This summer, I was thrilled to be part of a group of social entrepreneurs that helped host a delegation from Brazil that wanted to learn more about social enterprise. We traded questions about each other’s countries, laughed and had a great meal at one of my favorite social enterprises, Café Momentum. Even though we live miles apart, they asked the same questions that I get from Americans about how to start, how to seek help, and how to fund and sustain social enterprise. We thought we’d cover these top questions in today’s blog.
How do I start?
Many individuals and organizations start with an idea of a company, but the best place to start is by taking an inventory of all your assets – what you have, do and know. Chad Houser, founder of Café Momentum, knew food – he was an amazing chef. He had a number of young men in a local juvenile detention facility who were already in a culinary training program and a source of untapped talent. Given this raw material, he could have gone a number of directions with these assets – catering, cooking classes, restaurant or food manufacturing. Start first with all the possibilities, and then choose the best among them. In one of our past blogs, we share our how-to tools on social enterprise ideation.
How do I get help?
There are three ways to go – do-it-yourself with internal resources or pro-bono talent (my favorite is MBA interns from local universities), hire a coach to help guide the process and supplement your team, or hire a consultant to lead the work. I recommend the first or second option as the best scenarios. When you hire someone to do the work, it becomes his or her work, and it is often hard to bring it back to the organization to execute. I had the honor of serving with my fellow coaches and consultants (with huge kudos to Betsy Densmore for leading us) with the Social Enterprise Alliance’s Consultants Affinity Group to develop guidelines for social enterprise consulting over the past year. It is a treasure trove of good ideas and guidelines for consultant and client on how to structure and manage a relationship that works for both parties and results in success.
What is the best way to fund and sustain our social enterprise?
First, it is important to have a good planning process, which looks at the market to ensure an adequate flow of customers as well as ways to finance the venture via start-up and growth capital. People always underestimate these numbers, and they are critical to the ultimate success of the venture. Second, we recommend that you find a support system through a local start-up community or SEA chapter. This support system will help you as you grow and evolve and provide invaluable emotional support. Finally, when you are ready, search out national support for growth capital. We especially like REDF’s Social Innovation Fund for social enterprises employing individuals with barriers. They have great resources and have recently launched their second letter of intent process to add to their portfolio.
We welcome your input on the questions above and feel free to send us any additional questions you have about social enterprise. Tune in next week when we will share our long-awaited joint piece, Boards Behaving Badly.