We had the good fortune of connecting with Will Kralovec and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Will, can you talk to us a bit about the social impact of your business?
My company, JJK Places.PBC, is a new breed of business. It’s a social impact enterprise. Which is most commonly defined as a for-profit company with a social benefit purpose. Social impact businesses are established to intentionally seek market-driven solutions to complex social or environmental challenges, thereby creating public value by means that are scalable, economically sustainable, long-lasting, and measurable. Our vision is ultimately to eliminate barriers to possibilities. We are seeking to do this by using real estate, space, and the built-environment to increase opportunity, community, and social equity — particularly in historically underserved neighborhoods. I know your immediate reaction, rarely do you hear the term real estate used in the same sentence as social equity! At least not favorably. But we are in fact doing something extremely positive with real estate development — we’re looking at real estate through a new lens, and using it in new ways for a for-profit company. JJK Places is out to change the singular focus that most convention real estate transactions have, that being only profit. Though our core business is real estate, I view our company as more of an opportunity developer. Some have even described JJK Places as existing at the intersection of real estate, opportunity creation, and social justice. It was started almost three years ago as Denver and Colorado’s first social impact real estate development company, focusing entirely on mission-driven, community-centric real estate projects. We also have the distinction of being the first real estate entity of its type in Colorado to be legally structured as a “public benefit corporation” (a PBC). This means we have a legal obligation to pursue social benefits, alongside the usual economic returns for investors and funders. I formed JJK Places based on a new business model. It’s called a “hybrid company.” With this structure and mission, JJK Places has expertise in a unique niche. It is one of the first “fourth sector” real estate companies in the country. I believe and so do many others that this company has huge potential — it is on the forefront of a global movement that sees the fourth sector as being our best way to address the immense social and environmental challenges we face in the world today. The fourth sector consists of benefit companies, like JJK Places, which combine the best attributes of private sector business with the social mission of the public and nonprofit sectors. To put it another way, most companies are single bottom-line focused — their sole priority is producing profit. Whereas a fourth sector company is concerned with a triple bottom-line, these being people, planet, and profitit. JJK Places is now using this approach in the Denver metro area to produce real estate developments that prioritize people (and their communities), wellness (of individuals and the environment), and prosperity (for multiple stakeholders). This strategy creates social impact real estate (or “SIRE”), which offers the opportunity for us to invest in real estate that literally “does well by doing good.”
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
William Shakespeare said, “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” Two of my passions or meanings in life are people and the built-environment, the latter also known as places, hence the name of my company. To me, people and places are two of the most important determinants of our happiness. They give life meaning. I’ve been asked about the work I’ve chosen to do, and why I care. I’ve become a kind of professional do-gooder, intent on using my capabilities, my gifts, to serve disadvantaged communities and historically underserved populations. I want to help level the playing field for all people. And why do I do this, why do I care so very much? It’s very simple: because people who don’t care is what’s wrong with this world. Enough said. I can be a rather idealistic and sometimes cerebral individual. Over the years some friends have even taken to calling me the “Philosopher” because of the way I approach problems and solve challenges. Yet I’m still a businessman. Which means I remain well-anchored in the realities of the world. I like to describe this apparent dicodemy by something JFK said about himself: “I’m an idealist without illusion.” JJK Places.PBC exists because of the belief that business can and should be a force for creating social good. I think this notion is not just idealistic and the right thing to do, but frankly it also makes good business sense in light of the realities of today’s world. Look around us, at the huge social and environmental challenges we face in the world. I’d say there’s a pretty big market out there for social impact solutions! Benefit companies, or collectively the fourth sector — because of their access to capital markets, their business acumen, talent pool, financial discipline, and public good missions — are the perfect vehicle for expanding existing solutions and creating new ones. This is what JJK Places is all about. I just happen to have chosen to wield an atypical tool to attack multiple social issues.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Let’s see, if I had a friend visiting me for a week — assuming you were asking this question pre-Covid — I would do three days in and around Denver exploring the city; two days in the mountains hiking, likely camping, and visiting a couple mountain towns; and one day down to the Royal Gorge and white water rafting on the Arkansas River. The last day would be a Rockies afternoon game. And somewhere in between we’d also fit in a Red Rocks concert one evening. Now, as far as those three days in and around Denver, we’d splurg on some unique spots for cocktails — places that have become Denver-centric. We’d visit El Five for the city views, the Dairy Block for people watching, Union Station and Cooper Lounge for more people watching, Cruise Room for the cool factor, and either Williams & Graham or Retrograde in Uptown for the speakeasy experience. And if my friend really wanted an old time Denver cocktail experience, I’d take them to the second floor lounge of the Buckhorn Exchange. For food, I’d probably take my friend to more local community places that represent Denver and some of its diversity. This would include Senor Burrito for breakfast burritos, dinner one day in the vicinity of Federal/Alameda for some Vietnamese food or Dim Sum. Star Kitchen is good for the latter. Then another day with a visit to either Owlbear Barbeque in Five Points or Boney’s BBQ Smokehouse downtown — or maybe we’d just hit both during the week! I do like my barbeque! In addition to Red Rocks, other musical entertainment musts that we’d visit would be Dazzle, Herbs, and El Chapoltapec. Like I said, this visit would have taken place pre-Covid, because sadly El Chapoltapec is now one of the countless casualties of the pandemic. It has closed for good, and Denver sadly has lost a musical gem. To round out the week visit, we’d get exercise during the day walking around Cap Hill, Five Points, Curtis Park, and Highlands neighborhoods looking at great historic residential architecture. We’d also walk Sloan’s Lake and Wash Park. And a visit early one morning to Roxbury Park would be certain. With the hiking we’d also be doing in the mountains, this would complete my week long tour of my beloved adopted hometown. We sometimes forget how fortunate we are to live in such beautiful places like Denver and Colorado. Like I said earlier, place is a key determinant of happiness. Whenever I travel and return to Denver, I smile, because this place does make me happy. And that, perhaps is an additional reason I am working so tirelessly to address some of our serious housing, equity, and related growth challenges. Because I love this place and it should be enjoyed and accessible to all people.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
There are many people and many books that have influenced my own story since I was a child, and collectively have caused my metamorphosis into a social entrepreneur. First, I’ve always been inspired by historical figures who persevered against all odds. As a kid, the stories of people like Frederick Douglass, Thomas Edison, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Helen Keller all awed and encouraged me to face obstacles head-on. Two additional historical figures who also motivated me from the time I was young, came about from hearing family stories about my great grandfather, James Kralovec, and his brother John. They both emigrated from the then country of Bohemia in 1874 and 1868, respectively, to Chicago. They were poor teenagers, immigrants in a foreign land, who spoke no English when they arrived. There are family stories handed down of them being insulted and ridiculed for being dirty, stupid immigrants during the early years after their arrival. But they came to American around the time of the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. Fortuitously, they both had been trained as brick masons in the old country. They immediately found employment. Through hard work and dedication they both eventually became successful self-made businessmen and real estate developers in Chicago at the turn of the last century — James even ran for public political office in Chicago. And three decades after these two co-called dirty, ignorant, foreign-tongued immigrants arrived in Chicago, James was seated in 1909 as a member of the Chicago Board of Education. It’s because of this American immigrant story that I named my company after them — the JJK stands for James and John Kralovec. It’s an homage to the immigrant experience, and the desire to reach the American dream through hard work and determination. A more recent and local influence over who I am today can be directly attributed to six Denver individuals. I moved to Denver in 2003, not knowing at the time that I was embarking on a 17 year journey of self-discovery to align myself with my authentic path. Due to this journey, I’ve evolved from a former number crunching, profit focused, real estate investment guy into a far more open-minded thinker, social equity advocate, and nuanced problem-solver. During my past years in Denver, my professional path has independently crisscrossed with these six people; because of it, theybhave helped shape me and my evolving career. They each are using their professional lives to make a difference in Denver and the world. Though I wouldn’t be surprised if most of them are unaware of the high esteem I hold for each. These six individuals who I want to give a shoutout to are Kimble Crangle (impassioned affordable housing developer, with Gorman & Company), Dace West (consummate Denver change agent, with The Denver Foundation), Aaron Miripol (champion of urban communities, with Urban Land Conservancy), Jami Duffy (social justice activist, with Youth on Record), Tom Gougeon (a principled forward thinker, with the Gates Family Foundation), and Brad Segal (equity advocate, Co-Founder of the nonprofit advocacy organization All In Denver). I would not be the person I am today nor be trying to make the difference I am had it not been for these peoples’ influence. They each deserve a huge shoutout! I’m immensely grateful to each.