St. Louis Bi-State Region
A SOCIAL ENTERPRISETAKES FLIGHT HOW SCORE HELPED DAWN FINE-TUNE HER BUSINESS
“It all started with a pair of pants.” That’s how Dawn Manske describes the beginning of Made for Freedom, her social enterprise born from one mission: to pursue a world without sex trafficking. Made for Freedom does this by rehabilitating trafficking survivors through economic empowerment. Dawn came face to face with the devastating effects of human trafficking while living in China. Once she learned about the issue, she knew she needed to do something to help end it. Pants turned out to be the answer. Dawn was constantly complimented on the fishermen pants she’d bought in Thailand and realized she could create a business based on the popular product. After learning more about the fashion industry, Dawn knew Made for Freedom needed to manufacture in a different way than the average company.“The conventional way you do apparel is to find a sweatshop and pay the cheapest sources,” Dawn describes.“That’s the opposite of what we want to do.We offer dignified employment to victims of trafficking and marginalized workers.” Dawn set to work and established an ethical supply chain through partnerships with rehabilitation centers. Of course, even a socially conscious business needs capital. Dawn applied for grants to fuel her idea. She was the winner of an Arch Grant in 2014 and the Skandalaris Center Grant from Washington University. But as Dawn says,“My strength was nowhere near numbers, and I knew I needed to get my numbers in line. I needed to understand them better and to learn from people with financial understanding and experience.”
Enter SCORE. Dawn had met SCORE mentor Jim Cornbleet years earlier at the Arch Grant competition. Jim had been a judge, and when they reconnected at an event, Jim suggested Dawn could benefit from what SCORE provides. From that serendipitous meeting, Dawn began working with Jim and his fellow SCORE mentor Stuart Epstein to fine-tune her business and get up to speed on her financial knowledge. Jim brings the sales and marketing expertise, and, as he says, Stuart is the “brains behind the whole thing.” Stuart’s experience as a CFO has been invaluable to Dawn.As Dawn describes,“They brought the numbers and accountability.They hold me to the fire.They give me suggestions and hold me accountable for projects and deadlines.” Jim echoes Dawn’s appreciation for the relationships SCORE fosters.While almost four years had passed since the Arch Grant competition where they’d met, Jim says Dawn’s business plan had stuck with him.As he says of Dawn’s determined spirit when it comes to Made for Freedom,“She has the guts and knows when to ask for help.” For Jim, SCORE has provided a chance to give back and pay forward his business expertise.“I like helping people. I volunteer with other nonprofits, and I knew someone who was involved with SCORE,” Jim says. He applied as a mentor and began working with mentees.“Over the years, I’ve worked with many entrepreneurs, and it’s been very rewarding and stimulating,” he says. Of his mentees, he shares,“I learn as much or more from them as they do from me.” Since turning to SCORE, Dawn has seen her business infrastructure strengthen and her
confidence in her own business skills grow. “The past five events I’ve done have been record-breaking,” she shares. She adds that the supportive mentorship Jim and Stuart have given her has been the best part of her SCORE experience.“What’s been really nice is having two mentors who are incredibly gracious. They’ve been very flexible and understanding,” she says.“They ask really good questions to help me think of areas I haven’t thought of. I have 3,000 balls in the air, and they’re able to say, ‘Here are the most important ones. Here’s how you can prioritize.’” This month, Dawn travels to India on behalf of the State Department to talk about her approach to rehabilitation through economic empowerment.With her purpose-driven enterprise, this is just the beginning.
With SCORE, you’re never alone! Schedule an appointment to meet with a mentor today. Call 1-866-726-7340 or visit StLSCORE.org right now!
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