How do we tackle the world’s most challenging problems through business and innovation?
That’s the question explored by over 200 attendees at the Innovate For Good Conference on April 4th, a joint conference held by Just Business, The University of San Francisco School of Management, and the Commonwealth Club. Speakers from various sectors of the business world took to the stage to engage in lively conversations about the interaction of profitable businesses and social good impact.
Here are 8 key takeaways from last week’s event:
1. The enterprise can be the mission.
The lines are becoming blurred between “business only” and “non-profit only” mentalities. We’re in the 21st century, and we should be looking to enterprises to create a positive impact in the manner that they source their materials, produce their product, and engage their communities. Business can be the catalyst for change, if businesses are willing to go above and beyond to make an impact. As Dave Batstone, Not For Sale and Just Business co-founder shared; “We’re not talking about CSR, were not talking about charity, we’re talking about transforming business.”
2. Do the right thing for the right reasons.
If attaching a social cause to your business is only done for the marketing edge or to stroke your ego, it won’t be truly authentic, and it won’t evoke the genuine response and support that is so vital to creating thriving, viable business. Your mission should be so ingrained within your company’s DNA that it’s not even the main “selling point” of what you do. Your product or idea should be able to “sell itself” as an amazing product, first and foremost, without depending on a “cause” attached to it. As Jostein Solheim, CEO of Ben & Jerry’s shared, “Do ten amazing things and talk about one.”
3. Don’t do it alone.
A business on its own can’t change the world. However, companies can use their power and influence in the marketplace to join a collective effort to help change the status quo, set new standards, and influence the system. A company is only as strong as its loyal supporters, who also have a role to play – consumers who create a demand for more responsibly made products and more transparent and ethical business practices allow “good” companies to thrive and grow.
4. Your professional path doesn’t have to be linear.
With many young, aspiring entrepreneurs in the room for the Innovate For Good Conference, Stripe’s Sarah Heck stressed the importance of following your own path and not someone else’s: “This can be a singular path, many different paths – as long as you’re following what you’re passionate about. If you have a good idea, find a way to make it so that you’re not impeded by barriers.”
5. Profit’s not the only thing in the equation anymore.
Younger generations are thinking differently about the way they’re building businesses. Instead of just focusing on profit, people are seeing problems and looking for opportunities to solve them. Established companies and new startups alike need to be aware of the concept of a “triple bottom line,” or a blended model that prioritizes other standards beyond profit, t consider the company’s impact on people and the planet, as the concept inches closer to becoming the new standard for doing business.
6. Entrepreneurs are everywhere.
Damian Bradfield, President of WeTransfer, stressed the thought that entrepreneurs are everywhere and geography is becoming irrelevant when it comes to building a team to execute an innovative idea. Companies can make an impact simply by expanding their horizons and looking outside Silicon Valley to discover the abundance of investable capital around the world. With this mindset, we can change how the business world sees countries like Uganda: as a place of investment, rather than a place for donation.
7. A compelling story is your company’s heartbeat.
Lisa Curtis, founder of Kuli Kuli, shared her belief with last Wednesday’s attendees that innovators must have a compelling story so that people can become invested in their idea. According to her, sharing the “why” of your company or idea will draw the right people to you who care about the same cause and will champion your idea. Lisa also underscored the importance of building the right relationships with funders and investors – “being picky” isn’t a bad thing! When looking for investors and even collaborators, ask, “Do they believe in your idea? Are they acting on behalf of impact? Are they willing to grow and share that sustained interest in your company?”
8. Don’t be paralyzed by perfection.
If you have an innovative idea, you have to find the right balance between creating a product or service that exudes excellence, and missing your opportunity to act at the right moment because too much time has been spent pursuing a perfect model. Mistakes are a growth opportunity for companies who are truly pushing the envelope and experimenting with new ways of creating positive impact. Jostein Solheim, CEO of Ben & Jerry’s, imparted wisdom on this topic in his keynote address; “We’re incredibly imperfect as a company. But that doesn’t stop us from acting. Don’t let perfection get in the way of doing things.”