By: Megan McPherson
The positive energy at last night’s Do Good Challenge was palpable. From the showcase to the finalist pitches to the panel of past Do Good competitors, it was clear that every person there was united by a passion for driving social change. Do Good delivered not only excellent pitches but also an informative platform for discussing the unique challenges and rewards of social entrepreneurship. Here are some takeaways:
1. Creating a social impact business model is challenging, but rewarding.
Compared to ventures that are simply for-profit, social ventures have to maintain two specific focuses: how do I create a viable business model and also how can I use that model to create social impact? Some of the finalists struggled with questions from the judges about the feasibility of their revenue model. In the panel portion, Evan Lutz, co-founder of Hungry Harvest, reflected on times when he thought his business might run out of money. But as Evan and his Shark Tank success indicate, putting a social mission first can often yield inspiring results, especially if it resonates with your market. People may pay more for a product if they can also share in the impact they’ve created. For example, MedFund, the 1st place Do Good Venture, used a “Humans of New York” style approach to introducing donors to the hospital patients they could help.
2. A little creativity goes a long way.
One of the most memorable portions of the competition was when the winning Do Good Project team, Terps Against Hunger, illustrated the sheer magnitude of hungry families their project could help by pouring an enormous bag of rice into a container, leaving many grains scattered on the floor. When you’re dealing with impact in large numbers—they packaged 195,000 meals during the Do Good Challenge—it’s sometimes hard to conceptualize what that impact really means. Coming up with a creative way to demonstrate that number using the product itself was a brilliant stroke that made an unforgettable impression on the judges and also the audience, giving Terps Against Hunger a leg up on the five other finalists to win the Audience Choice Award.
3. Passion is everything.
The one common thread that shone through each project and venture pitch was the level of passion each team member showed for their mission. The Preventing Sexual Assault pitch began with a personal story from a team member who was also a victim of sexual assault. She shared with the audience her struggle with the reporting process at Maryland, and described how members of her sorority rallied behind her to help create their “Prevent Sexual Assault” campaign. Clearly their personal stake in the mission was also a driving force in its success—they raised $8,000 during their Occupy McKeldin Mall event and were able to recruit sexual assault survivors from across the country to support their cause.
4. Be persistent, no matter what.
When Evan Lutz was asked how he created a successful business, he said, “The number one thing is persistence.” Looking at the Do Good Challenge finalists, one of the teams with the toughest barriers for their social mission was No Taboo. Period. Their project didn’t revolve around issues that everyone feels strongly about, like feeding the hungry or helping the homeless. Many people would prefer not to think about topics like menstruation or feminine hygiene, let alone impoverished women who suffer from lack of access to menstrual toiletries. But with persistence of vision and strategy, they were able to convince the people they reached out to that their mission is essential, and to that effect were able to collect over 6,000 products for donation to the DC Diaper Bank.
5. Leverage your resources and network.
When the judges asked Annie’s Children why they chose an orphanage in the Ukraine to focus on, they answered honestly—one of the team members was Ukrainian, and she was not only aware of the specific struggles of these Ukrainian orphanages, but with her background was effectively able to navigate this landscape. Their future efforts are all intended to target other areas that their diverse team has connections to, including Pakistan and the Philippines. Starting a business in a space or industry you already have some knowledge of gives you a significant advantage. Furthermore, looking to your immediate network to find mentors or other sources of support can often yield lasting partnerships.
6. Having a big vision can be a good thing.
While maintaining specific, actionable goals is vital to sustaining a viable business model, it can’t hurt to dream big. Love Blanket Project for example strives to create social impact on not just one but three levels: upcycling t-shirts to create blankets, creating jobs for members of the deaf community and donating the blankets to sick children. This heavy impact model creates a compelling story for customers that drives them to buy their specific product. Even if there are cheaper blankets on the market, a blanket from Love Blanket Project allows customers to feel they are giving back to the world, and who can put a price on that?