Collaboration through The Mill House makes a real impact

Mill House Ventures 8 October 2020
Vanessa Brettell, Hannah Costello and Cindy Mitchell

Cafe Stepping Stone founders Vanessa Brettell and Hannah Costello with Cindy Mitchell, CEO of The Mill House Ventures. Photo: Supplied.

What do Colombia, Yass and Strathnairn all have in common? Coffee with a mission! With the help of Six8 Coffee Roasting and The Mill House Ventures, two experienced social entrepreneurs have returned from Colombia and re-started their social enterprise cafes in Strathnairn and Yass.

Cafe Stepping Stone, located in Strathnairn, and Six8 Coffee in Yass, are on a mission to help vulnerable women and children. Cafe Stepping Stone is focusing on Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) women and inclusive work opportunities; Six8 Coffee Roasting is supporting organisations fighting to end child sex slavery.

Both of these ventures were looking to scale their impact so they headed to The Mill House Ventures to participate in their Social Enterprise Accelerator, GRIST.


READ ALSO: Adult learning takes a COVID-19-style twist with Mill House Ventures


Six8 Coffee founder Daniel Neuhaus explains: “We started our coffee roasting business to be able to use capitalism as a force for good, and specifically to fight against child sex trafficking. We’re participating in the GRIST accelerator program to really home in on our impact and grow our business so we can do more good. We give $1 from every kilogram of coffee that we sell to our mission partners in Thailand and Cambodia,” Daniel said.

While working in Colombia, experienced social entrepreneurs Vanessa Brettell and Hannah Costello had the aim of fighting against inequality through inclusive employment. Returning to Canberra has given them a chance to rebuild from the pandemic. In Cartagena in Colombia, Café Stepping Stone had quickly became one of the most popular spots and they hope to replicate that success to help vulnerable CALD Canberrans.

Irene Lemon, Daniel Neuhaus, Cindy Mitchell

Mill House Enterprise development manager Irene Lemon with Six8 Coffee founder Daniel Neuhaus, Mill House CEO Cindy Mitchell and Six8 trainee Zach Enseleit. Photo: Supplied.

For three years, Stepping Stone employed underprivileged Indigenous and Afro-Colombian youth who had never entered the formal workforce. In the beginning, the café provided both formal employment and training in hospitality, English language classes and assisted with transitions into other work. This quickly grew into a holistic training program that included weekly classes in nutrition, economics and dealing with corruption to name a few.

“Before we were forced into lockdown, the café was the busiest it had ever been. We had 18 full-time staff and were seeing over 150 people a day. Then COVID hit in March. Unfortunately, with Colombia’s harsh lockdown and tourists as our main clientele, staying open was not viable and we made the difficult decision to permanently close and move back to Australia.

“We heard about local Yass’s Six8 Coffee Roasters through the Mill House GRIST program and after meeting Daniel from Six8, learning about his business and trying the delicious coffee, we decided to use their beans. We chose their Bohemian Blend, which is predominantly Colombian coffee with some Ethiopian beans too,” Vanessa said.

“As well as collaborating with existing organisations, we would like Stepping Stone in Canberra to be a joint venture between us and the women we are working with. We would like to create a community space where everyone feels welcome to come and share, learn and respect one another’s cultures and wisdom,” Hannah added.

Program Manager Irene Lemon says “bringing social entrepreneurs together in a virtual cohort creates these type of collaborative opportunities”.

“The sort of opportunities that Mill House Ventures hopes will help foster the Canberra region’s social innovation ecosystem. GRIST, our flagship Social Enterprise Accelerator program, is a very selective group of ventures,” she says.

“The Mill House is really proud of the way this cohort is coming together and supporting each other to build their impact and grow their businesses. Hannah, Vanessa and Daniel have a natural affinity for social justice. Plus, the coffee and cafes they are running are spectacular. Six8 Coffee beans are incredible, and it’s great to see the wholesale side of Daniel’s business find new customers.”

Both Cafe Stepping Stone and Six8 Coffee are welcoming socially distanced coffee aficionados to their business cafes in Strathnairn Arts and Yass. Check out their socials for opening times and locations/directions.


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