The Power of Partnership: The Helius Foundation

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At ReCity Network, we’re all about collaboration. We’re not just a coworking facility or event space, and we’re not just rewriting the story of our city—we’re doing all of this together. Continuing our series on the power of partnership, we turn our attention to The Helius Foundation and the many partnerships Executive Director Geraud Staton has formed within the ReCity Network.

The story of Helius and its partnerships illustrates how building a network within a network can power social entrepreneurship and community development. Helius provides free training, mentoring, and coaching for necessity-driven entrepreneurs (NDEs).

Officially, about 14 percent of entrepreneurs are NDEs, but this statistic only includes registered businesses. “Probably 90% of the people I’ve worked with don’t have registered businesses, so I suspect the numbers are much higher,” said Staton. “There are a surprising number of entrepreneurs in communities like Northeast Central Durham doing their ‘side hustle’ to supplement their income,” he said. Helius’ goal is to take what often starts as a side business and turn it into a fair living wage—or even more.

When people in underserved communities are asked what their community needs to thrive, the overwhelming answer is “jobs.” Most people are thinking in terms of a huge company moving into the community and bringing thousands of jobs, but Staton has a better solution. “People have ideas,” he said. “But they don’t even know that they can achieve their dreams, much less have the tools to know how. If we can help entrepreneurs dream big and achieve those dreams, they can also offer employment to the community and allow people to do something they love, something they believe in—more than just a job.”

Helius is just 18 months old and already working with 28 NDEs, but they’re not doing it alone. They’re currently partnering with three ReCity members: REAL Durham, StepUp Durham, and Partners for Youth Opportunity. Armed with the belief that non-profits are stronger together, Staton pointed out that trust is not always easy to come by with the communities that they serve. “People are naturally skeptical,” he said. “So, if I can partner with an organization that’s already built that trust, they’re able to transfer that trust to my organization, and vice versa.”

Helius serves as an ally to REAL Durham clients looking to become financially stable through entrepreneurship. Camryn Smith, program coordinator for Real Durham, sees Helius as a resource to help her clients get out of poverty through entrepreneurship, and Helius sees her as a source of credibility for its organization in the communities where Helius serves.

With StepUp Durham, Executive Director Syretta Hill and her team identify clients in their program who are better suited to becoming entrepreneurs than pursuing traditional employment—StepUp’s core mission—and refer them to Helius for a matching solution set.

With Partnership for Youth Opportunity, Staton has seen the benefits of working with other non-profit leaders to strengthen and stabilize Helius Foundation for a sustainable future in Durham. PYO Executive Director Julie Wells has served as a coach to Staton on operation issues for non-profits and has referred Helius a paid intern for this summer.

“All three of our ReCity partners—REAL Durham, StepUp Durham, and Partners for Youth Opportunity—have been crucial to our development at Helius, both with the clients we serve and internally with developing our operational integrity and long-term focus,” added Staton.

Building on this shared trust has allowed Helius to shore up and expand its programs. In addition to mentoring NDEs, they’re also offering micro loans to their clients, hosting business networking events, and working with children to instill the entrepreneurial spirit at an early age.

Staton’s advice to ReCity members is to fully take advantage of everything ReCity has to offer. With ReCity being at 100 percent capacity and soon to add more, there are a lot of resources available. “There are people to ask about practically everything. Just do it,” Staton said. “To fully take advantage of your ReCity membership, you have to fully take advantage of all the resources here, including the leaders of ReCity itself, Rob Shields and Tucker Stevens. Everyone here is great to work with as we build for a better future.”

For more information on Helius Foundation and its growing impact on necessity-driven entrepreneurs in Durham, visit their website at www.heliusnc.com.