exterior of Hobby Lobby store

Hobby Lobby, the Green family owned arts-and-crafts store chain, is backing a new accelerator in Oklahoma City based on the ideas of redemptive entrepreneurship. Redemptive entrepreneurship is typically associated with evangelical Protestant churches and is based on the teachings of Jesus Christ.

The new accelerator, Cultivate, is accepting applications starting in November for a spring cohort of 12 ventures. The application costs $2,500; the total cost is about $15,000, the web site says.

Most of that fee is underwritten by sponsors, according to its web site, which explains what redemptive entrepreneurship means in this context: “the paradigm shifts from promoting self to loving and serving others, from Empire to Shalom; from exit to enter, from success to surrender.”

The other two partners listed are Praxis, a New York City-based organization that promotes redemptive entrepreneurship including through curricula, and Flourish OKC, a platform that is also backed by Hobby Lobby. Flourish describes itself as collaborative platform that aims to help everyone in Oklahoma City thrive.

Culturally powerful evangelical Christians

David and Barbara Green, the founders of Hobby Lobby, are some of the most powerful and unusual entrepreneurs in the United States. They founded the company in 1970 with a $600 loan to make miniature picture frames in their home, according to various profiles of the company. The chain has 915 locations in 46 states, with $5.3 billion in sales, according to Forbes – which has given the family a worth of $8.6 billion.

The privately held company donates half of its pre-tax earnings to evangelical causes, which in turn makes the family a powerful political force. In 2014, the company won a Supreme Court case that exempted “closely held’ companies from providing employees the morning-after pill.

Evangelicals are one of the most cohesive groups in American politics and culture wars. In the 2020 election, polls showed about 80% of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump – an even higher proportion than small business owners, the majority of whom approved of his handling of the economy.

The Green family spent a reported $500 million to open the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. A success in terms of visitors, its opening was tarred by a couple of scandals.

But thousands of its Middle Eastern antiquities had tainted provenance. Though in an article in the New York Times, antiquities experts applauded the Museum’s transparency in dealing with those problems. Steve Green, Hobby Lobby president and son of the David and Barbara, apologized and said the mistakes were the result of his own inexperience in antiquities acquisition.

The Museum also took PPP loans. It was criticized, along with other large companies and those with ties with wealthy organizations and individuals, for talking government money that was meant to help small businesses survive the pandemic.

Churches in need of revenue

There’s a growing realization within churches that closely affiliated social enterprises can restore churches to financial health. Memberships and donations have been declining at many churches. Mark Eldson, a pastor working in a Presbyterian ministry at the University of Wisconsin, recently made the case in a book called “We Aren’t Broke.”

Praxis is one of a handful of organizations that have been working in the faith-based entrepreneurship space for years. Faith Driven Entrepreneur, another, was founded by venture capitalist Henry Kaestner. Tyndale University in Ontario also lists redemptive entrepreneurship as an offering.

Praxis is led by Dave Blanchard, who was formerly a principal designer at IDEO. Much of the material on its web site focuses service and introspection, with a dose of traditional evangelism. Traditionally, evangelical Christians emphasize spreading the gospel with an eye toward converting people to Christianity. Many evangelical churches ascribe to a literal reading of the Bible, including predictions of the end of the world found in the book of Revelations.

The site lists Donna Harris, the well-known founder of 1776 in Washington, D.C., as a venture partner. Praxis has a long track record. According to its web site, the organization includes a business accelerator, nonprofit accelerator, the Praxis Academy and a venture lab. It reports it has invested $108 million in ventures, and has a portfolio of 191 in 44 countries.

Praxis was an early supporter of HBCUvc, in that its founder, Hadiyah Mujhid, was a Praxis fellow in 2019. HBCUvc is a nonprofit that aims to help more people of color become venture capitalists.

This story and others on New Builders Dispatch are made possible by a sponsorship from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private, nonpartisan foundation that provides access to opportunities that help people achieve financial stability, upward mobility, and economic prosperity – regardless of race, gender, or geography. The Kansas City, Mo.-based foundation uses its grantmaking, research, programs, and initiatives to support the start and growth of new businesses, a more prepared workforce, and stronger communities. For more information, visit www.kauffman.org and connect with www.twitter.com/kauffmanfdn and www.facebook.com/kauffmanfdn.

A business journalist for 20 years, am the founder of Times of Entrepreneurship and the co-author of The New Builders.