After changing strategy, Bull City Forward emerges with new leader

Dec. 19, 2013 @ 11:06 PM

Keeva Kase wants to see Durham become a Silicon Valley of social entrepreneurship.

“The hope is that Durham will be the best place in the world for people who want to change the world,” said Kase, the new executive director of Bull City Forward.

The organization, started about three years ago, works to foster the growth of start-up businesses or nonprofits that are focused on solving social problems, such as helping the environment or promoting health.

Kase took the role in June after the organization went through a series of structural and operational changes. Bull City Forward vacated its downtown office space at 101 W. Main St. last year, and also ended its system of charging for membership.

Founder Christopher Gergen departed as executive director, although he’s still on the board and remains involved in the organization.

Bull City Forward’s board chair, Tucker Bartlett, said the board started developing a new business plan for the organization, although it continued to operate.

At its start, Bartlett said, Bull City Forward leaders wanted to create a space for social entrepreneurs to come together. But he said there was more competition for that role as more co-working spaces opened downtown. The group wanted to get out of the “space business” and spending time as a landlord.

The organization expanded quickly, he said, including a new location in Charlotte. He said that created a space- and staff-intensive business that was difficult to sustain financially.

When they settled on a business plan, which he said is Durham-centric, they hired Kase.

“He is a dynamic personality full of passion and vision, and he’s got a great leadership potential, and we’re very excited about what Bull City Forward can become under his leadership,” Bartlett said.

Kase’s background includes work as a part-time pastor, as a volunteer fundraiser for a civic group in Trenton, N.J., that worked to help businesses grow, and as an employee at a child-advocacy nonprofit.

As part of a team, he said he helped build a 15-office network for the Court Appointed Special Advocates of New Jersey, which helps train and provide court-appointed advocates for abused or neglected children.

“I had experience fundraising, scaling a vision, and so in terms of the skill set – it’s an obvious fit,” Kase said. “In terms of why this vision makes sense to me as a professional, a human, is I believe that every person can make a difference. You wake up in the morning and have a chance to do something good for someone else.”

Kase said Bull City Forward now has a new approach to its programs.

The organization has a six-month fellowship called the Forward Fellowship. In the program, entrepreneurs get financial backing through sponsorships to work on their social ventures.

Four fellows started in the program on Oct. 1, and another class is slated to begin April 1. The current program is Bull City Forward’s first fellowship program.

Also, the organization wants to continue to run innovation challenges like the 2012 Health Innovation Challenge. Hosted by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, alongside Bull City Forward and other groups, the event challenged entrepreneurs to launch ventures that help fight obesity.

Lastly, Kase said the group is trying to build the community of social entrepreneurs.

“The purpose of the organization is to encourage by providing the resources, the networks and skills and knowledge to folks that want to improve the world,” he said.

Part of his job is to build a more stable financial footing for the group, he said. In its 2012 tax filing, the organization reported total revenues of $133,083 and total expenses of $165,989, for a deficit of $32,906. The group had reserves to cover most of the operating loss.

“My job was to steward the existing funding that they had and to build out a more stable financial picture, which we’ve done for the most part,” Kase said. “I think there are a couple of pieces that we still need to get together.”