Idea to Launch

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Idea to Launch is a guide that forms part of the Social Good Guides, a series of essential small-business guides created to support startup changemakers produced by the Social Innovators Collective. Authored by Andrew Greenblatt, a Co-Founder and Senior Vice President for Strategy at BeneStream, this guide gives an overview of how to start the process of founding a social venture. The guide is divided into three parts, starting with a section called “Are You Ready to Be a Social Entrepreneur?” Next, Andrew talks about how critical it is to prototype ideas, test assumptions, and do thorough market research. Finally he ends with “Making It Real,” a section about incorporating, going through a legal checklist, developing a brand, creating a business plan and fundraising. When asked what makes a successful entrepreneur, Andrew responded: “One of my mottos is that a successful entrepreneur is not someone who can successfully implement their original business plan, but is someone who can quickly see how they have to change their business plan along the way to correct for faulty assumptions.”


Launching a social venture is one of the most exciting and rewarding things you can do in your life.


Below is an excerpt from the Q + A section of the guide.

Social Good Guides (SGG): What are questions a person needs to ask him/herself before starting a social venture?

Andrew Greenblatt (AG)

1. Are you a risk taker?
2. Are you passionate for the work you are doing?
3. Do you have a vision as to how you are going to get where you want to go?
4. Do you have the skill sets needed for the success of the venture?

SGG: There seems to be no agreement in the social impact space as to the definition of what a social enterprise is or isn’t. How do you define it?

AG: Despite what some people might think, a social venture can be a for-profit or nonprofit organization. An example of a nonprofit social enterprise is Housing Works, a wonderful nonprofit based in New York City that provides healthcare and other services to people with AIDS. Less than 10% of their annual revenue comes from donations, while the largest share of their revenue comes from insurance and Medicaid payments for the services they provide. The second largest source of their funds is a chain of thrift stores they run throughout the city. They are most certainly a nonprofit, but to survive they don’t need to worry as much about their donors as they do about their customers – whether they are people seeking healthcare or people seeking a good deal on a used sofa. Throughout the Social Good Guides we will refer to an income generating nonprofit organization as a nonprofit social enterprise or a nonprofit venture. When we use the word nonprofit alone, we mean a 501(c)(3) organization that achieves their mission by relying on grants from foundations, contributions from donors, or money raised from fundraisers.

SGG: What do you see as the process involved in launching a social venture?

AG:

Phase 1: Looking Inward. Make sure you are ready to be a social entrepreneur and start to build your idea of changing the world as solid as possible.

Phase 2: Testing and Prototyping. Test your product or service in as real-world a setting as possible.

Phase 3: Making it Real. Move your products/services into full production and sales.

Phase 4: Sustainability. The road to sustainability has two sides: revenue and expenses. Once your revenues are covering all of your expenses – don’t forget to pay yourself a living wage! – you can begin to think about improving your product or service.

Use the framework above to guide you as you move forward, but don’t get too hung up if things aren’t going exactly as planned – they never do. Instead, keep your mind open, keep learning, and keep reaching out to others to help you along the way.

SGG: Once the idea of a social venture takes shape, is it ready to be made real? Are there any intermediary steps?

AG: Definitely! First you need to share this idea with others so they can help you shape it and improve on it. Begin by talking with your friends, family, and any experts you can get a hold of. People love to give their opinions, so don’t be shy! Then you should take some time to write a one to two-page description. This will do a few things for you. It will force you to focus your idea into something more tangible.

Once the idea is made solid, you want to test your product or service in as real-world a setting as possible. It will be much easier to get donations or investments for seed capital if you can show people, through a small project, that what you want to do will, in fact, work. This step includes conducting market research, running your financials, and prototyping and beta testing.


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