Change Agents: Ian Smith and Tony Capuano, Columbus Love
As the chief visionary of a business dedicated to social change, Ian Smith, 24, was accustomed to meeting people who wanted to help others.
But he gained a new perspective on community service when he met a boy who volunteered to help Columbus Love make blankets for hospitalized children. The boy and his family slept by the kitchen stove to keep warm in the winter. His own bed was covered with coats because he didn't have a blanket.
"It hit me like a ton of bricks-here's a kid who loves giving even though he has absolutely nothing," Smith says.
Smith and Tony Capuano, who started the organization as a for-profit business that partnered with nonprofit entities, decided to change the focus of their organization: Instead of simply partnering with nonprofits like the Ohio SPCA, Community Kitchen Inc. and VETMotorsports to raise funds for specific service projects, they'd help people in need realize their dreams of helping others, too.
They set out to find another young person with "a heart for service" and were introduced to Ivory Isaac through A Kid Again, a group that organizes fun outings for children with serious illnesses and their families. When they met the 12-year-old Columbus girl battling brain cancer and working to help the homeless, Columbus Love began a campaign to help Ivory meet her goal of providing 200 homemade lunches to homeless individuals.
"Everyone has an innate need to give back-even people like Ivory who have every right to be selfish," Capuano says.
Smith and Capuano are in the beginning stages of expanding Columbus Love's reach to a global level. Ultimately, Smith notes, Columbus Love is about working with impassioned individuals who want to move past their own difficulties toward improving their communities.
Who inspires you?
Ian: The pastor at the church I attended in Cincinnati. It was one of the biggest churches in the city, but it started with the pastor holding small meetings on Friday mornings with six or eight people. Today, they have over 10,000 members spread across multiple campuses.
Tony: My family-it comes back to treating others the way you want to be treated. My family and I have a natural passion for people and the betterment of ourselves and those around us. My grandparents, uncle and mom have all started some type of nonprofit here in Columbus that was committed to serving others, so doing something similar feels natural.
What is your ultimate goal?
Ian: We had a decision to make-keep releasing new products or find something else that generates funds. We realized if we are going to impact the amount of people we want to impact, we need to do something to bring in a continual revenue stream. We decided to create the Columbus Love Foundation, which will allow us to hold our own fundraisers as we launch both local and global programs to impact others in need through a "think global, give local" mindset.
Tony: We want to start grassroots campaigns built around individuals who want to make a difference. My goal is to have the city serve as an example of service and giving to others. We aim to make love and hope contagious in those we serve and those who serve with us.
What lessons have you learned?
Ian: Always be honest and open about what your situation is. I've found that others are willing to help if they know what your needs are. If you are not open and transparent with those around you, they may never know to help. Running a profitable business is tough. Without the guidance and support of the people around you, your business will inevitably fail. Luckily for us, Columbus has been more supportive than we had ever imagined.
Tony: It's important to keep in mind that an idea is just an idea-until you begin the hard work to breathe life into your idea or passion, you'll never know how far it could go or how many lives you could impact.
What has been your most fulfilling moment?
Tony: Meeting Ivory. To see that little girl's faith and her selfless desire to give back is just so humbling. She has every right to think of nobody but herself, but she's thinking about how she can improve somebody else's life. She's a perfect example of selfless giving.
What do you wish you would have known when you started Columbus Love?
Ian: I wish I would have known what it takes to get people to understand what a social enterprise is. It's the opposite of the classic business model. As a social enterprise, we've really had to educate people that we are for-profit, but we have a nonprofit mindset of service and impacting people's lives.
Residence: Downtown Columbus
Job: owner of five Snap Fitness gyms; chief opportunist for Columbus Love
Residence: Short North
Job: part owner of Designli and chief visionary for Columbus Love