“I’m committed to being as helpful as possible,” so Mr. Solomon called me. He reacted immediately. He agreed to share some expertise with this new social entrepreneur, a Twitter follower.
I had been researching, studying and interviewing for our new social enterprise when I met Mr Solomon. I’ve been fortunate to have spoken to some successful people, all of whom have been so nice. While each conversation was instructive, I increasingly found that “social enterprise” and “impact investing” etc. are fairly specialized concepts. The idea of using business as a positive force has only gained traction in the last few decades. Know-how continues to focus on those who have themselves worked in the industry for years.
Joel Solomon is co-founder and director of Renewal, “a collection of organizations that have used the powerful tools of business and philanthropy to support long-term societal solutions.” Mr. Solomon, himself a successful private financier, has influenced several socially viable operations. He empowered many people through his work and commitment to a better world. Our conversation turned out to be as goal-oriented and helpful as I had imagined.
I had 30 minutes on the phone. The question was as follows:
“What advice would you give to a brand new social enterprise?
Mr. Solomon spoke of 3 key areas that he believes are critical to building a brand and raising funds. If you master these, a social enterprise is well on its way to legitimacy, maybe even success:
1. Access related to own network distribution. How many contacts can introduce one to money, or to events and circumstances that boast of money?
2. Know where the money is. There are certain institutions that offer seed capital, such as incubators and venture capitalists. There are organizations that encourage equity crowdfunding. There are showcases to attend to gain access to a specific audience and network. And then there are wealthy individuals who are looking for causes to get involved with. You have to search hard, find these organizations and work with them.
3. Lists of potential bridges to private money. The goal is to maneuver yourself into situations where wealth abounds. Know that making and executing these lists can be difficult as the practice challenges you to step out of your comfort bubble. What is the best way to find yourself and represent yourself in a situation of power and wealth? What could hold you back? The intent is to capture as much of the stage and fame as possible while, of course, championing the cause.
And finally, of course, there is the “art of engagement”. Mr. Solomon briefly summarized traits of successful people everywhere, such as intelligence, strategy, personality, presentation, realism, etc. The more well-known traits of successful entrepreneurs also play a crucial role.
35 million people make up the richest 10% of the United States and Canada combined. “That means one in 10 people here has money,” Mr Solomon said. The increase in private funding for entrepreneurial ventures with a social impact corresponds with a decrease in public investment due to the shrinking reach of the state. For those embarking on the journey of running socially responsible businesses, it helps to know that not only is money plentiful, but that this is a rapidly evolving trend.
Social entrepreneurship is a powerful new movement (as I see it); one that allows people everywhere to take responsibility instead of relying on bloated bureaucracies and corruptible governing bodies. Over time, there will be several successful models of engagement. The best models will produce successful public-private partnerships. Much remains to be seen, learned and studied about this industry. But what we have planned is good. We will stay the course, build expertise and develop credibility. Hopefully we will succeed and change many lives for the better. In any case, we will look back in a few years and remember our first supporters and advisors.