal with companies of all sizes that want to make impact. We want to show them how to line up the business model and how to add value—usually financial value with impact—whether it’s social, economic or environmental.
We consult with companies and show them proven tools for growing their firms, which means they’ll grow both income and the impact. And we want to help them develop leaders who do the same thing.
IDH: How does the ARTTN Gallery tie in with Formata?
STRONZ: ARTTN (pronounced “art-tention”, as in art + intention) is our first enterprise out of the Formata idea lab. We want to show how to grow income and make an impact by launching our own initiative.
IDH: And why did you choose art?
ALLEN: That was Michelle’s idea.
STRONZ: Right, but I wouldn’t have come up with it without Anthony. We are a very diverse team. We are the ultimate millennial and boomer partnership. We have different ideas about a lot of things, but we also have a very similar motivation. We’re both at points in our lives where we are thinking: How can I do something to make a difference?
I’ve always been interested in art. Anthony and I were talking about it, and I said someday I really want to have a gallery. And he said: what are you waiting for?
IDH: Explain the online gallery concept.
STRONZ: The ARTTN Gallery is a premiere online-only gallery for sharing visual stories that may not be told elsewhere. We are displaying exceptional artwork; large-scale, original, signed work. We are encouraging change by sharing the stories through the limited edition work and by investing a portion of the total revenue from sales of the images in global projects.
Each exhibit serves a different impact cause, so we actually start with the impact cause. And the first one we talked about was human trafficking, which is really important to me.
Anthony is the chief impact guy and he found our target, which is an organization called Not For Sale, a leading global organization committed to ending modern slavery in our time. Then we find photographers whose pictures depict women and kids who have lost some or all aspects of their freedom. These photographers are world-renowned. Most have shot for National Geographic and other global photography outlets.
IDH: How are you getting these photographers on board?
STRONZ: I called David Griffin, who is an old friend of mine I went to journalism school with. He is the former director of photography for National Geographic. I called him up and asked: Can you help us? And he did. David became our curatorial advisor, which is awesome.
IDH: And are these photographers volunteering?
STRONZ: No. We are trying to model the way for launching an enterprise that makes money and makes impact. So we are offering to exhibit their photographs and they’re going to get the same rate that they would get if they exhibited with a gallery. They earn the standard gallery fee for participating—it’s 50%, with the exception of a few who are donating some of their proceeds to the impact cause. And then out of that other 50%, at least 10% will go to our impact partner. So it’s coming right off the top. It’s part of our business model to fund this project.
Anthony why don’t you explain the impact partner.
ALLEN: So for the impact side of things, I was looking for an organization that helps with human trafficking. I found a bunch of organizations but nothing with a specific project that we could really fund.
I reached out to my friend Melissa Levick Lake who works with ONEHOPE Foundation. She assesses nonprofits based on their ability to measure the impact that they’re making. She put me in touch with the Not For Sale campaign out of San Francisco. The work they are doing is sensational.
The project specifically that we’re funding is in Romania, they’ve partnered with an organization on the ground that’s called Generatie Terana Romana.
IDH: So how does what you’re doing make an impact?
ALLEN: We wanted it to be baked in, so as Michelle said, at least 10% of gross revenue comes from the sale of the photographs and funds specifically this project. It’s helping women and children transition either out of a high-risk area or out of the life of human trafficking.
IDH: The ARTTN Gallery will be rotating, correct? So how long will each exhibit remain on the site?
STRONZ: It depends. We will probably display each exhibit for a few months, so we are building relationships with the photographers. The “artivists”—this is Anthony’s term because they’re artists and activists—once they form a relationship with us they can stay in the gallery as long as they want.
We’re hoping to have our second exhibit up in the first quarter of 2016. I think it will have a more environmental focus. We just don’t know what that’s going to look like yet. But we want to give meaningfully to the impact. We want it to fund tangible projects so, for example with the current exhibit, we can say at the end we served “X” number of women and children and their lives have changed in the following ways.
One of the hallmarks of ARTTN is we’re using a lot of the core markers for successful enterprise, one of which is collaborative networks. So we are collaborating with Checkmate Creations and with our photographers and with folks who are helping us scale the site.
So just to tie the link to Formata again. Formata is a social impact action lab. We want to show how you can do it by doing it. In this way, our consulting solutions demonstrate real substance and experience.
And we’ll continue with Formata to consult with people who want to make impact. This is what I meant by “front of the wave.” Companies are just beginning to see what it means to do good and do well and how that impacts the bottom line in a positive way.
It’s more than corporate social responsibility, it’s more than having a foundation that gives to some local thing—not that that’s not important— but we want to show you can make a big, meaningful change as a for-profit enterprise.
ALLEN: And have it align with your strategy.
ALLEN: Michelle did a good job explaining how Formata and ARTTN tie together. There is an opportunity in the social enterprise ecosystem for companies to actually scale the income and the impact in a way that’s financially viable for the long-term and that will allow them to grow organically for as long as possible.
IDH: You obviously do a lot of consulting, but do you have specific advice for those who are pursuing their entrepreneurial goals?
STRONZ: I always tell the CEOs I work with: Don’t wait on your dream. Do the dream. What are you waiting for? Do the dream now.
And of course, when we were coming up with the idea for Formata, Anthony said to me: We need to do the dream. And I said, of course we do.