Now that we're knee-deep into January, and past the flurry of advice around New Year's resolutions (made and already broken, perhaps), it's an opportune moment to seek startup inspiration of a more sustainable nature, this time from within our communities, in order to orient our own business priorities.

What's happening in our professional circles, in terms of purpose and mission, that's worth a second, prolonged look? What thorny challenges are we facing that merit our attention? Most importantly, how can we participate in solutions?

The wine world happens to be my home base as an entrepreneur, so that's where I personally find for inspiration. Very quickly, however, it's clear how entrepreneurs in general can take that inspiration and apply it to their own industries. Here are three challenges from within the world of wine, along with take aways around the work being done to resolve them.

Political Engagement

I've written before about why entrepreneurs should care about government policy. It has to do with showing up for the issues that impact our business, no matter how unsexy or non-glamorous they may be. This hit home for me a few summers ago, when I showed up to a listening session hosted by ranking members of the House of Representatives Agriculture Committee: I had my two-minute say about a highly technical subject (changing the language of the Farm Bill to reflect today's data-based reality), but it was a pivotal moment for my business and professional trajectory.

We're mired in a political environment that is the most volatile and unpredictable in memory, which means that entrepreneurs (even those of us without "political action" at the top of our priority lists) need to be on our toes and nimbly ready to respond on a moment's notice.

Climate Change Activism

You've no doubt heard about the bushfires that are raging from one end of Australia to the other, causing loss of life (both human and animal) and unfathomable destruction of land. The impact on the wine industry has been relatively contained -- approximately one percent of acreage under vine in Australia has been affected by the fires -- but the global response in support of the people and wildlife has been profound.

However, the underlying issue here is climate change and the persistent heat and drought conditions that have been intensifying, which exacerbates the fires and is expected to worsen in the near future. This is obviously not only Australia's problem, and it's relevant not only to the wine community.

What does this mean for your own business? Consider the lifecycle of your product or service, step by step, and get curious about calculating your environmental footprint. Start "at breakfast," as Jonathan Safran Foer's new book advocates: begin at the beginning, and carefully measure the impact you're extracting from natural resources. Once it's measured, you can start to lessen that impact, again one step at a time.

Agility and Adaptability

"Dry January" and the sober curious movement have taken root among U.S. consumers. That does not bode well for the US wine industry. Or does it? Earlier this year I wrote about the savvy reasons for entrepreneurs to invest in the polar opposite of their core offering: in wine, that could mean developing non-alcoholic beverage options, or generating educational programs that address mindful consumption.

In either case, the takeaway for entrepreneurs is the same: tap into a trend that matters to your audience (when millions of people experiment with "Dry January," there's something there for you to know), and embrace the freedom and versatility of trying something new. Even "trialing" a new product or service will yield valuable insights about your core offering.

Published on: Jan 14, 2020
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