We had the good fortune of connecting with Lauren Burgess (she/her) and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Lauren, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
While I was in undergrad at Rutgers University, I had the opportunity to intern at a middle school for students with autism. This was my first experience working in the field and while it was the most difficult job I had ever had at that point, it was also the most fulfilling. After undergrad and during graduate school, I worked, volunteered and interned for as many organizations I could to find my niche. It was during that work that I really discovered just how systematically oppressed people with disabilities are in our world and that’s when I dreamt up the idea of Garden – a place where people with disabilities could engage with, learn and interact with their community rather than an isolated classroom or program at the back of a gym.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
I consider myself a serial social entrepreneur who comes to the field with over a decade of education and professional experience leading, speaking and coaching. I’ve dedicated my life to serving others and am driven by my passion to make the world more inclusive. I started her first business when she was only 25 with less than $100 in my bank account and zero investors. Today, I am the CEO of three organizations and a dozen programs, (two for-profits and one not-for-profit) that generate over $1MM in annual revenue. Recognizing the growing need for adult support, I founded Dirt Coffee Bar, a mobile truck & coffee shop with a mission to train and employ young adults with autism. On World Autism Awareness Day, April 2nd, 2018, I opened Dirt’s first brick-and-mortar in downtown Littleton with plans to expand internationally in coming years. Most recently, I launched Garden Neighbors which provides inclusive living solutions for people with autism. In addition to serving as CEO of Garden, Dirt and Neighbors, I am currently a leader at Beanstalk Foundation, board member of Alliance, member of the South Metro Chamber of Commerce and the Littleton Business Chamber, in addition to serving on various legislative committees. Recognized by NBC, CBS, Denver Westword, Denver Post, Denver Business Journal, 303 Magazine, Denver Eater, the Autism Society of Colorado, and many more, I hope to revolutionize the world of social entrepreneurship and equip others to do the same.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Well of course, we’d have to stop by Dirt for a lavender latte and breakfast burrito. Then we’d visit the shops up and down Mainstreet Littleton. It’s such a sweet and quaint feeling town. We’d then head to RedRocks for a hike before going to Estes Park for some sight seeing. If we had the whole weekend, we spend some time in Grand Junction and do some wine tasting at Palisade.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My team deserves all of the recognition in the world for my success and for the successes of my organizations. This work is not glamorous, easy nor does it pay well and yet, I have an amazing handful of team members who continue to show up and step up every single day. All of my organizations are a place for people to grow, people with and without disabilities. Often times, people choose to work here to learn and grow alongside those they serve. We’re lucky, especially in this field, if people stick around after a year. Typically, they will discover what they love and move on to bigger and better things. I love that about our organizations. We are a foundation and stepping stone for so many amazing people who are set out to do even more amazing things in this world. But for this shoutout in particular, I want to specifically recognize those who have chosen to grow longterm with me, those we serve and the organization. Those who choose to stay even when they know that a different job may have better hours and may pay them more. Those who recognize the important work we’re doing every single day and even when it feels impossible, continue to believe in this work, in this organization and in me. These are the true heroes.
Other: www.gardenautism.org www.dirtcoffee.org www.thetravelinggnomes.org