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Nonprofit bike shop finds post-Fast Pitch success

Mark Parker



Nonprofit WellBuilt Bikes, one of several organizations operating under The Well, celebrated its fifth anniversary Monday. Jon Dengler, executive director and CEO, holds the cake. Photos provided.

Jon Dengler never set out to launch a bicycle shop in the traditional sense; instead, he sought to provide residents in need with reliable transportation and help transform his community.

Located in Uptown Tampa’s University Mall – also undergoing a transformationWellBuilt Bikes celebrated its fifth anniversary Monday. While Dengler, CEO, worked to open that storefront, he also participated in Social Venture Partners (SVP) Tampa Bay’s annual rigorous six-week business accelerator class. The program culminates in the signature Fast Pitch event Wednesday at St. Petersburg’s Palladium Theater.

Five years later and after providing thousands of bicycles through a unique Earn-A-Bike program, Dengler said he still frequently talks to his SVP mentor.

“We’re potentially writing a book together,” said Dengler. “We’ve kept in touch with a lot of people that helped run that class, and it was kind of a good kickstart.”

WellBuilt’s story started long before opening in the mall and the 2017 Fast Pitch. Dengler, executive director of The Well, which oversees WellBuilt Bikes and several other nonprofit initiatives, opened a bicycle co-op called the ReCycle Bin in 2013.

The co-op, located in a shipping container behind a homeless center in Tampa Heights, allowed people without transportation to build their bikes for free. As the neighborhood became increasingly gentrified, Dengler began working on a plan for a social venture that would eventually become WellBuilt Bikes.

Dengler knew he wanted to better his city and realized a gap between affordability at pawn shops and reliable yet expensive bicycles at bike shops. So, while simultaneously participating in SVP’s nonprofit accelerator classes, he began creating WellBuilt.

“I remember showing up there covered in paint and glue and all that kind of crap, because we were actually building out the shop at the time,” he said. “And I got to really work and refine my pitch and the way we talked about what we were doing. Storytelling – we covered all kinds of stuff.”

A child sits in front of the storefront during the anniversary celebration on Halloween.

WellBuilt sells affordable refurbished bicycles and parts and reinvests that money into its Earn-A-Bike program. Participants must complete 10 hours of verified community service and at least one hour of staff-provided maintenance and road safety training.

Then they receive a bike, free of charge.

“We register the bike in their name, and they get a lock, helmet, backpack and a water bottle,” said Dengler. “Everything they need to be set up as a commuter.”

Realizing that free bicycles still come with associated costs, WellBuilt offers a public workstation where customers pay $5 per hour to use the space and any tools they need to complete repairs. If a job is too daunting, staff will fix the problem on a sliding pay scale based on the honor system.

Customers tell staff how much they can afford, and WellBuilt takes them at their word. Dengler noted the nonprofit also offers free workshops and said the shop relies on sales, service revenues and donor support to sustain the program. Dengler added that support comes from community investments or customers simply paying more than the listed price for a tire.

After three months, Earn-A-Bike participants receive a free tune-up.

“Because we want to see you again,” he added. “We want to see how you’re doing, and we want to have some follow-up with you.”

Dengler said he feels it is his civic duty to look out for his neighbors. He noted Tampa is a spread-out city, buses cost money, schedules are challenging to navigate and people need to get to work and doctor appointments.

He relayed that someone receiving their first bike as a kid often means their first taste of freedom away from their parents. For adults, Dengler believes the opposite of poverty is freedom, a move toward liberation.

“In many ways, you could almost say I do this selfishly because it’s an excuse for me to be in relationships with these folks that have such a different vantage point on the city,” he said. “It feels like it makes me more free to live in a neighborhood where people are free to make choices and take responsibility for the situation around them.”

Earn-A-Bike participants receive a free bicycle and accessories after completing 10 hours of community service.

While Dengler said he and his organization are hyper-focused on making Tampa, and specifically Uptown, a better place, he encourages others to follow his model. He also expressed his willingness to provide coaching, incubate ideas and “cheer people on like crazy.”

The Well – which also offers community gardens, a free market and homeless services – grew organically through several people offering their ideas, added Dengler. He called it the soil that sprouted uplifting community organizations and said there is “always another seat at the table.”

“I think WellBuilt Cities is a vision for every city,” Dengler said. “But I’m going to put all my blood, sweat and tears into tending the garden in my own neighborhood.”

For more information on WellBuilt Bikes, visit the website here.

For more information on SVP Tampa Bay Fast Pitch, held Nov. 2 at the Palladium Theater, visit the website here.





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