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Q&A with Social Innovation Accelerator Alumni

Learn more about how Cheri Garcia and Chad Houser both charted their success stories with the support of the Accelerator

April 5, 2022

At United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, social innovation is part of everything we do to improve access to education, income and health. We’re continuously developing, seeking out and assessing creative new solutions for our community’s most persistent problems, leveraging social innovation to deliver game-changing initiatives to North Texas.

Part of our social innovation work includes identifying and supporting social entrepreneurs who have created innovative programs that take a new approach for improving education, income and health. Our Social Innovation Accelerator in collaboration with Accenture is our longest-running social innovation program. Since its creation in 2013, the Accelerator has supported 64 social entrepreneurs, who have gone on to positively impact 150,000 North Texans.

To give you a taste of the ongoing impact of our Accelerator alumni, we sat down with two of our previous fellows who have gone on to achieve incredible success after their time in our program:

  • Chad Houser from Café Momentum, the first fellow United Way chose for the inaugural class of the Social Innovation Accelerator
  • Cheri Garcia from Cornbread Hustle, last year’s Social Innovator of the Year and winner of five of the six prizes at The Pitch

Building Success with the Social Innovation Accelerator

United Way of Metropolitan Dallas: Chad, Cafe Momentum was the first Accelerator fellow back in 2013. What did that support from United Way mean for your organization and for you as a founder?

Chad Houser: Our organization was truly birthed through the support of United Way in 2013. As a start-up organization that is built on the premise of working with justice-involved youth in a restaurant environment, there were plenty of doubters as to the efficacy of our program. Having United Way show their support and commitment to our program created a ripple of validation that allowed us to build the foundation for the program we have today. I can never say it enough times: Cafe Momentum exists because United Way believed in us when no one else did.

United Way: Cheri, you went through the Social Innovation Accelerator and The Pitch just last year. You were named Social Innovator of the Year and you won significant funding for Cornbread Hustle. How did that feel?

Cheri Garcia: I was overwhelmed by emotions. I was going through some personal stuff, as my father had just passed away. It was hard walking onto that stage without my dad in the audience, which is why I was so emotional at the beginning of my pitch. Winning felt like my dad was with me in spirit, and I could feel how proud he was of me.

United Way: Cheri, what has changed for Cornbread Hustle since going through the Social Innovation Accelerator?

Cheri: Cornbread Hustle really worked toward creating processes and scaling for growth. Before the Social Innovation Accelerator, we flew by the seat of our pants, so to speak. While that worked to get us to where we were, it was not sustainable to bring us to where we are today. I’m extremely grateful for the nudge from my mentors, Ty and Donna, to encourage better future planning. On a financial note, Cornbread Hustle increased our revenue by five times over the past year. We would’ve really struggled without the strong foundation.

United Way: After your experience in the Social Innovation Accelerator, what has changed for you as the leader of your organization?

Chad: The Accelerator taught me the importance of building a network of support. I’ve used that lesson to continue building a network across the country as we work to change the juvenile justice system.

Cheri: I’ve learned the importance and benefits of preparation. I always disliked practicing my presentations because it makes me so uncomfortable and nervous. But I just did a TEDx talk, and I used a lot of the tools I learned through the Social Innovation Accelerator to prepare.

United Way: What part of the Accelerator would you say has been most beneficial for your organization?

Chad: Easily the mentorship. Whether it be the personal mentorship Jennifer Sampson has provided me, or the mentorship that United Way supporters have provided our team as we built out resource networks for our youth and outcomes, the mentorship has helped lay the foundation for us to serve our mission.

Cheri: The funding was really beneficial to us, because staffing margins are low. It’s hard for us to scale up and hire the right team when we are growing so rapidly. The funding allowed me to focus more on finding the right people to help with operations and employee training so I could work toward getting out of the day to day and focus on my strengths to take Cornbread Hustle to the next level.

A Growing Impact

United Way: What’s next for your organization?

Chad: Two years ago, we launched a national organization called Momentum Advisory Collective (M.A.C.). The M.A.C. team is currently working to launch Cafe Momentum programs in Pittsburgh and Nashville while also creating a national conversation about juvenile justice.

Cheri: Cornbread Hustle created a 12-week “starting over” series that has contributed as a resource to future Cornbread Hustle employees and current. This training helps build stronger employees for our organization both personally and professionally. We are working with some prison pilot programs to offer the course inside prison. We have also expanded our direct-hire services, which are specialized jobs with higher salaries across the country.