Clean Sweep

What: A trash disposal and street maintenance service that employs people in the social services network
Who: Chris Martin of CleanScapes Inc.
Where: Seattle
When: Started in 1997

chris martin lived in an area surrounded by missions, homeless shelters and trash-filled alleys in the Pioneer Square section of Seattle. It was there that he got the inspiration for his business. Martin, 36, wanted to start a service that would not only help clean up the area, but also employ the very people who needed jobs the most: clients in Seattle's social services network.

"We try to hire employees [who] are what people might describe as marginally employable people, people who might not otherwise have a job," says Martin. "It's pretty rewarding when you take someone who has been on the streets or in a drug-treatment program and they [come] to work every day, clean, drug-free, confident about their place in the world and confident in their jobs."

With $1,500 in start-up capital, Martin formed his business as a for-profit enterprise. He based this decision on the advice of a man who ran a Lutheran community center in the neighborhood. "He said, 'You ought to be a for-profit company, because when [your employees] go to apply for and work another job, it would send a much stronger message,'" says Martin.

Armed with his good idea, Martin first had to sell it to local private property owners in Seattle who expressed some interest in his service. But Martin really lucked out when he contacted a property owner who happened to own buildings on both sides of an alley. He was the first to buy the CleanScapes service, and additional clients soon followed suit. Today, CleanScapes has a presence both in Seattle and San Francisco, with sales set to hit $1.2 million this year.

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This article was originally published in the August 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Clothes-Minded.

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