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To The Core

A look at successful Gen X entrepreneurs who have found time for socially responsible commitments

Here's yet another reason to be proud of us stereotype-defiant Gen Xers. Not only are we amazingly entrepreneurial (as opposed to lazy and slackerly), but we're also philanthropic (as opposed to self-serving).

We've learned, far too easily, that not all successful entrepreneurs are just looking out for number one. In fact, we've found quite the opposite with our selection of exceptional entrepreneurs who not only strive for success in their businesses, but simultaneously contribute their personal time and/or money to socially responsible endeavors.

Dan Cunningham of Dan's Chocolates Inc. is a good example. This guy grew up in Vermont in the shadow of famously philanthropic ice cream mavens Ben and Jerry. So at the ripe old age of 24, with myriad Internet ventures already under his belt, Cunningham teamed up with Jared Shutz, a fellow Princeton classmate and executive director of Blue Mountain.com (subsidiary of exite@home), to create an Internet start-up that would revolve around a philanthropic business model.

Initially a wholly owned subsidiary of Blue Mountain.com, Dan's Chocolates began last year as a partner of the greeting site, establishing itself as the first online gourmet chocolate shop. But what truly makes this Watertown, Massachusetts, start-up delectable, aside from the chocolate, is the fact that 5 percent of revenue goes to a charitable organization the buyer selects from those listed on the site.

Why would a newbie start-up contribute its revenue directly to charity partners? "As the Internet industry got bigger and more attractive, the focus turned away from 'What can the Internet do for the world?' to 'How fast can we make our company go public?' " explains Cunningham, now 25. "This was kind of a way for us to say 'Look, not every online company has that as its ultimate objective.' "

It is pretty amazing when your business has a direct correlation with benevolence, but imagine overseeing a successful e-business while simultaneously running your own nonprofit organization. Well, somehow, that's just what 31-year-old Ariel Kleckner has done. Coupling her nonprofit interests with the entrepreneurial principles of her for-profit business, a San Francisco Internet applications company called Red Gorilla Inc., Kleckner founded and became president of YEA, the Youth Enterprises and Arts Incubator Program, in San Francisco's Yerba Buena Gardens.

Working a number of years as a mentor for inner-city youth by teaching Web design and entrepreneurial skills, Kleckner was given the opportunity to erect a nonprofit incubator that basically networks the neighborhood's colony of nonprofits. For example, kids from the Columbia Park Boys and Girls Club can join the YEA mentoring programs and then go on to the Opnet program, which trains and places at-risk youth in internships through partnerships with 40 companies- of which is Red Gorilla.

"With San Francisco being like it is, there are more technical jobs in the city than there are trained people to do them," explains Kleckner. "Why not take these kids off the street who want to do something with their lives?"

Another exemplary role model is 34-year-old Heidi Van Arnem. After an accident left her a quadriplegic at age 16, Van Arnem began sitting on several nonprofit boards for the benefit of the disabled community, offering her wisdom on empowering the disabled. In 1992, she established a nonprofit organization that raises $100,000 annually for spinal cord research and education, and in June, she launched iCan.com Inc., a community dedicated to providing comprehensive support for people with disabilities. "I knew how important this would be," says Van Arnem. "There are a lot of resources out there, and I saw the need to pull them together."

Van Arnem's latest goal is to offer the 1 million people with disabilities the resources to get online. "I feel so passionate about giving back," she explains. "I'll do it 'til the day I die. When you start doing this at a young age, you can't get out of it."

Contact Sources

Colombia Park Boys and Girls Clubs, (415)861-8232, www.kidsclub.org

Red Gorilla Inc., (415)575-0414, www.redgorilla.com.

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