We recently asked newly-appointed ASBN Lifetime Member Chris Dykstra about his background and career highlights. And what his work with the American Sustainable Business Network means to him. Here’s what he had to share with us.
ASBN: Tell us a little about yourself, who is Chris Dykstra? What motivates the work you do in the world?
Chris Dykstra: For the last 30 years, I have focused on combining art and entrepreneurship. I regard my life as an art project painted in daily actions in the pursuit of larger goals – I try to behave my way towards a vision. I had to learn that it was possible to combine visual art with the art of building businesses but try to practice both as paths to awareness and empathy as I make decisions in life.
In business, I explore how entrepreneurship can be an act of art, a force for social justice, and a source of abundance for stakeholders. I seek to advance the idea that art and entrepreneurship can function at the intersection of oppression and progress to help us collectively understand and express our humanity and point us towards peace and shared prosperity.
I live in my beloved city of Minneapolis, MN with my wife, Lynn. I have four grown sons, Oliver, Mackenzie, Conner and Simon, and two granddaughters, Josie and Isabell.
ASBN: ASBC and SVC seek to build the NEXT economy, one that is regenerative, just, and prosperous for all. What does building the NEXT economy mean to you?
CD: It is my belief that socially responsible business is the most efficient way to address the world’s many grievous problems. Even where effective and necessary government and non-profit endeavors exist, results will be magnified if they are aligned with a profitable, socially responsible business. Businesses create opportunity, wealth, infrastructure and, most importantly, solve problems for people by meeting consumer demand. The solutions to poverty, hunger and thirst, disease, unemployment, illiteracy, political and economic oppression, child labor, global climate change, extremist violence or any source of misery can almost always be defined in terms of increased opportunity, access to resources and infrastructure. These are the qualities in society that create profit and therefore prosperity for people.
Though every era in human history contributed decisions that paved the road to the present, no era has held such specific and connected influence on whether or not we will survive on our planet. None held the possibility of reaching solutions through citizen-to-citizen global consensus. We simply lacked the technology. Now, our fate as a species depends on the decisions we make as individuals, as a society, as a society of societies. Our ability to choose better outcomes for ourselves hinges on the intelligent application of technology, how well we collaborate to build sustainable business models and the incorporation of political policy that affirms the market, people and the planet.
ASBN: You’re involved in a number of fascinating impact-oriented ventures. Can you tell us a bit about the businesses you’re involved in and the impact they create?
CD: It is a long and varied list, and here are the highlights so far.
Warecorp (2004 – Present) is a Minneapolis-based international web and software development firm with full-time employees in Minneapolis, Belarus, Poland and across the US and Canada. Warecorp has developed an established client base from what might be considered mainstream markets to support projects that build movement infrastructure, incubate purpose-driven companies, or liberate resources held captive in destructive or unhealthy systems in order to deploy them towards more sustainable solutions.
Some sample projects:
- REP – Work with Black Voices Collective in Minneapolis to reinvent urgent issue response systems in the wake of the George Floyd murder.
- Where Food Comes From – Provide dedicated engineering services for the largest certifier of organic ingredients in the world.
- Open Media – Created collaborative platform for The Open Media Foundation (OMF) provides technology solutions, content production services and media training to a national network of cable access television stations.
- Migraine Insight – Provide development services to a company that is dedicated to helping migraine patients discover the causes of their chronic pain and make life adjustments.
Warecorp also sponsors several organizations doing good things, including Netroots Nation, The Media Consortium, Web of Change, Young Entrepreneurs in Sustainability, Drupal.org, Personal Democracy Forum, Open Government 2.0, Drupal, Twin Cities Drupal Camp, and Open Twin Cities.
Zanby (2005 – 2010) was an enterprise organizing platform used to solve very difficult structural problems, such as negotiating cross-border water rights in Iran, reducing child labor in the cotton industry in Kazakhstan, assembling a more accurate citizen agenda in Seattle, facilitating 50-state collaborative actions for 1Sky.org, or conducting over 10,000 simultaneous events around the globe for 350.org. Hailed by Tim O’reilly as one of the most innovative platforms for group organization in 2007. Zanby closed in 2010 because the customers that needed it the most couldn’t afford it and I could not raise the money necessary to fund its further development.
TheUptake.org (2007 – 2013) was co-founded and funded as a pioneering citizen journalism organization working in online video with the goal of improving the information ecosystem. We trained and deployed hundreds of citizen reporters to cover the Minnesota politics, live stream the action from the MN Legislative sessions, recruit constituents to watch their representatives, and publish highlights to social media. We also coordinated live streaming of Copenhagen Climate conference for over 70 media organizations and were first to livestream from Zucotti park to cover Occupy Wall Street. We were embedded in the Wisconsin state Capitol for six weeks during the Wisconsin Uprising, and we created a system to auto transcribe a live stream so over 1 MM deaf people in Minnesota could watch and understand livestreams of all political debates. The Uptake was awarded five Society for Professional Journalism Awards for excellence in Journalism, the Center for Public Integrity Website of the Year, the Freedom of the Press Foundation’s inaugural freedom fighters grant, and deaf citizens’ outstanding partner to the hard of hearing. TheUptake’s content is seen in every media outlet in MN and has 300 MM views on YouTube.
TheContributor.com (2009) was purchased after a fatal hack to the DCCC’s blogging infrastructure in 2009, because it was the software on which 200 political blogs were hosted. We repaired and re-launched the network. We continue to publish the aggregated content of progressive bloggers as TheContributor.com.
DrupalSquad (2012) provides enterprise Drupal maintenance and support and development services to organizations using the fastest growing open-source enterprise CMS platform in the world.
GoodCarts.com (2017-present) is a network of ecommerce stores that connect online for growth via a proprietary traffic exchange. Each network member contributes their “Website Exhaust” to the network. In return, they are able to access customers who have just bought something from another brand in the network. The network has grown to 140 sustainable brands who are gaining new customers.
ASBN: On the capital side, you’re a partner at Brown Venture Group. What’s your investment thesis and what is the impact you’re seeking to create through those investments?
CD: Founded in 2018 in Minneapolis, MN, Brown Venture Group (BVG) is a Black-owned venture capital firm focused on Black, Latino, and Native American technology entrepreneurs. BVG provides technology founders of color an environment from which they can launch and scale their startup, including capital, training, and networks. We believe that technology entrepreneurship can bypass many of the cognitive and racial biases that have historically prevented communities of color from flourishing. Moreover, generation after generation of adversity has made entrepreneurs of color particularly resilient. This resilience, combined with the fact that investment in entrepreneurs of color has been almost non-existent, represents the best un-activated market for technology-focused venture capital.
ASBN: Why did you decide to become a Lifetime Member with ASBC and SVC, and what has the organization meant to you over the years in your personal and professional growth over the years?
CD: I decided to become a Lifetime Member because SVN (now ASBN) was there for me when I was looking for a business support community that wouldn’t tell me I was crazy. Though I have always been an entrepreneur, my desire to practice multi-stakeholder capitalism and to find areas of opportunity in under-served communities made me an oddity in mainstream business communities. I tried all kinds of communities before I found SVN, but when I arrived here 11 years ago, I knew I was home. This community allowed me to be my authentic self, accepted me for who I was, guided and mentored me into a more complete entrepreneur – but more – into a more complete human being. I am very grateful for those who blazed the trail for me to hike. So I want to help support this wonderful group of world-changing people. It needs to exist far into the future.