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Empower the Disenfranchised With Community: An Interview With Tim Styer

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For people living in areas with underdeveloped infrastructure, it is often difficult to access jobs. How can businesses attract people from impoverished areas for employment? Join Darshan Kulkarni as he talks with Ride to Work President and CEO Tim Styer about how to make jobs more accessible for people living in economically depressed areas. We’ll also talk about how for-profit companies can give back to disadvantaged communities.

Darshan: Hey everyone. Welcome to another episode of DarshanTalks. We had a really fun, special guests with us. We have Tim Styer and Tim is gonna be talking to us about, uh, like one of the conversations we've been having. We've sort of come out of this recession, uh, starting to come out of this pandemic in a way where we're going. Um, people are losing jobs. People are having a hard time trying to figure out how to make their money. And some of it's related to obviously the fact that, um, the, like the jobs simply went away, but some of it's related to the fact that these jobs are actually farther, farther away. And the people who are getting those jobs are either, uh, people who live close to that location, um, or, or simply are, uh, what's the word I'm looking for? Uh, they, they, they have, I forget the term right now, privileged. They have certain privileges, um, that, that some of the others, some of the other people may not. And this may sound like a weird thing to say. I let Tim explain a little bit more about what he does, uh, to explain a little bit more about how this plays into pharma in the life, sciences and health and what kind of go from there. So, Steve, Tim, great having you on, tell us more about what you,

Tim: Yeah, first of all, I'm the president and CEO founder of Ride to Work and we're a limited liability company. And so our focus has always been on transporting, working with companies and nonprofits who do workforce development, transporting folks that are on the lower rungs of the economic scale from inner city, Philadelphia, the decent pain entry-level jobs out in the suburbs that they, that public transportation can't get them to. One of the things that we, uh, that occurred to us, and this was back in June when we started. And this was like when the numbers started coming in for the pandemic and we looked at it and what struck me Darshan was the fact that, um, I had seen some data from Philadelphia works, which is the workforce investment board for this Philadelphia and entire region that indicated that unemployment claims went up 132% in Philadelphia and 85% of those folks were from black and Brown communities in Philadelphia, Philadelphia, you may or may not know, had to dubious distinction of being the poorest large city in the United States.

Tim: We had a Florida pandemic poverty rates of up to 24%. It's been an implacable issue for a number of years, and there's a lot of different theories out there that, that that's, you know, point to the reasons why we are looking at like a little slice. So when we talk about the recovery of a region like Philadelphia, we understand that we can't do it the way that we've always been doing it. In other words, we cannot neglect some of the poor areas in Philadelphia and the poor population, and that also bought away includes. And let me just, you know, we're, we're looking at this totally data-driven evidence-based for instance, right now in Philadelphia, unemployment is about 15% in black and Brown communities in some zip codes in Philadelphia, it's 20, 24% with those who are just coming home from incarceration. It is as high as 48%.

Tim: Conversely, on the other hand, there's a lot of supply chain jobs that are warehouse jobs working in, um, um, distribution and so forth. That doesn't require a lot of skills that are in places that you can't get to, that people can't get to because they don't have a license. We fill that gap. And we feel as though that we can sort of close that poverty gap by at least providing people what we call like a first step into employment and getting socialized back into the workforce and, you know, be part of the recovery of this area. And it makes good business sense also.

Darshan: So talk to us about that more, more makes good business sense part of it. How does it make more, make good business sense

Tim: In a number of ways? I mean, we have some pretty smart people working on our team and we also work with a lot of nonprofits. And I'll tell you an example. Uh, one of the nonprofits that we work with is a 55 year old venerable organization in Philadelphia that was founded by, uh, Reverend Leon Salvin back in the sixties called opportunities, industrial centers of America. And, you know, they, for the, I don't know, I guess as four or five years, you know, have contract that with the department of labor and this year they got $9.4 million to help transition, uh, re-entry people into the workforce and also people on the lower ends of economic ladder. Now what they have proven is that, so you, so here's what for business, if you're looking for to do a couple of things, one decreased turnover to have a steady supply of workers coming in that are trained, that have support and have transportation, um, you know, tell me any company that that doesn't make sense to, right.

Tim: In addition, we're talking about, you know, having being part of a social mission, a lot of this has to do with the equity and inclusion objectives and goals that companies have. And, you know, since the summer behind a George Floyd murder in, in, um, this summer, that there is a renewed interest on that. So it makes a lot of good business sense. And when we're talking about, well, you know, we're talking about having an impact on the economic situation, in any one particular area, that's a customer base for a lot of companies, Amazon knows this, they noticed that's why they're actively recruiting people from places like Philadelphia, it's their customer base. It just makes good business sense.

Darshan: So, so you talk about corporate social responsibility. You talk about how it makes pure business sense, but there are a couple of questions that pop up. One of the questions I had was that you're a start, I've actually had a conversation recently with another individual and they talk about, um, black and Brown entrepreneurs having to struggle to get funding. Has this been your experience and, and how does that play into how you get funding?

Tim: No, I mean, you know, funding to us, just revenue, right? We're for-profit um, but what we realized, you know, a lot of our business pre pandemic was, you know, and let me, let me just really explain this model of ride to work. And that sets the pace. So we don't ride to work doesn't own any vehicles. We don't have any drivers or anything like that. What we are is a transportation management firm. So with companies that are looking to increase diversity, looking to, you know, recruit workers from areas that are non-traditional, you know, say from out of Philadelphia Camden, we're starting to work with some people up in Coatesville, right? Well, we can help them figure how to do that. And also with these nonprofits that are involved in workforce development, we can help them figure out how to do it, how to pay for it. And what we do is in each locale we work with or contract with third party transportation companies that mirror our social mission, and we act as a business development for them also. So it's, it's both ends. So just, I just wanted to make that clear.

Darshan: So you mentioned yourself permission, though. What exactly do you define as your social mission?

Tim: Well, our social mission again, is to, um, facilitate employment opportunities for those on the lower end of the economic scale and what we call adversely impacted workers. That's, that's our primary social mission. So it's economic and it's socially.

Darshan: So, so does that mean that right to work may tomorrow be in other businesses as long as it helps improve the, um, the direction for, uh, provide upward and abilities to, um, to financially and socially disadvantaged individuals? I don't know if I said that

Tim: We already do. I mean, we also, you know, we have a small amount of business where we provide, um, you know, transportation for companies that is COVID safe. Right? Yeah. And, um, you know, it's, um, you know, it's safe transit. So we got quite a bit of business in during the height of the pandemic. We were transporting essential workers to places like nursing homes and medical facilities and so forth. Right. So we have that. And, you know, it's interesting now that the COVID numbers seem to be going up, there seems to be a little bit more interested in that. So, you know, we just don't focus on, you know, any company, you know, you, you have to be sort of diverse in your offering. And we also have a small rideshare, um, um, uh, facet of our business right now. And, um, it's being developed and we work with the city of Philadelphia, the rebuild program, taking their workers back and forth to construction sites around the city. Um, so we're building that out too. But again, the primary focus is being that, you know, facilitator to get people from Philadelphia or places where they they're places, you know, good jobs where they can't use public transportation.

Darshan: W what I thought was really interesting, what you just said, though, Tim was this idea that you provide, COVID safe transport, which is obviously a huge issue, um, for, for any business. How do you open up a business and run it? If you don't know if your employees are actually, or even your contractors are spreading the virus. So let me ask you this question, um, how do you compete against a Uber or Lyft at that point? Aren't they sort of in that business as well as transportation?

Tim: Well, you know, from, from, from my, our experience, you know, people will choose us over Uber or Lyft anytime. Right. But a simple fact that, you know, at the end of the day, you don't know what that Uber drivers doing, who they had in a car or whatever, you know, or in a vehicle. You know, I mean, I mean, we have some really, really strict standards. I mean, we put plexiglass last speech of partition between the drivers and the riders in our 15 passenger vehicles. We put no more than 10 people in there. We sanitize the vehicle before and after the pickups. So, you know, we're, we're, we're going to do the right thing. And, you know, actually right now we're a little bit less expensive than Uber Lyft, you know, they're, they're having some issues and we tell people, listen, you know, um, all of our drivers, the people that we contract with, you know, we tell them that they gotta pay their drivers at least $15. Right. So you're taking care of, we do temperature checks for everybody that's getting into the vehicles the whole nine. So it's, it's more robust and safer.

Darshan: So, so obviously you've got a social mission and obviously touching into, uh, both these COVID-19 issues, but you're also touching into the people who were previously incarcerated and therefore can't find jobs. So there's a social responsibility issue and into the socially disadvantaged who can find the jobs, but can't get to that. So, so my question is, why not just be a nonprofit?

Tim: We started out as a nonprofit, believe it or not, you know, and that was two years to go. And then, you know, our board of advisors, you know, uh, suggested and many, many other people in the city said you should be a for-profit company. Right. Um, and so what we did, which is, I think is pretty creative. We actually cut the Dino, the nonprofit, right. That's housed somewhere else. And, you know, and that's still going. I mean, you know, that, you know, we just got some grant money into the nonprofit that will kind of help the mission and so forth. Right. But the primary reason, and this, you know, you probably know this is like my third, somebody told me me, I'm a serial entrepreneur. And I thought about, didn't know that. Right. But anyway, this is my third go round. Right. And the idea of becoming the, for profit, we became a LLC with members and we wanted to take the equity that we earn and a share with our supporters.

Tim: You know, we have a nonprofit on hand where, you know, we're giving them ownership into the company or membership into the company to share equity, share equity with our workers. Right. So it's equity sharing because at the root of it, at the heart of it, when you really think about it on a macro level, what we're trying to do here, which can be done right, is to start creating wealth with folks, folks that, you know, traditionally where, where there's such a wealth divide. I mean, and so, you know, how else to do that? You know, um, then with a for-profit company, isn't that the reason why people go on to business to make profit and this year,

Darshan: What I really like about what you just said is the fact that you're for-profit company, but the profits not intended to go into the, the, um, the pockets of just the high level executives. And I say that as someone who often would be called one of those people, I think w what you're saying is I want the people who actually need and getting some of this money as well, and you don't have a format to do that in a, in a not-for-profit at least not that I'm aware of what you're enabling is that wealth to grow within the community for the people who need it, just kind of cool.

Tim: And, you know, we have an operating agreement that reflects that and reflects the ownership. Um, you know, for instance, I'll give you an idea of one of our vendors. So GPS, gods, people serving, uh, founded and own a body as gentlemen, Duane Lewis came home from incur eight years of incarceration. Five years ago, couldn't get a job because of his record and so forth. Well, last year, well, actually not last year, 20, 19, 2018, you know, he made over $180,000 yeah. From, from ride to work. And we gave him a little chunk of the action, right? Said, look, you guys, you know, you work hard and so forth, Sharon, he got equity vibe percent ownership in the company. And, you know, it serves to do a couple of things. You know, one, it's a great incentive, right. And you know, we also, for our partners, this may sound crazy as we offer technical assistance to them, help them open up lines of credit.

Tim: You know, they have more expenses than what I have, you know, they have vehicles and insurance and so forth. I don't have that. You know, I have insurance and I, right now, we, we have a couple, most of them referral up by seven or eight, this bachelor's. And then, you know, I have a co Oh, and you know, a finance person. So we're, we're, we have very low overhead, but we can create this vehicle, which we have that could provide a lot of economic development all the way around. And that's the whole concept of ride to work.

Darshan: So I guess, um, my question is right. To work. Sounds like such a great idea. And it's, it's obviously already becoming pretty successful and you started Philadelphia. Does this model work in other locations?

Tim: Yeah. I mean, you know, we, we have some interest in, we're starting to talk to people up in new Haven, Connecticut, for instance. Um, we begun some initial conversations with folks out in, uh, new Haven and new England, Connecticut realize there's so many new cities up there

Darshan: And what happened to Haven Connecticut.

Tim: Yeah. Yeah. Uh, we just started some conversations with some folks in Allegheny County, Pittsburgh who believed this is the perfect model for them. Right. And, you know, we're willing to go in and, you know, to help people, you know, ideate this whole thing and, you know, put it together and so forth and figure out, you know, it's a very collaborative effort, right? So it's not like it's just riding to work, going out there doing it and trying to make money for itself. But for instance, in Philadelphia, one of the things that we successfully did over the summer, we built a coalition or a consortium of a least 15 nonprofits to do workforce development. And they became stakeholders in terms of how, how best ride to work could facilitate their needs. And we came up with a white paper that, you know, we're shopping right now. It'll be out, it'll be published, there's a draft going around, it'll be published. But it really, and also with people like the Philadelphia federal reserve had a lot of support from them. Uh, Chu foundation gave us a lot of support in terms of, you know, encouragement and also, you know, some data that they have, right. And also Philadelphia works, which is a, uh, the workforce investment board. So, you know, everybody sees where this works and the way that, the thing that makes it so beautiful is that it's a very intentionally collaborative effort.

Darshan: So, so 10, let me as last parting words, um, any, how can people reach you any last parting words you want to say before we call it?

Tim: Well, you know, you could call me, you know, my number is two six, seven, seven eight four nine zero seven one. Email me, Tim at my ride, number two, Um, you know, I'm not selling anything, I'm not selling anything I'm in turned into discussion and looking for partners who could help make a difference. Right. And understand where it's a win-win. Right. And I normally, I do a pretty good job of that. There's not too many people who don't get it. And most people say, well, how can I be a part of it? Well, you know, let's spend about 10, 15 minutes or whatever, and I can give you some ideas and, you know, they'll work for you and you and your company. We can talk to, you know, a lot of C-level people and so forth and the HR people, but, you know, we're, we're in a business of sovereign problem, right.

Tim: And primary problem is, you know, really at the end of the day, related to the economic, you know, um, condition of people that, you know, my I've been doing this for a lot of years, you know, we don't have to have the sort of economic divide, you know, with people, you know, between, uh, adversely impacted or marginalized people, people, you know, like I look at, you know, like folks coming home from prison, you know, in Philadelphia, we had a situation where 50, 60% of the people who were incarcerated with Philadelphia had never even been, uh, convicted of a crime, but yet they served trying to get out and they're having a hard time getting a job. That's, you know, that's crazy. It's like, we're trying to compete with our hands tied behind our back. And we got all these folks that can help grow the economic situation of Philadelphia.

Darshan: So before I hang up, then I do have one more question. What is the right partner look like for you?

Tim: Well, the right partner looks like in terms of, is one that says, you know, I want to talk to you about partnering. You know, they're trying to get, you know, get people, helping get jobs. That's number one, right. Right. Partner is, and, you know, I know people are really busy. So, you know, I would like to serve in an advisory capacity. Right. You know, we're always looking for diverse ideas from, but the primary one is, you know, folks to say, Hey, you know, I want to avail myself of the workforce and how it would benefit my company.

Darshan: Awesome. Tim, thank you so much for joining us. Uh, hope to have you on your again, soon, hopefully with more with, uh, with, uh, a company that's grown far beyond where we are even today. So I'm really excited to have you on again.

Tim: Thank you so much.

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