Meet Amanda Britt: Founder & CEO Panzanzee

Its mantra “Knowing what to do comes from knowing who you are” epitomizes Panzanzee’s Founder & CEO Amanda Britt’s spirit. Even as she held a series of traditional roles, in her case, Strategic Planner, Portfolio Manager, and Transaction Manager at Bank of America, her self-discovery and personal reflection continued.  Today, Panzanzee is set to open its first coworking space, an important step in fulfilling Amanda’s vision for a one-stop shop social enterprise incubator in Chicago.  

What she learned

A chance community service trip to Oaxaca, Mexico in 2008 was life altering. A young mother had left her 6-year old girl at the orphanage because she had no means of supporting her child. For Amanda who had recently reunited with her own birth mother a few months ago, this resonated deeply, “the fact that families were apart because of money issues was outrageous”.  At the end of her trip in Mexico she committed to doing something that combined humanitarian and economic opportunities.

In Chicago, where she attended Church, she was challenged by her Pastor to look into starting a micro-lending project on behalf of the 2,500 member congregation. The project was never executed, but what she learned was that microlending was more than handing someone a loan. For the recipient, the essential needs were how-to business support and more importantly markets for their services or products.

As Co-Chair of Young Ambassadors of Opportunity, Chicago Chapter, Amanda came in contact with many non-profits and social impact businesses who were pursuing sustainable financial and social purposes. Amanda soon experienced that the social enterprise landscape in Chicago was fragmented; resources were hard to tap into and networks disjointed. “Lots of people are looking to be connected”, Amanda explains.

See more pictures of Raise the Barn on Panzanzee’s Facebook Page

Closing the Gap: Enter Panzanzee

Her natural ability to connect people, information and resources combined with business execution skills she has learned in the corporate world, gave her the impetus to start Panzanzee, a one-stop service for social enterprise that aims to aggregate a creative network around business.

Part incubator, part community, it is a learning organization geared towards social entrepreneurs. Here new start-ups will find what they need to create market-based solutions to solving social concerns:

  • Business development support: a facilitated a six-month concept to tactics program
  • Networks: connections to service providers, funding sources, and mentors
  • Co-working space: a physical workspace to work from and peer-to-peer support.

For Raise the Barn we select entrepreneurs to present a challenge, then we rally Chicago’s brightest business professionals, investors, mentors, artists and entrepreneurs to brainstorm solutions for balancing business and mission.

Setting it Apart

A key element of the Panzanzee’s continuous community is the peer-to-peer support through events and space sharing.

Group peer-to-peer meeting where entrepreneurs share business needs in a confidential, facilitated format are the norm. In the spirit of community barn-raisings from way back, “Raise the Barn” is a signature event at Panzanzee designed to bring Chicago’s brightest people come together to brainstorm and find solutions to a selected challenge.

In August, Panzanzee will open their first co-working space in River North. The 2,500 square feet space will feature open desks, assigned desks, a kitchen, a conference room. Enrollees can rent the space on a daily basis, with a ten-day passes or monthly membership.

Until now the one-year old company has graduated one non-profit and are currently incubating three. Panzanzee is working with Neighbor Capital, on their latest venture Neighbor carts that provides Chicago residents the opportunity for economic success through an unconventional retail structure. Forty mobile carts will sell fresh produce in different neighborhoods addressing dual social causes: under/unemployment and access to healthy and nutritious food.

Panzanzee’s community includes 2,000 members on their social media, newsletter signup, and website. Amanda hopes that city of Chicago will become a thriving hub for social enterprises, as it has for technology companies.

What was next for her new company?   “My vision, over the next 3 years, is to become a fully-integrated one-stop shop incubator in Chicago for social entrepreneurs. professionals, service providers and investors who want to contribute their assets and passions to social impact.  We will have helped 30 companies each year through our process from concept to funding to becoming successful social purpose businesses, fostering a collaborative ecosystem bringing innovation and traction to them.”


Photos courtesy Panzanzee