Social Innovation in Entrepreneurship – The Compromising Marriage between Profit and Social Good
Written by: Natalie Leviev
Tuesday, October 23 – The Sustainable Business Club and The Field Center for Entrepreneurship hosted a Social Innovation in Entrepreneurship event that featured some of the leaders in the growing field of social entrepreneurship. The panelists were engaging, passionate, and informative (no fact checker needed!). The event proved to be a success as swarms of attendees surrounded the speakers post-discussion to swap business cards and talk sustainable business.
The moderator at the event was Anelisa Lauri, a Social Entrepreneurship Professor at Baruch College and a Community Manager at the Field Center for Entrepreneurship. Her questions were relevant and to the point and allowed the panelists to really get into the nitty-gritty of their everyday experiences with social entrepreneurship. They also hit a wide spectrum of issues ranging from panelist’s personal stories and upbringings to the complexities of the business models and investor building strategies needed to create a successful company.
The panelists consisted of Anselm Doering, Laura Smith, and Ashok Kamal. Anselm Doering is the Founder and President/CEO of EcoLogic Solutions, a company that manufactures and distributes environmentally preferable institutional cleaning products. Anselm connected individual interests and the desire to make money to the world of sustainable business. He said that we all share a common sustainability character: we all care about ourselves, our loved ones, and our health, but “there are certain individuals who can I.D. the opportunity…When you combine sustainability with a business mind, you can do something tremendous”.
Laura Smith is the Co-Founder and COO of Cup & Compass, a new start up company whose mission is to provide a fresh and natural alternative to soda fountains in order to encourage people to live healthier lives while also factoring in sustainable agriculture and water conservation through production and distribution. With a background working on Wall Street, Laura gave the audience some insight on money raising in this field: her company places a market cap to protect early investors and offers convertible notes with rates of return with a three year term. She emphasized that not all investors are right for your vision, and not everything is about profit margin. “You need to make thoughtful and educated decisions…they should be based on the bottom line, and sometimes the bottom line can be social impact”.
Ashok Kamal is the Co-Founder and CEO of Bennu World, a leader in green social media marketing. His vision was a result of looking at a combination of environmental waste management, personal values, environmental need, and the marketability of it all. The key, he says, is to look at the issues as a societal problem and then become a problem solver, beyond the consumer level, beyond B2B. Ashok addressed several aspects of sustainability. Once you have operational sustainability in your company, it’s easier to blend all the other aspects – he calls it “strategic schizophrenia”.
The speakers also described some of the challenges that come with creating a business whose bottom line includes both long term social impact and profitability. It’s a challenge to articulate to investors that it’s not just about financial return, it’s about social change and sometimes the return on investment is a social return on investment. “That’s why you need to attract smart capital,” Ashok points out. You also need to look at the challenges of scaling. “We are looking to grow a green army…but sometimes you can’t give guarantees to investors and bank loans are on lock down [with regard to the recent banking regulations as a result of the credit crisis]”, Anslem says. He also points out that it’s still difficult for women to break into the business world at full potential. “Women rule my world!” he exclaimed, stating that most of his top staff members are female.
So what advice did the panelists provide the group of MBA students, current and future entrepreneurs, and the generally interested population? Choose the right partners, don’t be afraid to say no to investors and customers that don’t share your goals and objectives, build your own road map, and use the resources you have now as passionate eager minded students. We need to understand that social entrepreneurship is still a growing and evolving field. Ashok Kamal is “looking forward to the time when sustainability will no longer be a niche, but the norm”.