Start right now! Tips for aspiring social entrepreneurs

Being graduation season, we asked some of the most innovative thinkers in Colorado to share some advice with young and aspiring social entrepreneurs. Check out what they had to say, why Colorado a great place to let your imagination flourish, and how you can get started right now.

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Photo via Hampton Roads Partnership on Flickr’s Creative Commons.

I’m an aspiring social entrepreneur. What should I be considering?

Tamra Ryan, Social Enterprise Alliance Colorado Chapter Chair and CEO, Women’s Bean Project: Look to what others have done, and when seeking advice, be specific about what you need. The community of those who have already done this work is invaluable; at Women’s Bean Project we have 24 years of mistakes to reflect upon and learn from – and help others avoid.

Nathaniel Koloc, CEO, ReWork: Make sure you love and are invested in the idea you’re working on. Building a company is really hard work and you’ll need the motivation to get through the rough points and the uncertainty. Also, it’s going to take a lot of your time, so you might as well spend that time on something that feels very worthwhile.

Banks Benitez, VP of Partnerships, Unreasonable Institute: Be proactively coachable – open to receive advice when offered; some of the best entrepreneurs we work with have this quality. They go out and ask for advice, recognize what they don’t know, are aware of their blind spots, and seek understanding about what’s coming. They seek out mentors who can help and have walked the same path. Proactively coachable entrepreneurs recognize the limitations of their knowledge and have the humility to ask for help.

Micah Williams, Marketing + Special Projects, TEDxMileHigh: Be useful to others. Be a connector. Go out on a limb for someone. Aspiring entrepreneurs do most for themselves when they strive to do the most for others. Selfish, power-hungry, and narcissistic are characteristics of 20th-century iron-fisted leadership. We’ve arrived to a new century, where seeking avenues to do good for others is what sets people, and organizations, apart.

What makes Colorado so fertile in innovation? It seems like many businesses and ideas are first taking root here.

Tamra: We’ve always been pioneers in Colorado, with lots of energy and creativity, and it carries over into social enterprise.

Nathaniel: I think the quality of life in Colorado (very high), the outlook (progressive), and the style (laid back and accessible) has combined to make it a place where the “activation energy required” for innovation is low. It’s easy to get people to try pilots and prototypes, it’s easy to connect with decision-makers and get advice, etc. So things that elsewhere would get killed by inertia (and judgment), are able to take off and learn to fly in Colorado.

Micah: The massive growth and excitement in Colorado is a realization of years of backend work on improving its infrastructure, managing its growth, keeping money local, and protecting what makes Colorado intrinsically awesome: the 300+ days of sunshine, the towering snow-capped mountains, the endless outdoor activities less than an hour from major cities, and innovative research institutions that churn out jobs and educated young minds.

What can I do to get started right now?

Tamra: Look into the Social Enterprise Alliance; they have many resources for social enterprises. The Colorado Chapter has local events throughout the year. Follow us on Facebook!

Nathaniel: If you are starting a company and haven’t taken the time to understand what lean methodology is all about, you should stop everything you are doing and do that. Also look at design thinking and agile.

Banks: Attend entrepreneurial events and get embedded in the entrepreneurial community.

Micah: Seek meaningful relationships. That’s the number one resource we have as entrepreneurs. Don’t rely on a ‘great network;’ rely on great friends. Surround yourself with curious people who dream big. Finally, always remember the words of Ben Franklin: “Well done…is better than well said.” Yes!

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Want to learn more? Micah also recommends reading Unreasonable Institute’s blog and PandoDaily, as well as attending the TEDxMileHigh event on June 15.

In Colorado? Banks thinks you should check out New Tech; Ignite Boulder; Silicon Flatirons Center; and the Deming Center for Entrepreneurship at CU Boulder. 

Learn more about Colorado month at Idealist!

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How a Colorado company is reworking social entrepreneurship

One obstacle to doing good we often hear people talk about is a lack of skills and/or knowledge. Boulder-based recruiting firm ReWork tackles this obstacle by connecting a skilled talent pool to the social enterprises who need them most. 

You’ve probably heard the term “scrimmage” before. In sports talk, it’s a practice game that doesn’t count.  In ReWork’s vocabulary, it’s an event that matches startup social entrepreneurs with willing volunteers to help them problem-solve.

Here’s how a typical Scrimmage works: Participants are presented with a challenge or project , and then break off into teams. At the heart of the event is rapid prototyping as inspired by Google. Instead of brainstorming at length, for example, the teams hammer out ideas on the fly, continually testing and iterating on them in the moment to help get them in the best shape possible. Failure is viewed as an opportunity to learn.

The process is then repeated throughout the day until the teams report their solutions to the rest of the group, and everybody (of age, of course) can celebrate with a beer!

Since starting the Scrimmages last year, ReWork has collaborated with a variety of local incubators such as HUB Boulder, Social Venture Partners, Unreasonable Institute, and more.

Scrimmage in action

Meet Shane 

Shane Gring launched Denver-based BOULD in 2011 after becoming interested in energy efficiency and the ways it could create savings for the low-income families he was serving while working for Habitat for Humanity via AmeriCorps in Boulder.

Like most startups, BOULD, which strives to greenify affordable housing projects, had a few kinks to work out. Needing help on simplifying the enrollment process and creating enticing messages for potential participants, they partnered with ReWork for the very first scrimmage in November 2012.

Two teams took on one problem each. One streamlined the enrollment form. The other team came up with messages and tested them right there with people on the street and at CU Boulder’s architecture school, eventually coming up with simple, accessible communication.

“I like that this process allows you to see how people react, right away, without the space of waiting to roll out an idea and seeing how people like it,” Shane says.

Because of its success, rapid prototyping is something they do at BOULD all the time now in their day-to-day work as well as special events like their Green Building Hackathon.

Meet Brett

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Photo credit: ReWork team.

After a stint with TOMS shoes and living abroad to pursue a master’s degree in sustainability, Brett Dioguardi moved to Colorado and found himself without a gig. He learned about ReWork through Twitter, and was accepted to their talent pool in the midst of his move.

Brett was familiar with BOULD before the Scrimmage, having worked with them in a volunteer capacity, including helping to get them ready for the event. The day of, he worked on the team that was responsible for putting together messaging.

“I was a great fit for this group because although I had some knowledge of BOULD beforehand, I was still able to bring fresh ideas and thoughts to the discussion in a group of folks who were new to the company,” he says.

To him, it was an amazing experience where he got to meet new companies and people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives. More significantly, however, after helping out BOULD pre and post-Scrimmage, Brett was offered a full-time position to work on partnership development.

“When I reflect on the experience, prepping for the Scrimmage and all the work before and after was even better than a job interview because I got to show [BOULD] what I was actually capable of,” he says.

Ultimately ReWork’s Scrimmage taught both Brett and Shane a lot about the power of face-to-face interaction, how iteration is key, and that continued problem-solving can help them tackle a constantly evolving business model.

In your everyday life, how do you practice the principles of Scrimmage?

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While they’re mostly in Colorado right now, this year ReWork will be holding open Scrimmages across the country as well as private ones for companies. Get in touch by emailing info@rework.jobs. 

To learn more about green building, starting your own social enterprise, or any of BOULD’s programs, contact Brett and Shane.

Learn more about Colorado month at Idealist!

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