Stories, Musings & The Vision Thing

Social Entrepreneurs Hit Pay Dirt

our mission

From the Sword & Plough website

Social entrepreneurs strive to do well by doing good – they’re change agents looking for creative business solutions to address social problems. They’re about starting a business that’s concerned with more than making money – they also want to help make the world a better place. Too idealistic, you say? Well what does it take just to be an entrepreneur?

Middlebury Center for Social Entrepreneurship

from the Middlebury Center for Social Entrepreneurship website

I’d bet we’ve all had at least one idea for a business that got our imagination rolling. We could see the potential – how our great idea could turn itself into something people would embrace. That’s the essence of an entrepreneur’s vision. Yes, ideas are borne of necessity… but sometimes they also come by putting the pieces together in a way no one has done before.

Middlebury Center for Social Entrepreneurship2

from the Middlebury Center for Social Entrepreneurship website

Whatever the vision, having an idea is never enough. You have to nurture it, turn it around in your mind, see it from all the angles, imagine it as a full-blown reality and then you have to do something about it – prove its worth. That’s what separates the dreamers from the doers.

In the past, you’d have to be obsessed and relentless in pursuit of your dream – and often you’d find yourself going it alone. You’d have to hit up friends and relatives for support, launch and manage your venture and have a lot of the entrepreneur’s best friend – luck – on your side. With all that… most new businesses fail within 5 years.

Today, things are different – with the web there’s more opportunity. Take for example the path blazed by Emily Nunez and her sister Betsy.


Betsy and Emily Nunez photo by Jason Malmont The Sentinel

While a student at Middlebury College in Vermont, Emily signed up for ROTC and then to serve in Afghanistan. She started thinking about the difficulties veterans face when they return home and try to find work. The two sisters had often talked about creating a business together and that gave Emily an idea.

Paul Chaplin Pennlive.com2

Sword & Plough bags photo by Paul Chaplin

They could repurpose army surplus slated to be thrown out and reuse it to create sustainable products, produced here in the USA. They could work with companies that hired unemployed veterans to create knapsacks, tote and messenger bags and other items people could use.

from Kickstarter site

photo from the Sword & Plough Kickstarter site

They also decided to donate 10% of profits to organizations that help veterans – Veteran Green Jobs and the Wounded Warrior Project.


Emily Nunez from the Sword and Plough site


“I wanted to create something that would emotionally and physically touch civilians in their everyday lives and remind them, in a beautiful way, of the challenges our country and servicemen face.”

But how to turn her idea into something tangible? Enter Middlebury College and their new Center for Social Entrepreneurship. They helped Emily apply to the Dell Social Innovation Challenge where her idea made it to the semi-finals. After a three week intensive at Dell, she had a business plan, a brand name and a prototype canvas bag. Then she entered the Harvard Pitch for Change Competition where her social entrepreneur idea won first place, $6,500 seed money and free business consulting. With Emily training for Afghanistan, Betsy quit her job and went to work as the new company’s first employee and Sword & Plough was born.

Paul Chaplin Pennlive.com3

Kickstarter launch day photo by Paul Chaplin

They decided to create buzz and launch their company on Kickstarter. They hoped to sell 500 bags and raise $20,000. They used some of their seed money to make prototypes, do a photo shoot with professional models and make a pitch video.

When their Kickstarter campaign started April 15th, they reached their goal in two hours.

kickstarter image2

from the Sword & Plough Kickstarter site

Here’s a link to their website, Sword and Plough.

Why was their Kickstarter launch so successful? There are several reasons. As social entrepreneurs they have a clear, simple mission and business approach that will help them accomplish what they set out to do. They have a popular product that appears well-designed and well-made. The story of their company – and their story – is well-conceived, appealing and timely.  And they’re providing work to unemployed veterans and donating 10% of the profits to veteran causes.

our mission

Sword & Plough seems well on the way towards becoming a viable business and helping solve a thorny social problem. What do you think? Leave a comment.

From the Sword and Plough Kickstarter site

From the Sword & Plough Kickstarter site


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The Lang’s Creative Vision


  1. Another awesome post, Dan. You are right about one thing: the ladies’ startup could actually work. Why? The product. The bags indeed look handsome and well made. I hope the women succeed on their adventure. Their purpose inspires. Their story’s a heart-warmer. Word of mouth should drive a lot of sales, and a PR firm could put them into stores. But are they up to the challenge of large-scale production and distribution?

  2. I too create a TV series – its a TV Game Show and it worked wonderfully well in a small territory….for 54 eps. Trying to get traction with it in the US has proven near impossible – despite its phenomenal success abroad.
    BUT…I continue to strive.
    This morning I woke unexpectedly at 4.30am and just could not drift off again. Reason – hmmm, well I was creating, grafting, exploring the possibilities of a new show. Premise set, I started writing the treatment in my mind as I lay there. I had to get up. The first post I saw on Linked In this morning, after grabbing a cup of Joe, was this one of yours Dan.
    It actually brought tears to my eyes. I have such an appreciation for stories like that of these girls – social attributes aside. Just to find an idea, win through the processes of gaining seed money – that in itself is the key. Getting someone to beieve in you….and there in, I believe, is the magic.
    Traction lies buried in the very real potency of – admiration, and appreciation, and belief – generated by someone else in power.
    Good luck to the girls. I’ll find and buy a Sword and Plough knapsack.
    Now, inspired, I’ll also write a treatment for my new concept, and continue my search for an admiring, appreciative prod house who shares my vision and can help with my TV Game Show!
    Thanks girls and thanks Dan for the post.

  3. Thanks for your comment, Ric. I’m glad you liked the piece. I found them inspiring too, which is why I wanted to write about them. Good luck to you and your search. All it takes is one person to say okay, let’s do it.


  4. Thanks, Bob. Launching a business and running one take different skills. But I think they will be up to the task. Before their Kickstarter launch they made sure their suppliers could handle a sizeable order. At this point they have enormous good will, that business intangible that everyone wants but only trust and authenticity provide, plus passion. That combination should take them pretty far. I wish them well and am excited that schools and companies are working together to help launch social entrepreneurs. It speaks well for the future.

  5. Jen

    Wow, Dad! This story is so inspiring. I love how their business brings together several different elements so neatly. And those bags look great! Thanks for this post.

  6. Pete and Sue Buxton

    Yet another great post Dan! You have brought sunshine to a rainy little island in Maine today. We always look forward to each of your stories. All the best to you and Sharon.

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