Structuring a Social Venture

There are two questions I receive most often when meeting a social entrepreneur with a good idea for the first time.  One is, “should I be a non-profit?”.  The other is, “how do I create a brand?”.  Neither is important at such an early stage of development.   Let me speak to corporate structure.

Your structure should fall out of your business model and your personal philosophy.

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Am I A Social Enterprise?

LG-Community-Website-Graphic-2016As the application deadline approaches for communityBUILD’s Social Venture Pipeline (April 15), I am having more calls with ventures asking about whether they’re a social enterprise.   I find that I know a social enterprise when I see it.  This means that I see that the mission permeates the culture of the enterprise and informs decision-making.  However, it doesn’t overwhelm decision-making.  The strongest social entrepreneurs are painfully aware of the balancing act they must master between the demands of running a business in a competitive marketplace and pursuing impact.

For example, I have a client whose mission is to recruit, train and pay fair wages to women Continue reading

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At a Crossroads

CrossroadsWhile mentoring an early stage social venture today, I was reminded that it’s so easy to get lost in the weeds while developing your business and impact models.   You are always at a crossroad where there are so many variables to consider and so many possibilities to pursue.  You don’t have a framework to guide you; you’re building it.  At the same time, it’s very difficult to step back from your solution and pivot your idea.

Here are three strategies to refocus yourself when you feel that you’re stuck in peanut butter.

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The Risk of Isolation

IsolationAs a mentor, I occasionally meet entrepreneurs with whom it is difficult to have a conversation about their venture because they don’t want to share their idea.  They’re afraid someone will steal it once it’s revealed.  I can understand the fear as your entire being is invested in the idea and it seems unique and valuable in your self-imposed isolation.

However, the idea is 99.9% unlikely to be unique.  Experience has show me that others have thought about it and that many are working on it, already have a prototype or are in market.

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Recipe for Impact


Fresh Food

At ventureLAB we are meeting increasing numbers of social ventures that are focused on issues related to food.  In fact, we seem to be creating a cluster, a community. These entrepreneurs are creating new business models that have the potential to shake up a sclerotic, complex  industry while improving access to healthier food.

Here are just a few examples of clients at ventureLAB that are  revenue-producing social purpose businesses focused on food issues:  Tiffinday, with employment and environmental social missions; Rainbow Plate, educating kids in a fun way about better nutrition and EarthToKids.creating chick-pea pasta.

I want to share a great case study from the Fall 2015 edition of Stanford Social Innovation Review.  It’s about a very innovative and courageous food social enterprise out of California.  The case study is interesting from several perspectives:  an innovative business model that addresses the redesign of nutritious food delivery to schools without forcing the system to reinvent itself; a story of scaling successful; a story of being relentlessly customer-focused; and a story about social finance.  Here’s the link:





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Your Mission is not Your First Priority


There is one point of contention where I receive most resistance from social entrepreneurs.  That is my insistence that the entrepreneur stop being in love with their mission and think through their business model first.  There is a naive sense from the entrepreneur that they will do well because they are doing good.   That love affair is a major cause of failure for entrepreneurs, including myself.

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Five Key Success Factors for Crowdfunding

CrowdfundingOne of the challenges for social ventures is to get funded whether in the form of grant, debt or equity.  Even with the growth of impact investing, many funders don’t understand social enterprise sufficiently to take the risk to provide funding.  That’s why the fourth in our five-part  communityBUILD Speaker Series was focused on crowdfunding.    It is a financial tool that is accessible to social enterprises where the wisdom of the crowd rather than a single funder will make the decision to meet your financial ask.

We had three excellent speakers with a depth in experience in crowdfunding that collectively gave the audience many pearls of wisdom.  See the speakers’ profiles here.

I want to share some common observations among the three of them in regards to creating a successful rewards crowdfunding campaign.

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Social Venture Pipeline Launch

social venture pipeliecommunityBUILD’s Social Venture Pipeline opened for registration last week with a final application deadline of April 15, 2016.  The program is designed to meet the needs of social ventures from Toronto and the GTA that are within sight of launch.  These will be ventures that can benefit from the expertise and supports important for this stage of the startup journey.  We want to help the strongest ventures with the potential to launch during or just after the Pipeline program to get across the start line to revenue and impact. Continue reading

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Powering Innovation

Magnus Sandberg,Vice President and General Manager for Social Capital Partners in Toronto, expresses his idea of innovation as a World’s Cup sailboat.  He spoke recently at part of our communityBUILD Speaker’s Series where he spoke about, “The Quest for Social Impact – Social Entrepreneurship from an Investor’s Perspective

I thought the iconic image of a sailboat was such a powerful icon, not only for the beauty and power of its design but because the boat and the organization around it embody innovation (and lots of money!).  How?

Artemis Racing AC45F

First outing on the new AC45F. Artemis Racing. 14th of July, 2015, Portsmouth, UK

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So What’s communityBUILD?


I want to share the launch of communityBUILD with you.   Why is it worth sharing?  Because I believe that it has the potential to bring more social ventures to market that begin to generate revenue and social impact.  It will do this in two ways.

Firstly, the focus of the initiative is to catalyze a social innovation ecosystem in York Region, not just provide programming for social venture start-ups. An ecosystem provides the essential fertile soil of supports, expertise, networks, education and resources in which social ventures can grow.

The strongest entrepreneurs will reach into the ecosystem to get what he/she needs.  The process is unpredictable and organic but provides a stronger opportunity for resourceful entrepreneurs to succeed. We see this time and time again at ventureLAB, York Region’s Regional Innovation Centre just north of Toronto.

Compass, formerly the Start-Up Genome, has demonstrated the power of venture ecosystems in the technology sector like those in Silicon Valley, Israel or Kitchener-Waterloo.   It is worth reading their reports; they’re free.

Secondly, communityBUILD has developed out of the work and collaboration of its four founding partners – York University, Seneca College, ventureLAB and United Way Toronto and York Region.  It brings together the different expertise, networks and perspectives of academia, business and entrepreneurship and community development that will, collectively, begin to seed the ecosystem.

Stay tuned.  I will share more on the initiative in future blogs.




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