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Business selling cross-cultural experiences takes top prize in Lancaster's Great Social Enterprise Pitch

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 Lancaster Online
Saturday October 7, 2017
Mustafa Nuur, team leader of Bridge, describes his company as AirBnB for cross-cultural experiences during The Great Social Enterprise Pitch. PHOTO: K. SCOTT KREIDER | LNP CORRESPONDENT

In the end, the judges — and the audience members— were won over by a social enterprise that harnesses the economic value of the experience and skill of Lancaster’s refugee community.

Bridge, an online platform where customers can book cross-cultural experiences with refugees, took the top prize Friday at the Great Social Enterprise Pitch.

“I just want all the refugee people that are coming here right now to know they can do this too,” Mustafa Nuur, a former refugee from Somalia, said after he was named the winner.

Nuur is recruiting refugee families for Bridge who can share a meal, give cooking instructions or offer music lessons to people willing to pay for the privilege.

Describing his idea as the “Airbnb of cross-cultural experiences,” Nuur said refugees can realize the unique economic value of knowledge they already have.

“We’re not teaching them how to fish; we’re reminding them they know how to fish,” Nuur said during the contest.

Now in its fourth year, The Great Social Enterprise Pitch is a project of the Lancaster County Community Foundation and Assets. It is meant to encourage social enterprises — organizations that perform a social good while also making a profit.

This year’s Great Social Enterprise Pitch began in the spring with 11 entrepreneurs and then was whittled down to five finalists who competed Friday in a friendlier version of ABC’s “Shark Tank.”

The pitches took place before five judges and an audience of nearly 350 at the Ware Center in downtown Lancaster. Each presenter had five minutes to present their idea.

For its win, Bridge earned $7,500, plus in-kind products and services worth more than $25,000. Bridge was also first in the audience voting, receiving more than $1,000 collected during the event.

The other winners are as follows:

— Sierra Wood, who won second place for Meraki Mocha, a catering service with its own coffee blend. The service seeks to open a farm-to-table cafe employing people with developmental disabilities. Prize was $4,000 and $16,000 in products and services.

— Rebecca and Michael Bedenbaugh, who won third place for Lancaster Fellow Foodies, a meal delivery service. It seeks to create good jobs while supporting local farmers. Prize was $2,000 and $10,000 in products and services.

— Amer Al Fayadh, who won fourth place for Language without Borders, a language and interpretation service that seeks to train refugees to become interpreters. Prize was $1,000 and $3,500 in products and services.

— Tyler Stoltzfus and Winona Quigley, who took fifth place for Green Matters Natural Dye Co. The company uses natural ingredients, such as marigolds and walnuts, to create dyes for clothing and yarn. Prize was $500 and $2,500 in products and services.

After all of the pitches and while the judges deliberated, Tyler Gage, co-founder of Brooklyn-based Runa Tea, described how he built the company that makes beverages from guayusa, which grows in the Amazon rainforest. The company now has more than 70 employees, and its products are sold in 15,000 stores.

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