“I have committed to being as helpful as I can”, is why Mr. Solomon took a call with me. He had responded immediately. He agreed to share some expertise with this new social entrepreneur, a follower from Twitter.
I had been researching, studying and interviewing for our new social enterprise, when I met Mr. Solomon. I was fortunate enough to have spoken with a few successful people, each of whom had been so kind. While every conversation had been educational, I found increasingly, that “social enterprise” and “impact investing” etc. are rather specialized concepts. The idea of using business as a force for good has only gained traction over the past few decades. Expertise remains concentrated amongst those who have spent years working in the industry themselves.
Joel Solomon co-founded and runs Renewal, “a collection of organizations that utilized the powerful tools of business and philanthropy in support of long-term societal solutions.” Mr. Solomon, himself a successful private financier, has affected several socially viable operations. He has empowered many people through his work and commitment to a better world. Our conversation turned out to be as targeted and helpful as I imagined it might be.
I had 30 minutes on the phone. The question was as follows:
“What advice would you offer a brand new social enterprise? Please focus on how to attract attention and funds.”
Mr. Solomon spoke of 3 keys areas he believes to be critical to building a brand and raising funds. Master these, and a social enterprise is well on its way to legitimacy, perhaps even success:
1. Access, which referrers to one’s own network distribution. How many contacts can introduce one to money, or to events and circumstances that boast money?
2. Knowledge, about where the money is. There are specific institutions that offer seed capital, such as incubators and venture capitalists. There are organizations that promote equity crowdfunding. There are showcases one can participate in, for admittance to a particular audience and network. And then there are wealthy individuals who are looking for causes to get involved with. One needs to search hard, find these organizations, and work with them.
3. Lists, of potential bridges to private money. The goal is to maneuver oneself into situations where there is wealth aplenty. Know that building and executing these lists may be tough, as the exercise challenges one to step out of one’s bubble of comfort. How best does one get to, and represent oneself in a situation of power and wealth? What might hold one back? The intention is to capture as much stage and glory as one can, while of course championing the cause.
And of course, finally there is the “art of engagement”. Mr. Solomon briefly summarized characteristics of successful people everywhere, such as intelligence, strategy, personality, presentation, being realistic etc. The better known attributes of prosperous entrepreneurs play a crucial role as well.
35 million people comprise the wealthiest 10% of the United States and Canada, combined. “This means that 1 in 10 people have money here”, said Mr. Solomon. The rise in private money for business ventures with social impact, corresponds with a decline in public investment due to the decreasing reach of government. For those setting out to run socially sound businesses, its helpful to know that not only are there plenty of funds, but also, this is a rapidly developing trend.
Social Entrepreneurship is a powerful new movement (as I see it); one that allows people everywhere to take charge instead of relying on bloated bureaucracies and corruptible governing bodies. There will be several successful models of engagement over time. The best models will generate victorious public-private partnerships. Much yet remains to be seen, learned and studied about this industry. But what we have set out to do 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, a few years from now, we will look back and remember our first supporters and advisers.