Last weekend I had the pleasure of traveling to Las Vegas, NV to attend the annual SAGE USA Conference and participate as a competition judge. While there I teamed up with a judging panel of entrepreneurs, nonprofit leaders, and educators to evaluate and critique eleven student-run social ventures. Over the course of the weekend, I met some of the most incredible and passionate young social entrepreneurs in the country. I was particularly impressed with their ability to incorporate social responsibility and mission based work into viable business ventures.
Are you an aspiring entrepreneur with a passion for building your own dreams while making a difference? Here are 4 key tips I took away from the SAGE USA Conference that you can use as you create your social venture.
Earning money is not a bad thing!
Many people have a misconception that a nonprofit can’t make money. This couldn’t be farther from the truth! Civic minded people often neglect or avoid talking about money in favor of focusing on their chosen mission, but organizations and companies with a strong earned income strategy are much more likely to create and sustain the impact they wish to make in the world. If your social venture is a nonprofit, it’s a good idea to brainstorm ways to add value to your audience that can generate revenue in addition to traditional fundraising. The income you earn will be invested right back into your business and will help you create more concrete projections of growth, and make it easier to continue your mission year after year.
Know who you serve
A product or service for everyone is a product or service for no one. Do you know who you serve? If you can’t clearly articulate your impact and the audience or market you plan to serve, you’ll likely have a hard time finding people to buy in to your idea. Instead of trying to reach everyone, work on narrowing down your target market or the audience you plan to serve. Focusing on a specific niche allows you create a compelling message that instantly connects to your audience, and will help you make a more clear and measurable impact.
Make partnerships a priority
One of the best ways to accelerate your social venture is to join forces with an established business or organization. In the initial stages, your venture will often be low on resources and have little or no brand equity. By strategically partnering up with another business or organization you can increase your exposure and build strong credibility with potential funders. You can also expand the range of services you offer by partnering up so that you can focus on what you do best while allowing your partners to add value in their areas of expertise and vice-versa. It’s a win-win for everyone involved!
Two heads are better than one…
The biggest learning I took away from my experience judging at SAGE USA was that the most attractive businesses had strong teams. I encourage aspiring entrepreneurs to find a co-founder (or co-founders) who share their passion for impact driven work. Pitching your business idea with the help of a team will instantly make you seem more credible and in many cases will make it easier to raise funds or entice donors & investors. Working with a team also provides a built in system of support and accountability, allows you to diversify your expertise, and mirrors the experience you’ll have working in an actual company later down the line.
These are just a few ideas that aspiring social entrepreneurs might consider as they plan to launch a new idea or form a new venture. A special shout out goes out to the team at SAGE Global and the eleven teams of young entrepreneurs who competed this year!
Do you have any tips for up and coming social entrepreneurs? Share them in the comments!