Over the past twenty years, social entrepreneurs have shown that we can successfully use market-driven approaches to solve social and environmental complex problems. Ben and Jerry's and Patagonia may have been the pioneers, but others such as Whole Foods, Seventh Generation and Stonyfield Farms continue to show that aligning authentic purpose with profits can breed high customer loyalty and low employee turnover.
That doesn't mean it's easy. Here are five tips that can make it easier to launch and grow a for-profit mission-driven venture:
1. Research The Ecosystem
Just as for-profit enterprises need to do a competitive analysis, you need to do plenty of research on your field and others who are tackling the same problems you are. Are there social enterprises out there that can help you learn best practices you can use to launch or grow your own? Could you partner or get hired to build a new arm of a social enterprise instead of founding your own? Networks such as the Impact Hub, Ashoka, Echoing Green, the Skoll World Forum, the Unreasonable Institute, and the Ayllu Map of Social Enterprises can save you a lot of time and energy when it comes to identifying like-minded social enterprises, potential partners, and impact investors.
2. Consider Joining the Social Venture Network
Founded in 1987, SVN is the premier professional association for values-driven business leaders, social entrepreneurs, and impact investors. SVN offers a number of tools and resources, an impact blog, and a Peer Circles program designed to launch and grow triple bottom line business. The SVN Hall of Fame has recognized triple bottom line entrepreneurs such as Eileen Fisher (Eileen Fisher), Margot Fraser (Birkenstock), and Kit Crawford (Clif Bar).
3. Get free feedback on your business plan from the William James Foundation (WJF)
The WJF Business Plan Competition is only open to for-profit entrepreneurs that want to make a positive social and/or environmental impact. Each business plan submitted receives extensive feedback (on average 14 pages) from experienced entrepreneurs on financing, operations, distributions, and potential partnerships.
The competition culminates with the WJF Annual Gathering in Washington, D.C., which is a unique opportunity to meet social entrepreneurs, mentors, and impact investors from around the world. WJF entrepreneurs have gone on to receive seed and growth capital through prestigious impact-driven incubators such as the Unreasonable Institute and Echoing Green.
4. Investigate benefit corporations
Companies such as Patagonia, Seventh Generation, and Ben and Jerry’s are among the 850 certified benefit borporations operating in 29 countries across 60 industries. Benefit corporations adhere to annual audits that ensure transparency in their operations and hiring practices. In addition, 19 states have passed legislation that includes tax breaks for so-called B Corps.
The annual B Corp Champions Retreat brings together Benefit Corporations leaders to share best practices and resources.
5. Explore hybrid structures such as L3Cs
The Low-Profit Limited Liability Company (or L3C) is a blended structure between LLCs and 501c3s. A tally by InterSector Partners shows that more than 930 L3Cs have been formed in the U.S. since 2010. Marc Lane’s blog remains one of the best resources to better understand the pros and cons of forming an L3C. Emerging L3C entrepreneurs include Caryn Capriccioso, co-founder of InterSector Partners, which helps entrepreneurs launch and grow social enterprises; Dena Patrick, founder of Wishadoo!, a network that crowdsources compassion; and Kathleen Norton-Schock, whose Ardent Cause provides IT products and virtual CIO services to enable nonprofits to measure and amplify their impact.
There are more opportunities to do well and do good today than ever before. Use this list to gain access to some of the networks, resources, and tools you need to determine which social enterprise model is the best fit for you.