Social Entrepreneur Division Winner

Springboard for the Arts
Social Entrepreneur Division Winner

Living life as an artist often means giving up a lot to pursue a passion. More often than not, that means going without health insurance and medical care. As a nonprofit that has spent the past two decades helping artists and arts agencies with business consulting and professional development, Springboard for the Arts found a new calling in the health care arena. 

In 2007, the nonprofit conducted a survey that found that artists are twice as likely to lack health insurance compared to other Minnesota residents. St. Paul–based Springboard for the Arts launched its Artists’ Access to Health Care program to help meet that need. “As an organization that helps artists make a living and a life and contribute to the community, we needed to make health care our mission and do something about it,” says Executive Director Laura Zabel. 

Springboard for the Arts kicked off its efforts by creating an annual health fair the same year the survey was conducted. The fair offers screenings, information about community clinics, and programs that provide access to affordable health insurance for all manner of artists and their families. 

Springboard later expanded its services with the help of three partners: the Neighborhood Involvement Program community clinic in Minneapolis, the People’s Center Health Services clinic in Minneapolis’ Cedar Riverside neighborhood, and Sam Willis, a doctor and artist who runs his clinic—with a gallery in front—on a low-cost membership model. 

Through the partnership, Springboard started a voucher program that covers the cost of doctor visits. Uninsured and underinsured artists and their family members fill out a one-page application in order to receive a gift card, which can be used at any of the three partner clinics. The voucher program is funded partly by Springboard’s fundraising efforts and partly by the three partners, which share the cost.


In addition to the voucher program, Springboard also developed an online guide, which provides artists with information about health care access, tools, and community services. In addition, Springboard plans health care-focused events like its yearly flu shot clinic. 

Since Springboard created Artists’ Access to Health Care, the program has served 2,000 artists and their families. “Part of our work is empowering artists,” Zabel says. “Some of that rubs off and artists start to think of themselves as entrepreneurs who should take their business practices seriously, including getting health care.”

Starting on its own, Springboard attracted grants from Leveraging Investments in Creativity and the Good Family Foundation. This financial support will help Springboard guide other communities to replicate the Artists’ Access to Health Care program. An arts group in Duluth recently adopted Springboard’s model for partnering with community clinics, and Springboard is talking with potential partners in Wisconsin, Iowa, and North Dakota about implementing its voucher program. 

As artists themselves, Springboard’s seven staff members personally understand how important—and how daunting—it can be to gain access to health care and insurance.

“Artists contribute an enormous amount to the economic vitality of this region, and they often do so at a very high cost to their own quality of life,” says Zabel, who has a theater background. “We’re trying to help artists be better positioned to contribute economically and to the development of a vibrant community.”

Division Finalists


Acara Institute

Erin Binder and Fred Rose launched the Acara Institute to capture students’ creativity, ingenuity, and passion through a team-based international business-plan competition.

Called the Acara Challenge, the contest aims to inspire university students to solve complex problems via multi-disciplinary and multi-country teams in the hopes that they will eventually turn their ideas into sustainable businesses. 

During its first year, Acara participants tackled the challenge of providing clean water to the slums of Mumbai, India; this year, students could choose between supplying clean water and supplying energy for cooking. 

Binder and Rose launched the venture in partnership with the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment. About 300 students from 20 universities in the United States, India, and Uganda have participated in the two challenges. Students earn college credits, and winners receive a two-month paid internship at the U’s Acara Institute. 

“Our initial goal is to help launch these businesses, make them real, and make an impact on people’s lives through water, energy, nutrition, and health and education,” says Binder. “We’ve had students say it changed the direction of their career.”

Bright New Ideas

Most of us take turning on a lamp for granted. But for 2 billion people living without electricity, it’s an unattainable luxury. Patrick Delaney, founder of Bright New Ideas in Minneapolis, has made it his mission to create a high-quality solar lamp and distribute it globally. 

An electrical engineer, Delaney spent countless hours and his own money to develop the LED-powered lamp. Bright New Ideas teams with nonprofit partners in Nicaragua, Cambodia, India, Kenya, and Senegal to distribute the solar lamps to clients, who have historically relied on dangerous kerosene, which can devour one-third of a family’s income. The nonprofit partners charge roughly the equivalent of two months worth of kerosene; in exchange, clients tap into free and renewable energy for their homes. 

Delaney started developing his lamp—featuring a portable solar panel attached to a cable—in 2005. He finished in 2007 and has distributed 2,000 so far. Next, he aims to sell to the general public, which will support his nonprofit endeavors.

“I really like to put quality into a product, especially when I know the value it provides people’s lives,” Delaney says. “In this modern age, when we have every gadget you can imagine, it’s a unique pleasure to make one simple, solar lamp that helps someone out so much.”

Mind Body Solutions

Taking what he knows from living as a paraplegic for more than 30 years, Matthew Sanford uses eight-year-old Mind Body Solutions to help people transform their experiences with trauma, loss, and disability into hope and potential. 

An adaptive yoga instructor for about 20 years, Sanford approaches healing by helping people build stronger mind-body connections—the correlation between mental and physical health. Through his yoga studio and a for-profit arm, he works with disabled veterans, offers train-the-(yoga) trainer workshops, and holds mind-body seminars for caregivers.

Through the for-profit arm—which supports the nonprofit services—Sanford plans to start doing more in-depth consulting with health care providers and businesses. Specifically, Minnetonka-based Mind Body Solutions aims to give employers advice about helping workers develop a stronger mind-body connection—which can make them more productive and engaged while reducing stress and improving employee retention. 

Sanford points to a recent study at the Courage Center as his proof of concept. After training 100 staff members at the Golden Valley–based rehabilitation facility, Sanford found that his techniques helped employees vastly reduce their stress over a two-year period.