How This Social Enterprise Sells Coffee and Employs Youth Experiencing Homelessness

Introducing: Gutter Punk Coffee


In most cases, a coffee company will employ people so they can sell more coffee. (Nothing wrong with this). However, Gutter Punk Coffee sells coffee so they can employ more youth who are experiencing homelessness. 

Gutter Punk Coffee, Minneapolis/St. Paul, started in 2017 as a mobile coffee cart and roaster - but these are simply vehicles to provide employment training and skills-building to youth experiencing homelessness. Their aim is to serve quality coffee to their customers, while simultaneously providing employment training and practical life skills to their employees. 

And the results are in - the coffee is good, too. 

What we love about youth employment is that this it's a strategy that most people can get their heads around. People on "both sides of the aisle" can get behind youth employment - and even more so the case when it's with youth experiencing homelessness. 

Scroll down to find:

  • How Popup Think Tank works with mission-driven leaders 

  • The outcomes of the event and the process 

  • Pictures from the event 

  • Grab the eBook with the ideas generated at the event 


We Help Mission-Driven Leaders

We call it "founder energy." Carley and Ben have a dream to start a sustainable, social enterprise that empowers youth experiencing homelessness with job skills and experience. It's a great idea, but what we love most about the Gutter Punk Coffee story is the vast amount of action and forward movement long before any formal organization.

Before there was a logo, Carley was working with youth experiencing homelessness (and grew up with a coffee mug in her hand). Long before a coffee cart, Ben was studying social entrepreneurship and learning how to roast. The brand, website, social media accounts, and the mission statement are the out-workings of things already in motion. Gutter Punk Coffee is less a "pipe dream" and more of a natural, next step of two people who already embody the mission.  

How It Works

At Popup Think Tank, we believe everyone has good ideas and that generating ideas helps us to contribute in new ways. Participants are invited to to learn about the project through an interview. The facilitator helps the group understand how each person can contribute inside a small window of less than two hours. Participants "own" their experience using three simple rules: 

1) Use, 'Yes And' (The basics of improv comedy fit here).

2) Use your two feet to choose conversations (borrowed from Open Space Technology)

3) Write it down! (Philosophy discussions are nice, but Gutter Punk Coffee needs your ideas.)

Participants, using these three rules, then choose from a selection of groups. Each group was charged with a separate challenge or task to help Gutter Punk Coffee:

1) Marketing: How can Gutter Punk Coffee tell its story with clarity and precision? 
2) Brand Ambassadors: What does it look like to belong to a community of people who support the mission of Gutter Punk Coffee?
3) Strategic Partnerships: From distribution to promotion to youth work, what do strategic partnerships look and feel like? 
4) Youth development: Name and list best practices for the engagement and development of youth. 
5) Volunteer: What does the volunteer experience look and feel like? 
6) Open / Think Big: We like to open up a table that defies the categories. Think big and expansively. What haven't we thought of? 

When you combine these three rules and these six challenges, groups are capable of doing amazing things. Check out what they accomplished. 

Thanks for facilitating a Popup Think Tank for Gutter Punk Coffee! I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was amazing. I came away really refreshed, encouraged, and energized. It’s a great model and I’d like to keep exploring ways we can collaborate.
— Carley Kammerer | Co-Founder, Gutter Punk Coffee

What were the outcomes of this process?

When maximizing the time and energy of 30+ people for two hours, brainstorming may not be the first choice activity for many. What we've learned is that brainstorming is not just about generating ideas. Brainstorming is a powerful tool for building ownership, introducing a mission, and engaging the hearts and minds of those who have the ability to move the mission forward. 

We are encouraged that 72.7% of those who attended the event and completed the survey report that they are very likely or likely to get involved with Gutter Punk Coffee.  

We know that to sustain the mission of Gutter Punk Coffee, there will need to be a small army of brand ambassadors, engaged volunteers, and committed leaders. Of course, good ideas are necessary - but it's all about the people. 

Why do group brainstorming?

Brainstorming is simply the activity we use to help people discern whether they want to get involved and how they want to get involved. Why does this work? Because brainstorming for another's project is an act of empathy and generosity. It's a small investment of time and energy - and what happens when we invest a little? We learn if we want to keep going, invest a little more, and we believe that is an authentic strategy for engaging people in good causes.

At the same time, the ideas are valuable! They give Carley and Ben clues about how people are reacting to their mission. Some ideas are actionable now. Some later. The eBook will have immediate, actionable value - and will serve as inspiration in the years to come.  

A big thanks to those who helped with this process - and a very big thanks to Carley and Ben for sustaining the mission of empowering youth experiencing homelessness. 

Get the eBook we created for Gutter Punk Coffee

Ideas, pictures, process, and participants.



10 People YOU NEED to Start a Non-Profit

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