So you want to start a social enterprise, a business where you can earn money and create a social impact, helping those in your community or the world around you.
Fantastic. But where do you begin? How do you find a great idea for this social enterprise? Let’s say you’re starting from scratch. You’ve never started a business before, and you really don’t know what kind of social issue you’d like to tackle.
You can start here. This article is a guide of resources that you can explore to get those creative juices flowing so that you have more ideas and more understanding of what’s possible. Think of them as blueprints from what other people have achieved in creating their own social enterprise.
You can use this as a foundation to get a perfect idea that you can start developing and grow into a business that both earns an income and makes an impact.
OurGoodBrands is an eco-hub of social impact resources for worldwide consumers and brands to make better decisions. It’s a place where you can connect with the community, learn about ways that you can make an impact, and get tons of ideas from other social enterprises, other podcasts, talking about social impact and people doing great things for their communities and the environment.
OurGoodBrands is one of the most comprehensive resources I’ve seen for talking about social impact. As well as giving really good, concise guides of things that you can start doing now, OurGoodBrands does a great job of breaking things down into categories, such as fashion, food, travel, technology, beauty, and health, home, and decoration environment, social innovation, and business, so that you can really find things that call out to you and explore them deeper.
StartSomeGood is a different kind of crowdfunding platform, specifically around projects that impact the community. There’s the leading home of cost-driven crowdfunding, innovative partnerships, and social entrepreneurship education. But one thing I love about them is the ideas that people are getting off the ground, and they’re evaluating them through a crowdfunding platform, but they’re specifically around making a social impact.
Their ideas are spread out across the entire world. And so you get a fantastic, diverse set of ideas of how people are making changes in their local communities. Plus, a great way to get started on creating change is to help enable somebody else to create the change they want to get off the ground.
Check out some projects and donate to those that you find call out to you the most.
3. Local directories for Social Enterprises
Here in Columbus, Ohio, we are fortunate to have an organization called social ventures – lists all the social enterprises that are here in Central Ohio.
They have around a hundred organizations. And it is a wonderful resource to see what people are doing in your community, as well as what sort of problems social impact companies are tackling. However, this isn’t limited to Columbus, Ohio. There are directories all around the world. Most major cities have their own.
I’ve seen these for San Francisco, London, and New York. Chances are somewhere in your area. There’s a list of social enterprises that simple Google search will come up with these directories, but it doesn’t really matter where they are. All you need to do is take a look at some of them to get an idea of working in another community.
Here are some organizations that can help you find directories:
Maybe there’s something from there that you can learn and adapt to your own idea and start a social enterprise. And why not reach out to one of these companies and talk to their founder? I’ve found that social entrepreneurs are typically very open about sharing what they’re doing and the impact they’re making.
They’re less concerned about competition because if somebody else can come along and extend the impact that they’re trying to make, the world is better for it.
4. Find a non-profit that you love and reach out to.
Look in your area for existing nonprofits. This is sometimes one of the best ways to launch a new idea because you can go to a nonprofit and talk to one of their development director or their CEO and ask them what they’re struggling with, what some of their needs are.
Typically nonprofits have limits on their programming based on their sources of funding, and so there’s a lot of areas that they know need attention. One compelling thing about working with nonprofits is they have a lot of expertise working with the communities that they serve. So they already know the problems inside and out very well. This can save you a lot of valuable time and research, figuring out about a social issue and how to best deliver value.
Quite often, working with a nonprofit, you can build the business around something that they see a need for, and they have some wisdom on how you can go and approach solving that problem.
During our time talking, she noted how they wanted to start a work program for the youth to get some job experience that would prepare them to be more successful, long-term employment. She knew a lot about the population they served and a lot about what they needed.
We were able to develop a business idea around this and effectively launch it in partnership with the Star House and get our business up and running while making an impact from day one. This is possibly one of my favorite approaches to developing a social impact idea because it can take a lot of energy to determine how to connect with the community you want to serve and understand how you can create better solutions that really fit their needs.
There are many ways to volunteer in the community. But by far, this is probably one of the most powerful ways to develop ideas to start a social enterprise because before you can actually start a business, you need to understand who you’re trying to serve and what kind of change you could bring about that would work best. And typically, you don’t know.
You don’t want to go and build a business only to learn later that no one needed the impact you were hoping to make. By volunteering, you get to speak with people in the community and really learn firsthand what they’re experiencing.
You can bounce ideas off them that you have and learn from their perspective to best address their needs. I think this has led to more long-term sustainable social enterprises than anything else.
Examples of Organizations you can volunteer in Ohio
Columbus also has a group called Columbus Gives Back, which makes volunteering both fun and social, a great way to meet people while doing fun activities in the community.
The Columbus Young Professionals also has a volunteering arm that goes out and does service projects in the community. Oh, and by the way, you’ll likely have a young professionals organization in the city you’re in. Tap into them and what they’re doing because, quite often, they’ll also be volunteering or connected with really cool things in the community.
An organization like young professionals or the chamber of commerce is a great way to network with other people who are starting businesses and are supporting each other in those ventures. This can give you a ton of ideas, but it can also give you some way to have some support as you launch your idea. On top of that, volunteering is really rewarding and fun.
There’s something really satisfying about going out and working on a project where you’re connecting with other individuals. When you start your venture, you will need support, and these organizations can help give you the support to get you off the ground.
GiveBackHack is the most effective event I’ve ever come across for connecting individuals and developing ideas in a short time frame, getting people to the point of launching their social enterprise. The best part – with COVID – they’ve launched a global event, so you can tune in and connect from anywhere. It operates similar to a hack-a-thon, where ideas are pitched but has an entirely different focus. You’re not there to build an app over a weekend. You’re there to get out in the community, validate your idea and apply design thinking principles to flush out a social enterprise business concept over the course of a weekend. Their program has a high success rate for people launching business ideas, and they give tremendous support and community feedback as you get off the ground.
To start a social enterprise begins with developing ideas. And congratulations! You are a step ahead of those who are still figuring out how to start.
Thank you for reading this short guide to help give you ideas to start your social enterprise. If you have more ideas of resources or places that people can reach out to, please leave those in the comments so that other people can find them. And if you find this article helpful, feel welcome to share it on social media.