Serving the Underserved: Franchising mentors, even from unexpected places, can open doors.

Author:Davidson, Ashley
 
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Peter Holt, CEO of The Joint Chiropractic, has spent the past 32 years building and managing franchise systems. Now, he's one of several franchise executives using his deep knowledge of franchising to mentor businesses focused on social sector concepts and help them grow.

His most recent mentoring relationship has been with Pollinate Energy, a social enterprise bringing sustainable products such as solar lights to India's urban slums. It may seem to be an odd pair--a CEO of a chiropractic brand matched with the founder of an India-based social concept--but Pollinate Energy's CEO and co-founder, Alexie Seller, thinks it's perfect.

"It's often mentors from other sectors who give us the most interesting perspectives and advice," Seller explains. "[Holt's] company is very different in product, but there are a lot of translatable lessons."

"This is where the power of experience comes from," says Holt. Franchising experience coupled with a master's degree in Latin American history, as well as an interest in policy analysis and NGOs, has fueled his interest in mentoring social sector concepts. "That experience of franchise sales, operations, IT, training, legal... it transcends concepts. We're using the business model of franchising to accelerate the growth of a concept. More than anything, you act as a sounding board. You have the skill sets that allow you to listen to what those challenges are, draw on your own personal experience, and then provide some helpful information."

TURNING POINT

Holt first connected with Pollinate Energy as a volunteer mentor at the University of New Hampshire's annual Social Sector Franchise Innovations Roundtable in October. With Holt's help, Pollinate Energy identified three key areas for improvement: maintaining or enhancing its competitive edge, developing the appropriate strategy for scale, and identifying how the concept can adapt its model beyond the urban setting to allow it to enter more rural environments.

That initial discussion became the basis of the conversation for the next six months. For one hour per month, Holt and Seller discussed these and other challenges, like helping Pollinate Energy form more productive relationships with their "pollinators," or local Indian entrepreneurs wanting to make a difference in their communities. Together they realized that what pollinators wanted more than anything else was not to be franchisees, but rather employees. That was a turning point for the organization.

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