July 2, 2018
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How mentorship is helping this community bike shop scale to new heights

Tampa nonprofit WellBuilt Bikes has become a transportation lifeline for over 1,000 locals in need

Entrepreneur and mentor Bruckner Chase, left, helped Jon Dengler, right, sharpen his business plan for his social enterprise Wellbuilt Bikes.

Every year as summer approaches, cities around America ramp up excitement around Bike to Work Week. While commuters make their plans to switch to two wheels and get some fresh air, it feels as though little thought is given to their neighbors and fellow citizens who bike out of necessity. In America’s cities, there are many for whom this affordable, reliable means of transportation is their only way to look for, find, and keep their jobs. We don’t yet have a Bike for Work Week—but at WellBuilt Bikes, we’re working on empowering and building a community for those folks who do.

At WellBuilt Bikes we take donated or discarded bicycles, many that might have otherwise ended up in the landfill, and refurbish them in our workshop for sale in our retail shop. The heart of our business is our Earn A Bike program, which invites homeless and low-income folks in our Tampa, Florida, community to do just that in exchange for a few days’ work with us in the shop. This program has led to over 1,000 people earning a bike since 2014.

Having a reliable form of transportation is a game-changer for people—from veterans on a fixed income, like Larry, who needed a means to get to his appointments, to people experiencing homelessness like Chuck, who used his earned bike to make a 200-mile trek to Jacksonville to visit the son he hadn’t seen in years. Since WellBuilt Bikes evolved out of a drop-in center for the homeless run by a community known as The Well, we’ve seen firsthand the impact our work is having in the community.

Last year, our work caught the attention of Red Bull Amaphiko, a global social entrepreneurship platform that supports people making a change in their communities, and I was invited to participate in the first U.S. edition of Red Bull Amaphiko Academy in Baltimore. This is the point in my journey where I was connected with Amaphiko mentor Bruckner Chase, who provided support when we opened our retail shop last fall. He gave me the tools to make sure WellBuilt Bikes continued to flourish.

Bruckner and I gel so well because we’re both using sport to create community. He is a professional ocean athlete and surf lifesaving coach who left a traditional corporate career to found Bruckner Chase Ocean Positive, Inc., an organization that focuses on ocean safety, science, and conservation issues that strengthen coastal communities around the world through evidence-based initiatives and engagement. Our values are aligned in that we both have a genuine desire to help foster a sense of belonging among people in need. For me, it’s the homeless and vulnerable populations of Tampa. For Bruckner, it’s people in remote communities like American Samoa that lack ocean safety training programs and infrastructure, and people with spinal cord injuries who want to participate in ocean sports but are underserved due to their physical challenges.

Bruckner was a perfect coach for me as his prior career had included building close to 50 bike shops for a major bicycle company. He’s now taking his capital-focused experience and helping us foster and leverage corporate relationships to make WellBuilt Bikes scalable. Since WellBuilt Bikes started, we’ve relied on discarded and donated bikes to sustain us, but at Bruckner’s suggestion we’re reaching out to bike manufacturers to explore charitable partnerships to source parts and tools. Bruckner has flagged conferences worth attending that have given inspiration and connected me with valuable industry contacts.

The most sage advice Bruckner’s offered me is the importance of looking beyond celebrating your entrepreneurial story, and keeping an eye to the future and the hard work it’ll take to get there. Being selected for Amaphiko was exciting and fulfilling and I returned from Baltimore with photos and stories to tell, but with Bruckner’s encouragement, I’ve kept my focus on keeping WellBuilt Bikes viable for years to come. I’m always thinking about what our next step is.

Since WellBuilt Bikes’ retail shop opened in the fall, my crew and I have been encouraged by the warm response we’ve received from the community. We worried that our out-of-the-way location in University Mall might be a deterrent, but students, The Well’s community and bike enthusiasts have been seeking us out to talk shop and support the work we do. With continued support from my mentor, my goal is to see the WellBuilt Bikes model replicated and scaled, to help communities in Florida and beyond.

Jon Dengler

WellBuilt Bikes

Jon Dengler is CEO of WellBuilt Bikes, Executive Director of The Well Incorporated, a Red Bull Amaphiko Fellow, and one of Real Leaders 100 Visionary Leaders.