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The impact field is often regarded as difficult to quantify, qualify, and monetise. Yet as more social enterprises and other purpose-driven businesses continue to emerge and shine, the fact of impact’s real success is becoming impossible to ignore. There may be specific learnings that corporate leaders can glean from the experiences of founders in the impact space. These founders are innovative thinkers who had sustainability in mind before Greta Thunberg walked.
Every entrepreneurial thinker looks to certain role models and, sometimes, mentors. The forerunners provide advice, inspiration, and something of a testament to ‘greatness’. Imagine hearing the exit story of your mentor’s first business engagement. That could be me someday, you might think to yourself, hands tucked into empty pockets. But the Golden Hand fallacy becomes apparent when we see that many founders’ work fails—even after they have proved themselves investment-worthy. Perhaps timing, luck, and savings figure too prominently in start-up success. Interestingly, however, many social enterprises move mountains on significantly lower budgets than thoroughly corporate-route businesses do—and sometimes across long timeframes incompatible with the venture capital (VC) school of thought. Could this mean impact drivers are onto something?
It’s time the start-up scene learns to take inspiration from a different sort of business—a socially impactful sort of business. Here are four takeaways from the impact field that you and your co-founder can recycle for profit and purpose.
Try manifesting day-to-day tasks and month-to-month plans on a score directly correlated to impact. But rather than merely box-ticking in the way that some corporates can navigate their way to top ratings while still damaging the planet, this should be real, impact-driven scoring. The difference in just increasing one score might be ten people not only having enough funds for lunch but also enough funds for their children’s school supplies.
If there are metric-driven scores, use them, but also seek to qualify these outcomes. Think of the website you imagine for your business and whether this will include success stories and other key information relays tied to your work. At Allia, we work with figures and qualitative data, leveraging simple, direct language and thought-provoking images to demonstrate start-up competency within a varied pool of highly competitive accelerators and business support systems.
Local area economic outcomes like gross value added, which comes from the metrics of philanthropic organisations that support not-for-profits and impact companies, can ensure that your business is for the local community instead of for personal gains. A community interest company (CIC) bakery, for example, could ensure maximal impact by hiring and retraining ex-homeless people and ex-offenders. The B Corp movement has made strides in holding companies with its certification accountable for systemic as opposed to ‘single use’ impact. That is, B Corp companies must demonstrate sustainable response rather than simple and sporadic flares of corporate social responsibility (CSR) roll-out.
Not everyone can hire top talent straight from the launch of their business. Start-ups must search for human resources in an affordable way. To this end, many young businesses rely on contacts who they know to tender a passion and purpose in the field. This community of fans can help young businesses build a network of people devoted to the cause who will accept lower salaries, put simply. Leaders at Allia know Community Canvas to be a great open-source tool for this sort of networking. We advocate that our programme participants make use of this community to network with next-generation Impact drivers who pay it forward.
From the start of the business, social impact will need to figure front and centre. This thread of impactful work will need to remain constant throughout the business’ lifetime. You will need to keep your goals specific and attainable to keep this thread alive. For example, rather than identifying a wide range of lofty sustainability goals, try to pick just two and do those two well! The dilettante company checks all the boxes without diving in for true sustainable impact. But your first steps and game plan as an impact founder will unfurl like a magic carpet if you blend big ambition with practical know-how and earned expertise.
With societal shifts toward conservation, inclusion, and other sustainability measures, many founders look to balance their commercial side with their impact ideology and practice. These two aspects go hand in hand—a welcome post-industrial-revolution change! Carbon emissions and the increasing gap between the rich and the poor push businesspeople to address a world (and planet) that must be kept alive now more than ever. So that Earth and the world as we know it do not make an early exit, consider drawing from the impact experience for your next venture.