Jon Dengler never set out to start a bike shop in the traditional sense; instead, he sought to provide residents in need with reliable transportation and help transform his community.
Located in the Uptown Tampa University Mall — also being transformed — WellBuilt Bikes celebrated its fifth anniversary on Monday. While Dengler, CEO, worked on opening this showcase, he also participated in Social Venture Partners (SVP) Tampa Bay’s rigorous annual six-week business accelerator class. The program culminates with the Fast Pitch signature event on Wednesday at the Palladium Theater in St. Petersburg.
Five years later and after providing thousands of bikes through a unique Earn-A-Bike program, Dengler said he still speaks frequently to his SVP mentor.
“We are potentially writing a book together,” Dengler said. “We stayed in touch with a lot of people who helped organize this class, and that was kind of a good start.”
The WellBuilt story began long before the mall opened and the 2017 Fast Pitch. Dengler, executive director of The Well, which oversees WellBuilt Bikes and several other nonprofit initiatives, opened a bike co-op called ReCycle Well 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 enterprise that would eventually become WellBuilt Bikes.
Dengler knew he wanted to improve his town and realized a gap between the affordability of pawnshops and reliable but expensive bikes at bike shops. So, while simultaneously participating in SVP’s nonprofit accelerator courses, he began creating WellBuilt.
“I remember coming in there covered in paint and glue and all that crap, because we were building the store at the time,” he said. “And I really worked and refined my pitch and the way we talked about what we were doing. Narration – we covered all kinds of stuff.
WellBuilt sells affordable refurbished bikes 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 maintenance and road safety training provided by staff.
Then they get a bike for free.
“We register the bike in their name, and they get a lock, a helmet, a backpack and a bottle of water,” Dengler said. “Everything they need to be configured as a commuter.”
Realizing that free bikes still come with associated costs, WellBuilt offers a public workstation where customers pay $5 an hour to use the space and any tools they need to complete repairs. If a job is too intimidating, the staff will sort it out on a sliding pay scale based on the honor system.
Customers tell staff how much they can afford, and WellBuilt takes their word for it. Dengler noted that the nonprofit also offers free workshops and said the shop relies on sales, service revenue and donor support to sustain the program. Dengler added that support comes from community investments or customers who simply pay 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 are doing, and we want to follow up with you.”
Dengler said he felt it was his civic duty to watch over his neighbors. He noted that Tampa is a sprawling city, buses cost money, schedules are hard to manage, and people have to get to work and doctor’s appointments.
He explained that someone getting their first bike as a child often means their first taste of freedom away from their parents. For adults, Dengler believes the opposite of poverty is freedom, a movement toward liberation.
“In many ways, you could almost say I’m doing it selfishly because it’s an excuse for me to relate to these people who have such a different perspective on the city,” he said. declared. “I feel 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.”
While Dengler said he and his organization are hyper-focused on transforming Tampa, and specifically Uptown, into a better place, he encourages others to follow his model. He also expressed his willingness to provide coaching, incubate ideas, and “cheer people like crazy.”
The Well – which also offers community gardens, a free market and services for the homeless – grew organically thanks to several people coming forward with their ideas, Dengler added. He called it the soil that sprouted uplifting community organizations and said there was “always another seat at the table”.
“I think WellBuilt Cities is a vision for every city,” Dengler said. “But I will put all my blood, sweat and tears into tending my own neighborhood garden.
For more information on WellBuilt Bikes, visit the website here.
For more information on the SVP Tampa Bay Fast Pitch, held November 2 at the Palladium Theater, visit the website here.