(Re)cycling Social Enterprise
29 January 2014 at 12:58 am
A Melbourne globetrotter is driving a social enterprise that harnesses the benefits of bikes, writes Nadia Boyce in this week’s Spotlight on Social Enterprise.
An adventure building a social enterprise in Bolivia is providing inspiration and wisdom for Australian social entrepreneur Luke Wright, who has now launched his second venture using the model.
With partner Loretta Curtain, the seasoned traveller and former writer spearheads Good Cycles, a social enterprise providing targeted employment through mobile bike maintenance services on Melbourne’s streets.
Launched in May 2013, the organisation is now treading slowly but surely towards its goal of integrating with the broader cycling community and delivering their services across Australia.
It is a venture borne of enthusiasm for cycling, a social justice mindset and an ambition to find market-based solutions to social problems.
A Global Citizen
A contributor to National Geographic Traveller, The Ecologist, Australian Geographic, Big Issue, Griffith Review, globetrotter Wright’s experiences abroad have played a significant part in Good Cycles’ development.
He has previously started a recycling-based social enterprise in Bolivia, which brought with it unique challenges, such as language barriers. It was a testing but valuable experience for Wright.
“I learned the hard way of doing it in Bolivia. I made a lot of necessary mistakes over there,” he says.
“My social conscience has arisen out of my travels. I have visited a lot of developing countries and seen that there’s a lot of injustice in the world.”
Yet Wright says his foray into social enterprise is a product of his interest in exploring market-based solutions for social problems rather than a sole social change focus.
“I don’t think I come from the traditional route of a social worker, I’m more from the entrepreneurial side,” he says.
“My personal view is that all business should have a social component.”
“I’m thinking of different social enterprise ideas every day,” he adds. “Australia is lagging behind other parts of the world.”
Wright and Curtain ultimately looked abroad when developing their business plans for Good Cycles.
Comparable organisations, such as Bikeworks in the UK, were a source of inspiration, guidance and hands-on experience for the pair.
The tipping point for getting Good Cycles off the ground was the result of a bold step by Wright, who contacted Intrepid Travel and Peak Adventure founder Daryl Wade directly to pitch for investment.
A strong concept coupled with extensive financial projections saw the pair secure much-needed startup funds.
Wheels Turning on Trend
Good Cycles is part of a broader movement – the cycling craze gripping Melbourne’s streets. It has proven a helpful springboard for the venture.
“They say cycling is the new golf – in the business world we’ve been able to tap into that,” Wright says.
“I think it’s becoming more and more popular and it will grow more and more as cities deal with infrastructure and congestion.”
Good Cycles’ primary objective is to use bikes and bike-based programs to provide a helping hand to those in the community who don’t get many opportunities in life.
“Ultimately, we want to engage people and, where possible, offer them real and respectable jobs and help transition them into the wider workforce.”
Good Cycles have steadily developed a lineup of services that will eventually be delivered by trainees under the guidance of professional bike mechanics, including a mobile bicycle maintenance service delivered onsite at offices, universities and events; fleet bike maintenance; courses and workshops in bicycle maintenance; and delivery of bike-based programs for schools and government agencies.
Wright says bikes are ideally suited for targeted training and employment as services require experience and proficiency level that is significant but attainable.
“Bikes seem to be a good tool for engaging people – they are not too complex, but complex enough,” Wright says. “A lot of young males might be typically handy – they’re not interested in cleaning or hospitality.”
Potential gender balance issues are on Wright’s radar.
“It usually does attract young guys. We’re doing what we can to bring girls into what is a male-dominated industry,” he says. “Girls are interested in bikes too – our customer base is 50-50 guys and girls.”
Good Cycles will build on this, Wright adds, by offering women-only bike maintenance classes in the near future.
Partnered with the City of Melbourne, other projects in the pipeline include restoration of abandoned bikes within the city, a pre-employment program for at-risk youth, and a program in collaboration with the Red Cross restoring old bikes with asylum seekers.
Spokes of the wheel
Building the customer base of Good Cycles has been two pronged, and has forced the organisation to balance emphasis on the social and service aspects of the business.
Wright says Good Cycles has two distinct sets of customers – those in higher level corporate management and the everyday bike rider.
“A lot of people running corporations cycle to work themselves – it’s great to connect with them on that level.”
“What opens doors most for them is the social aspect, whereas people who ride their bikes to work are more focused on just getting a good service.”
Good Cycles cannot stop at winning over customers, however. Wright says they are compelled to forge relationships within the cycling industry – a task that is proving no easy feat.
“We are trying hard to build relationships,” he says.
“One of the key challenges we need to overcome is convincing the cycling industry – the bike shops and bike associations and bodies – that we’re here for the good of the industry.
“Good Cycles is a non-profit project, its motives are not at all money driven. Rather, we want to work with and help the industry – which is suffering from a skills shortage.
“The bike industry is in a state of change. The online thing is really making a difference. It’s where the industry is going.
“Some of them [bike shop owners] are probably in a bit of a panic and see us as competition.
“We’d like to call them partners eventually.”
The organisation currently has five experienced mechanics and one full time trainee. Wright says they are looking to bring an additional trainee on board shortly.
He laments the difficulties of early-stage ventures, but is confident in the strength of the Good Cycles concept.
“It’s a good business idea on its own and coupled with the social aspect it’s a real winner,” he says.
“It seems to just be one of those ideas that ticks a lot of boxes for people. It’s not overly political, and deals with issues in health and wellbeing, the environment and provides people with employment.
“Starting up its incredibly time consuming and it’s difficult to work in other jobs. Its helpful to have some startup funds as you might have to go unpaid for a long time.”
Wright is emphatic on how success will be achieved.
“I’ve had thousands of conversations with people in shops across Melbourne…we’re still making sure we get the model right before trying to save the world,” he says.
“You have to be tenacious and stubborn, all the major cliches!
“It’s just hard work.”
Read more about Good Cycles here.