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How to Find the Right Dentist for You
By MICKEY MEECE
FOR an entrepreneur, having a mission that includes saving lives while earning a profit is a powerful motivator.
In the last few years, scooter taxi services, which aim to prevent drunken driving, have popped up across the country. For a fee that is usually less than double the cost of a taxi ride, the services will pick customers up from restaurants, bars and entertainment venues and drive them home — in their own cars.
Here’s how it works: the chauffeur arrives on a foldable scooter, which is then stored in the trunk of the customer’s car. After getting that customer safely home, the chauffeur jumps back on the scooter to go to the next pickup. The concept originated in Britain in the 1990s and spread to the United States early this decade.
While some operators like Scooter Patrol in Sunset Beach, Calif., formed as nonprofit entities, most of the services — like CityScoot in Louisville, Ky.; Zingo in Atlanta, Lilybug Scooters in the Hamptons; and Y Drive LA in Los Angeles — are for-profit companies.
Yes, it is a business, and a self-sustaining one that has produced more revenue each year, said William Heath, owner of Lilybug Scooters. But, he joked, “it’s not letting me sit on a yacht in St.-Tropez.”
Mr. Heath, who moved to New York from England, said he started the service in 2007 after a friend was killed because of a drunken driver. “Anything that will take a drunk driver off the road is great all around for the community,” he said.
Doing good while profiting has a growing appeal for entrepreneurs, said Matt Nash, managing director of the Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship at Duke University. As examples, he cited Better World Books, which collects and sells books to raise money for worldwide literacy programs; the Redwoods Group, an insurance company with a community service mission; and Seventh Generation, which makes nontoxic household products and donates a share of its profits to social causes.
While exact numbers are not available, Mr. Nash said, the center has seen more owners of socially oriented businesses incorporate to gain access to seed capital and other financing.
The decision is not always straightforward. In 1999, when Brandon Busteed and his partners formed Outside the Classroom, an organization in the Boston area whose goal was to tackle high-risk drinking among high school and college students, they did so as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Mr. Busteed said.
It was only after they were turned down for 17 grants in a year and a half, he said, that he changed it to a C corporation.
Almost immediately, he said, he found seed investors who have stayed the course for nine years as the business, which markets an educational software program called AlcoholEdu to more than 450 colleges and high schools, became profitable.
“And yet I struggle to call it a business just about every day,” Mr. Busteed said. “We have a motto that goes like this: run like a business, act like a nonprofit, care to be better.”
For Mark Roberts, the founder of CityScoot in Louisville, the pull of the nonprofit world is too strong. Soon he will introduce No Excuse for Drunk Driving, or NEDD, a nonprofit organization intended to take the success of his scooter program national.
CityScoot, which says it has delivered more than 50,000 consumers home safely since 2004, will continue as a business without him, Mr. Roberts said.
The service is open seven nights a week, from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. The average cost of a ride home is about $20, though City Scoot has teamed up with local establishments, which help defer the cost, and with their help a ride could be as low as $9.
“I have long held on to the for-profit, entrepreneurial dream,” Mr. Roberts said. Still, he said, there is a need for a nonprofit group like NEDD as a sounding board, helping fledgling companies with insurance and marketing. “There will finally be a unbiased channel focused on providing the assistance to help develop these programs,” he said.
Even as a nonprofit, Mr. Roberts wants the scooter services to use the for-profit model."I want these businesses to be financially rewarding so that there is interest in starting them," he said. Mr. Roberts’s goal of a unified national approach will not be without challenges. Zingo, which was started in Atlanta in 2005, has already expanded into about two dozen markets, according to an owner, PX Head, who expects to enter into more licensing arrangements around the country.
“The designated driving industry is currently disjointed,” Zingo says on its site, callzingo.com. “What this industry needs is a national brand.”
Zingo drivers can be hired by the hour for $40. Rates include a $20 pick-up fee, plus $2 a mile. The company has entered a local sponsorship arrangement with Anheuser-Busch distributors in each market.
Zingo also owns the North American distribution rights to sell the Italian-made Di Blasi folding motorbike. The scooters sell to licensees for $2,250.
One thing CityScoot and Zingo have in common is alliances with alcohol industry leaders.
Mr. Roberts, for example, works with Brown-Forman, the wine and liquor giant, which gives its 1,000 employees in Louisville free and anonymous access to CityScoot services.
Rob Frederick, director of corporate responsibility at Brown-Forman, said the company had long been impressed with Mr. Roberts. “He has a vision and mission to prevent drunk driving,” Mr. Frederick said.
Allying with scooter services is part of Brown-Forman’s effort to promote drinking responsibly, Mr. Frederick said. The company intends to work with NEDD in some fashion, he added. NEDD will not be selling franchises or business opportunities.
In addition to its relationship with CityScoot, Brown-Forman just completed a pilot program with Zingo in Atlanta. This summer, its Jack Daniel’s brand entered into a two-year sponsorship partnership with Lilybug Scooters.
Mr. Heath of Lilybug said the corporate sponsorship would help raise awareness for its service, “to get more people home safely, and that’s our ultimate goal.”
A version of this article appeared in print on August 27, 2009, on page B8 of the New York Times edition.