Ark Coffee Founder Borah Dawson shares her journey of courage, resilience and social enterprise leadership.
n the world of business, success is measured from different angles, like revenue or impact. Some view success according to revenue whereas others may attribute their success to how much they can impact others. Ark Coffee is earning revenue and making an impact, and for their purpose-driven founder, it’s not just about what they do, but why they do it.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Borah Dawson, the entrepreneur who launched Ark Coffee, for an inside look at her journey, the company’s impact, and what the future holds.
Thaddeus Jones (TJ): Can you tell us a little about yourself so that our readers can get to know more about the person behind Ark Coffee?
Borah Dawson (BD): I am a 34-year-old woman and my husband and I have four boys, and I went to school at Ohio Dominican for business. I opened a brick-and-mortar cafe in 2017 which was hit pretty hard by the pandemic, and we closed in July 2021. But the experience really gave me the opportunity to create something amazing with Ark Coffee. I think that even in the dark hard moments there is still beauty and I’m really looking forward to what the future holds post-pandemic.
TJ: You’re very humble, as you’ve also overcome significant obstacles and are now giving back.
BD: My journey has been challenging at times. I was a teen mom who graduated high school six months pregnant. I had to fight my way to finish school, support myself and ensure my son and I had a future we could thrive in. I worked a full-time job and a part-time job while going to college and supporting a tiny human. My husband and I married in 2012 and started our family. And soon after opening my dream business in 2017, I was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor, an acoustic neuroma.
In the height of the pandemic, I learned that my brain tumor would need to be surgically removed. I had an amazing team of doctors but no one truly knows how this surgery could affect you. After the surgery in August 2020, I had an incision that spanned the right side of my skull held together by 22 staples. I was unable to walk and suffered complications that affected the functions of my face. It took months of rehab to begin again. It was hard, there were days I cried (from one eye) and I didn’t want to get out of bed. My husband was a huge cheerleader for my recovery.
The medical team had a goal of Christmas for me to be able to walk unassisted. Through much hard work, I was able to walk by October to see my sons trick-or-treat.
I know I would not be where I am without the support and encouragement from my husband, family, friends and thousands of people who prayed for me. It’s so important to have people in your corner so that on the days you don’t think you can, you have someone to lift you up.
I knew that when I was better I wanted to do something meaningful for organizations making an impact in our community, just like those around me were my foundation in my journey to healing.
TJ: Your courage is inspiring, and I love that the mission and vision are fueled by your experiences. What sets Ark apart?
BD: What makes people want to shop at Ark Coffee is that our roasts are delicious and a percentage of each purchase is donated to the non-profits that we have partnered with. Our model is unique in that we give power back to the consumer – the customer gets great coffee and selects one of the great causes to receive the donated funds.
TJ: You recently announced a partnership with Pelotonia, which is awesome. Tell us about it.
BD: Yes! I am incredibly humbled and proud to partner with Pelotonia on their first branded bag of coffee, the Roll Blend. All proceeds from the Roll Blend purchased with Pelotonia will go back to their organization to help fund research and end cancer.
TJ: In recent times, what hurdles do social enterprises face? How do you address them?
BD: For us, as a social enterprise, a portion of all of our profits goes to non-profit organizations so funds are a little tight and that’s part of the start-up process. Although we are a small organization, we are poised to really step up and help non-profits, and collaborations are key to that impact. The pandemic has really changed the world and the way that everyone does business, and we’re continually learning while staying true to our mission – I think that’s the key, staying rooted in providing the highest quality coffee that helps make our world a better place.
TJ: What goals do you have for Ark Coffee in the future?
BD: My goal is to distribute our coffee on a national level and strengthen non-profits changing lives with Ark contributing $100,000 in donations in one year – it’s a dream I really believe in. I’m excited to build this business and bring the community together for good through coffee.
TJ: What is your relationship with SocialVentures? How have they been able to support your work?
BD: I was introduced to SocialVentures when a friend was being honored a couple of years ago. That is really when I said to myself, “Oh this business that I have wanted to launch is actually a ‘social enterprise.’” In 2021 we were at Positioned to Prosper when Vicki (Bowen Hewes) was introduced as the new CEO, and I was captivated by her message. She has provided me with so much information and guidance, and has created this safe space for social entrepreneurs that’s invaluable. Through her leadership, SocialVentures provides needed resources for purpose-driven entrepreneurs like me. I’m inspired to build Ark Coffee in Central Ohio with a tremendously supportive ecosystem.
TJ: You have me hooked. How can we as a community better support Ark Coffee and other social enterprises?
BD: In any small organization, having the people near you talk about it and get the word out helps. Many people don’t know what a social enterprise is, so getting the message out about what social enterprises do and just encouraging people to shop social is a form of support. We’d love for everyone to give Ark Coffee a try and make an impact with us!
Shop Ark Coffee’s small-batch roasted coffees on their website. Drinking Ark Coffee helps support organizations like Pelotonia, The Acoustic Neuroma Association, Festa and more. For more information, visit arkcoffeeco.com.