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J.P. Bak delivered a keynote speech that laid out exactly what we do at Bak USA, why, and for whom.

When Bak USA Chairman & CEO J.P. Bak took the mic at The Buffalo News’ annual Prospectus Premiere on Thursday night, a mysterious figure sat stage left, silent, occupied with a task unknown to the audience. We wouldn’t know who, what, or why until J.P. concluded his speech and bowed for a standing ovation from the 400-person crowd at Salvatore’s Italian Gardens.

Ever the showman, J.P. delivered Bak USA’s message with a powerful yet graceful charm. What’s more, the audience walked away with a clear understanding of what Bak USA does, how it operates as a social enterprise, and why that’s so important.

Here are five quotes from J.P.’s speech, how they represent Bak USA’s social entrepreneurial spirit, and what it all means for the future of manufacturing.

1. “If you want to create something sustainable, you make it for-profit, and then you can do all the good stuff under that umbrella…”

There’s a lot going on here, so let’s look at some context:

  • When the Baks were building a tablet manufacturing facility in Haiti, it started out as a non-profit enterprise. But then USAID invited them to participate in a business plan competition awarding $250,000 to the winner. And so the Baks entered. And they won. And their non-profit enterprise turned into a for-profit business that was then transferred back to the Haitian community.
  • The main difference between a non-profit organization and a social enterprise, according to J.P., is the probability of sustainability. While both operations can be founded on the same socially inclusive ideals, strive for the same equal opportunities, and accomplish the same meaningful change in the world, a social enterprise can do so more easily and more often because it is more self-sufficient. In our case, we view profit as a means to keep feeding our vision and mission.
  • Once we established our business, started building computers, and began earning profits, we were able to create our “umbrella.” For the social entrepreneur, this is where all your socially conscious, culturally inclusive, and locally focused initiatives can thrive. At Bak USA, we personify these non-profit perspectives every day, and a large part of our presence is to inspire the same in others.

It’s not complicated, but it does represent a new way of doing business.

2. “In the last five to six years, the difference in labor costs has minimized… Four percent. That’s the difference between producing in China and in Buffalo.”

We believe that American consumers value products that are built or made in the United States, and we are committed to creating jobs in our communities. For a lot of major corporations, however, such a small portion of a billion-dollar bottom line isn’t worth the cost to create job opportunities for an American workforce, which, by the way, is proudly represented by people who come from various cultural beginnings.

As a social enterprise, Bak USA empowers people in our community, regardless of their age, race, creed, color, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identification, military status, disability, marital status, or domestic violence victim status. 

This is not a statement that some lawyer pasted into our company handbook. This is a fundamental principle of our existence. This is in our DNA. And we believe that providing equal access to productive and satisfying opportunities should be a priority for all businesses, not just social enterprises such as ours.

We are proud to be building a better future together right here in the United States of America.

3. “Here in Buffalo, we want to employ two groups of people… the brightest with the best education possible, and another group of people that are bright, passionate, but have no documented school papers. And they work perfect together.”

When we say that Bak USA “empowers people,” the statement holds weight. We didn’t get a marketing team together, banter about a boardroom for hours, and cook up a feel-good slogan based on nothing for the sole purpose of selling computers.

Rather, we asked ourselves a simple question: “What do we do?” And when we started to talk about what we’re building and how we build it, it became clear that we empower people in at least two distinct capacities:

  1. We create jobs for everyone.As J.P. points out, we hire two groups of people: highly educated experts in their field, and more informally trained yet highly capable people who are eager to contribute. Many of our builders, whom we prepare with the refined skill set needed to build our computers, come from parts of the world where such opportunities are not just unavailable—they’re flat-out denied.To escape the social injustices that far exceed inaccessible job opportunities (war, starvation, religious persecution, illness, death), these folks have come to the United States to build on a new beginning.

    We’re more than an equal opportunity employer. We’re a family that embraces everyone in our community, no matter where they come from, what language they speak, or what religion they practice. We are proud to employ members of Buffalo’s immigrant and refugee community, and we support immigrant and refugee acceptance in all cities across America.

  2. We create computers for everyone. 

How? Check out the next quote.

4. “Our mission is to provide affordable devices—high-quality—for the people that might not be able to pay for the more expensive and flashy devices.”

Our vision is “to make mobile technologies accessible to every human being on earth.” And while our vision may be bold, the future is bright. Here’s the deal:

We build tools, not gadgets. Our purpose is to build practical technologies that solve everyday problems for people with specific needs.

We work with schools, businesses, and government institutions to produce high-quality computers at the most agreeable price-point. For example, our 2-in-1 laptop computer, the Atlas 12, was purpose-built for classroom use and is offered for a reduced price as part of a special distribution network through Microsoft. This ensures that high-quality technology is accessible to students all over the country.

As a social enterprise dedicated to delivering accessible technologies to those who need them most, we were honored to deliver devices to a wide variety of well-deserving recipients (and we look forward to offering many more in the future):

5. “We have a lot of guests, and we love to have guests come to our factory… Here in Buffalo [anyone] can come and see how we build our devices. That’s cool.”

This quote is a true testament to our transparency. We’ve hosted tours for teachers, students, and tech enthusiasts from our neighborhood, across the country, and around the world. By opening our doors to interested parties, we embody the ideals of transparency and accessibility that define who we are as a social enterprise. Here are a few examples of the guests we’ve welcomed over the past two years (in no particular order):

Finally, when J.P. concluded his speech, the mysterious stranger stood up for his big reveal. He, Bak USA Builder Vahed Ghanbarzadeh, had built an Atlas 12 computer from start to finish—right there onstage—in the time it took J.P. to deliver his 40-minute speech. With the Atlas 12 raised proudly overhead, Vahed smiled proudly as the crowd cheered him on.

For the entire speech, check out the video here:

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James A. Colombo III

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