As the social entrepreneurship landscape gets more promising, it also becomes more challenging and complex – there are many different types of ventures and business models to develop, while many youngsters crave for help and guidance through this process. The Social Venturer Anika Horn has been working for years supporting young social entrepreneurs, through advisory, acceleration programs and community building. Anika gave this interview to our blog about the biggest challenges and trends for social entrepreneurship.
What is the scope of your work?
I work with purpose-driven entrepreneurs from inception to established businesses through one-on-one advisory, programming and community building. I spend a lot of time supporting mission-driven entrepreneurs in building up their companies, and curating the community around certified B Corps, social entrepreneurs and socially responsible companies.
What are the biggest challenges for social entrepreneurs?
At first sight, the challenges that social entrepreneurs face are not that different from the ones that “regular” entrepreneurs face: Defining your niche, validating the market, building a financially sustainable business model, pricing, finding investment, marketing on a startup budget, building the model to scale. It’s the commitment to a double or even triple-bottom line that adds nuance to each of these challenges. Pricing is not just a question of willingness but ability to pay, any cost structure is likely to reflect not only financial expenses but the social or environmental impacts.
A second challenge I foresee for social entrepreneurs is standing out from the noise. Unfortunately, I see a lot of self-declared social entrepreneurs who might have a good story but lack substance in terms of real business stamina, actual outputs and success metrics. These so called social entrepreneurs muddy the waters of what real social entrepreneurship can do and achieve, and make it harder for those who are serious about creating lasting change through business to be taken seriously.
Can you share some social enterprise success stories you have assessed?
One challenge in the world of social entrepreneurship is how success is defined. Is it creating market access for a marginalized community? Is it lifting three individuals out of poverty, or three thousand? In that sense, defining success becomes a challenge in and of itself. Two entrepreneurs I have been impressed with over the last year are Rupa Singh of Love this RVA, and Jeff Beck and Adam Dreyfus of Answers Now.
Love This RVA is a platform for socially responsible shopping and conscious consumerism. Rupa started out with a co-founder with whom she ended up parting ways, is now running the online and airstream shop by herself, has growing number of speaking engagements, and is figuring out her financial model. She might never scale nationally, but she is successful in making a deep impact in the mindsets of the community she lives and operates in.
Jeff and Adam are developing a mobile app to support parents of children with autism. As first-time founders, I met them when they had little more than the idea. It is unimaginable for an outsider how much time the backend tech development takes, how many sprints and delays and iterations they have gone through. Adam and Jeff are successful because they are designing their service through constant conversations with their target customers. I celebrate their learning process in the lean startup sense over any potential revenue they currently generate and I see great potential in their ability to scale and expand the application to other underserved communities.
How do you see the future of social entrepreneurship?
I personally hope that we come to understand that social entrepreneurship is just that: entrepreneurship that leverages hard-to-crack opportunities in the market. With all the Ubers, Instagrams and nutrition bars in the world, real opportunities for disruption lie in areas of social and environmental injustice: lack of equal access to education and healthcare, large-scale upcycling of ocean plastic waste, reintegration of ex-convicts – these are the kinds of untapped opportunities that will impact millions of lives and therefore have a promising future. But they are nuts to crack.
Horyou is the social network for social good. How important are social networks for social entrepreneurs?
Launching and running a social enterprise can be a very isolating, frustrating, lonesome experience. Not every social entrepreneur qualifies as a Schwab or Ashoka Fellow. Social networks can provide accountability, connectedness and as trivial as it may sound: inspiration. Sometimes knowing that others are just as crazy trying to change the world around them is what it takes to get back on the horse. Besides, entrepreneurs have so much to learn from each other; why not use social networks to steepen that learning curve by creating a space for meaningful conversations and knowledge exchange?
What is your main lesson from working with social entrepreneurs?
Don’t be a heropreneur. I have met too many self-acclaimed social entrepreneurs who want to save the world in some way and would figure out what issue they were passionate about along the way. I understand that we as Millennials look for purpose in our careers but the answer isn’t always to become a social entrepreneur. In fact, most social entrepreneurs who are doing great work don’t refer themselves as such, and certainly didn’t start out by wanting to become one. While I commend everyone who knows they don’t want to work for the man but go change the world, there are a million and one ways – or at least five – to make a meaningful contribution that do not involve “become a social entrepreneur”.
I believe that real social entrepreneurs are in a position to redefine the impact of entrepreneurship by creating meaningful systemic change. Let’s not call everyone with good intentions a social entrepreneur and focus our resources on the founders who have the right intentions, the potential, and the tenacity to change the world.
Horyou is a supporter of social entrepreneurship and social ventures around the world