Social startupper: key questions to address
Getting them right before starting
As social entrepreneurship continues to gain popularity, more and more startups are emerging with the goal of making a positive impact on society. Having a strong desire to create change is surely remarkable, but starting an impact startup is no easy task. Social entrepreneurial journeys can indeed have several downsides including, at times, accidentally generating new social problems. Because of that, any social startupper needs to ensure he/she is constantly on the right track.
In this post, we’ll take a closer look at key questions that social startuppers should address before starting.
Social startupper: key questions to ask
As said, more and more people today seek to run successful businesses while changing the world for the better. In order to do that, we identified five key questions a social startupper should bear in mind when launching his/her business.
#1: What is the social problem that your startup aims to address?
To begin with, you need to have a clear understanding of the social issue that you aim to solve. Societal issues could range from lacking education to poverty, from unemployment to social isolation. If interested, we further discussed what complex social problems are in this article.
At this stage, it’s important not only to carefully focus a given social problem and research related outcomes, but especially to understand its root causes. By doing so, a social startupper is more likely to develop solutions able to drive real, positive impact. For instance, if your impact startup addresses homelessness, what you need to do is understanding why people become homeless in the first place. Is it because of a lack of affordable housing? Or is it due to mental health issues? Also, what are the most commonly diffused consequences? By understanding fundamental causes as well as main negative effects, a social entrepreneur may be better equipped to successfully tackle a multi-faceted societal problem right at its core.
Once the problem has been studied and comprehended, identify specific goals to achieve naturally follows. This includes defining long-term impacts and develop both the vision and the mission of a social startup. As impact-makers don’t aim for temporary fixes, it’s important to aspire to create long-term, lasting effects.
#2: Who are the beneficiaries of your startup?
Apart from the core problem, the decision-making process will driven by beneficiaries too. These are indeed the people or communities that your impact startup will be helping and that will be mostly affected by your interventions.
Identifying the beneficiaries is crucial for three reasons. First, it allows you to tailor your products or services to meet their specific needs. Second, it helps you identify touchpoints, channels and stakeholders that may drive them closer to your proposed solutions. Finally, it will serve you as an anchor for measuring the impact of your interventions.
Again, if your social startup aims to tackle homelessness, you’ll need to understand the specific challenges that homeless people face in their daily lives. How they live, what they do, where they stay, who they interact with. Through this discovery phase, you’ll be able to develop solutions that are tailored to the needs of those you target.
#3: What is your unique selling proposition (USP)?
Impact startups must have unique selling propositions (namely “USP”) setting them apart from other enterprises in the market. In other words, their products or services must be unique in a certain way. It could be because of the way they approach the social problem, or the technology they use, just to name few examples. Still, without a strong USP, no startup can differentiate itself from the competition, potentially leading to a lack of investors, customers and thus impact.
In our fictional case study, a USP could be itinerant mental health counseling or innovative products such as Sheltersuits. But also, it may relate to partnerships with local authorities and charities providing a network of shelters and food distribution channels for those in need.
By thinking and designing beforehand a strong USP, social startuppers can make their interventions stand out in a crowded market and drive real, positive change.
#4: What is your revenue model?
Sure, social startups are impact-driven first, but they still need to find a way to be financially sustainable to continue operating. That’s why it’s important to develop a revenue model that can systematically generate income and allow to meet business goals.
Business and revenues modeling are at the very core of what Social Business Design does. In this page, you can find many examples of how social enterprises and startups mix grants, donations and commercial sales to remain viable in the long term while driving impact. If you have more case studies to suggest, we’d be happy to get in touch with you 🙂
#5: How will you measure your impact?
Last but not least: impact startuppers must not forget that measuring impact is crucial for their enterprises’ success and survival. Impact assessment helps indeed practitioners to evaluate the effectiveness of their interventions and determine whether they making progress towards achieving their missions and solving targeted societal problems.
Defining your impact metrics early on will help you track progresses, achievements and make data-driven decisions. For instance, social startups addressing homelessness may choose to keep track of indicators focusing on short-term outputs (i.e. # of homeless/day who receive food or medical assistance) as well as medium to long-term outcomes (i.e. # of homeless who found permanent shelter or employment). It all depends on the interventions you offer and the ultimate impact you aim to achieve.
Theory of Change is probably the most known and diffused framework to design and visualize a pathway of change and choose impact metrics accordingly. If interested to learn more, check our article covering this topic.
Starting a social startup is an exciting and rewarding journey, yet it requires a lot of analysis, planning, and strategic thinking.
By addressing upfront the five key questions outlined in this article, we believe social startuppers can be more likely to develop a clear social mission and identify ways to effectively serve their beneficiaries while running financially viable businesses.
Remember: the road to social entrepreneurship is filled with challenges. However, dedication, perseverance and analytical planning can all make a difference towards creating lasting positive change in society.
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