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