Winner, 2018 Faces of Entrepreneurship Award
Andrew McDowell was laying on the beach in Cancun, reading My Business, My Mission – the story of businessmen and entrepreneurs partnering together to find solutions for economic growth to restore and impact lives. The immense impact of social enterprises in third world countries detailed in the book, and two years of collecting ideas, brought clarity to his vision. That day he made the decision to exit the world of digital advertising and start his own business.
Originally from Lakewood, Washington, Andrew attended Occidental College in Los Angeles, California and spent more than 10 years working in digital marketing. He worked for B2B and B2C clients such as the LA Times and Business.com, all the while dreaming about how to make an impact in Southwest Los Angeles.
Andrew had never owned a business. However, he combined his skills and resources gained over the years with his passion for social justice, employment, health, and community to fuel his vision. “I wanted to significantly contribute to job growth, provide access to healthy food, and create safe communities,” said Andrew. “These elements are scarce in Southwest LA – a community of 120,000 – and they’re badly needed.”
Upon returning from Cancun, Andrew hired his first employee to help build a social enterprise. Over the next 18 months, they developed a business plan, secured business space, and surveyed hundreds of Southwest LA locals about their community needs and desires. Through extensive research, With Love Market & Café was born.
Securing funding, specifically buy-in from banks and major investors, had been their biggest challenge. With the help of Kathleen Minogue – Founder and CEO of Crowdfund Better, and CAMEO member – Andrew launched a successful crowdfunding campaign and raised $105,000 and lots of community support. Allocated towards branding, developing a go-to-market strategy, this gave him the ammo required to confidently pitch banks for additional financing.
Rejected by almost a dozen banks for lack of experience, a proven business model and insufficient existing capital, Self Help Credit Union (SFCU) in North Carolina reconsidered and approved his 50% of his loan amount with the other 50% secured through National Cooperative Bank. “As a social enterprise, our mission is to meet a community need that was not currently met. I believe the reason SFCU worked with me was due to the strong community support,” he said.
With Love opened in March 2016 in a poor, urban, and under-resourced neighborhood with the goal of making healthy food accessible, creating jobs and providing a large welcoming space to foster community and growth. With Love started with one employee, a grocery market, and small café and has grown to 15 employees with an emphasis on the café and catering, and 12 investors who truly care about the impact on the community. The casual meeting space has morphed into an event space to host parties, concerts, open mic nights, and yoga. In response to community demand and popularity for wholesome foods, they now offer cooking classes using quality, locally sourced foods.
“Our customers are extremely diverse and representative of the community we serve. College students, new residents, and folks who have lived here for 50+ years walk through our doors. Many of our customers live down the street or work at the local school,” said Andrew. “The With Love staff are locals and most of our employees speak English and Spanish. We are committed to our community and desire for growth. Every day, we offer a free class or event taught by local teachers, nonprofits, churches and community members who have volunteered their time.”
Two years later, four new businesses have opened in the neighborhood. “I do believe With Love served as a catalyst to small business growth in this area,” said Andrew.
Operating as both a for-profit and nonprofit, With Love recently received a $100,000 grant to expand. They’ve partnered with LA Kitchen to produce bottled coffee and teas with whom they are working to provide 5,000 bottles a month to retailers in LAX. They have also remodeled their kitchen and prepared-food area to increase capacity for the most profitable parts of their business – catering and in-store food orders.
“Long term sustainability and replication serve as my motivation,” said Andrew. He credits Self Help Credit Union, Kathleen Minogue, family and friends, but most importantly, the support of the Southwest LA community for helping build a thriving business that transformed a local community.
Andrew also has exciting plans for 2019, after receiving approval from Self-Help to conduct a Direct Public Offering. “Our goal is to sell both equity and our existing debt to the local community so that people can become investors or lenders,” he says. “As long as we make our payments, the revenues and the wealth go to the community.”
Next year, Andrew has set his sights on opening a second location. “I want With Love to be a self-sustaining business, thrive, and then be replicated in identical neighborhoods throughout LA,” he says. “These neighborhoods are worth investing in. It’s about the changing of the mindset – introducing business models that transform communities in a sustainable fashion.”