You have a cause you feel passionate about, and you are inspired to start a business that will effect real change… now what?
While passion is an important driver, it can only take entrepreneurs so far down the long road to success. So, what are the questions you need to ask yourself before you dive into making your idea a high-impact enterprise?
Ryan Ross, program manager for the Halcyon Incubator, helps social entrepreneurs navigate these intimidating early phases. The S&R Foundation launched the residency-based incubator last year in Washington, D.C., as part of its mission to support social entrepreneurs who have a high capacity to make a measurable change.
“There’s a gap that exists in supporting entrepreneurs at an early stage,” Rosssays. “We tried to construct our program in a thoughtful way that would allow for the number of risks and barriers to be limited.”
Ross gave The Venture his three essential rules that entrepreneurs should follow before taking the leap and turning their cause into a business.
1) Clearly articulate the problem and the solution.
This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people struggle with identifying exactly what they are trying to achieve. It’s easy to see a problem, and say, hey, that’s not right. But being able to find the root cause of the issue—and expressing your method of addressing it—is a much more difficult exercise.
For example, it’s one thing to want to change the fact that more than 1 million children die each year from diseases borne out of unsanitary living conditions. But it takes research and a clear vision to identify that something as seemingly simple as a toilet could solve the greater problem.
“If you’re going to rally people to what you’re doing, you need to make a credible case at a very basic level,” Ross explains. “Identify a clear pain point and a clear solution.”
2) Determine the sustainability of your venture.
There can be countless solutions to a problem, but it’s likely that not all of them will be viable. You need to determine what is achievable and, down the road, profitable. That’s why having a concrete business plan is an essential part of launching any venture. According to Ross, it all boils down to sustainability.
“One of my favorite mentors remarked that any time you think of a solution, there’s a great chance someone’s already thought of it,” Ross says. “The difference then is, can you come up with a sustainable way to realize the solution? If you’re not thinking about how your venture will play out over time, it’s very difficult to muster the resources, the capital and the energy that you need to move your work forward.”
3) Be ready to commit.
Being an entrepreneur means having to dedicate all of your focus, time and energy into your business. But before you take the leap, ask yourself, are you prepared for all of the highs and lows associated with starting your own social enterprise?
“There’s going to be so much that you learn at such a rapid pace, and the process can be really jarring,” says Ross. “You will not get from point A to point B unless you are ready for and able to effectively navigate the emotional rollercoaster that is being an entrepreneur. Don’t underestimate this point.”
Do you have an idea for a social venture? If you’re ready to commit, apply to bea fellow at Halcyon Incubator. The application process for the third class offellows opens March 3 at halcyonincubator.org
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