In the candlelit, intimate setting of the East End Market's APEX hall, businesses are born over dinner.
Orlando SOUP, modeled after the successful Detroit SOUP that started four years ago, is a micro-granting community dinner offering local activists, entrepreneurs and creatives a platform for networking and an opportunity to win funding for projects.
“If Orlando wants to grow, it has to retain talented, creative people — stay here, do it here,” said Julia Young, an organizer of the SOUP and executive director of the Urban Think Foundation, a local nonprofit that aims to build and support creative projects. She said the pitches that are chosen to present from the pool of applicants are ones that have a biggest impact on the entire local community instead of a single group of people.
Young's upbringing is rooted in multiple neighborhoods within Orlando: she grew up in downtown, went to high school in College Park and lives in Audubon Park. She loves the variety of places around town, frequenting Bikes, Beans & Bordeaux for lunch and Park Avenue for dinner.
When one project grows in a neighborhood, another may benefit, Young said. “It's being made easier to connect [to different neighborhoods] and now it's easier to connect them with each other.”
Community members who wish to spearhead an original project apply to present their pitch at the dinner. Presenters showcase their ideas with nothing but raw, tangible visuals and a four-minute speech — no PowerPoint. Attendees then vote for the projects that resonate with them the most. The winning project receives the funds made from the evening.
There has been plenty of forward movement with the creative, local, small-scale enterprises in the Winter Park area and surrounding neighborhoods, said Andi Perez, Yelp Orlando community manager and Orlando SOUP organizer.
Aiding small-scale projects in local neighborhoods helps empower community members to have ownership of their community, Perez said, and that, “When you have that, you have the impetus to make it better.”
The venue itself is a reflection of the initiative's vision. “East End Market is such a collaborative place,” Perez said. “It's so community-oriented and so much embraced by Winter Park and the surrounding communities … East End, as a place, is kind of like the projects that we're trying to get funded in that it's one place, it's small-scale, but it has a huge impact.”
Along with the donated venue, bread and soup are also donated by the Olde Hearth Bread Company and Slow Food Orlando, which is a grassroots organization whose mission is to educate about and advocate for fair, cleaner food sources.
The crowd-funding dinner is a collective effort of the Urban Think Foundation, Slow Food Orlando, Yelp Orlando, the East End Market and the locally-run “hip, thrifty, local” blog, theORLANDOAN.
Project ReThink, an initiative by the Winter Park environmental awareness organization IDEAS for Us, won the last SOUP and was funded $800 from the dinner. The project plans to blend together different art mediums to spread awareness about environmental concerns and solutions.
Among the several artsy methods, Project ReThink volunteers will use large plywood stencils and pressure washers to slough stains and graffiti off of the sides of highway bridges and overpasses. The “reverse graffiti” will clean the area and pressure wash designs that read clever messages, such as “keep it clean.” Chris Castro, co-founder of IDEAS for Us, said volunteers will also use moss as “paint” by blending sugar with other ingredients together that will allow moss to grow on walls in certain shapes and letters, forming a “living message.”
Castro and other volunteers will present the project's progress at the next Orlando SOUP, scheduled for Aug. 13.
“Through creative art projects — and projects in general — we have an opportunity of removing the blinders of our day-to-day busy lives and using these types of projects to influence people's behavior in a more positive way,” Castro said.