The evolution of entrepreneurship in the Middle East has proceeded in several directions. While some innovators are focusing on ecommerce and other industries, others are turning their attention to social entrepreneurship. These entrepreneurs seek to use business models to address social problems like poverty, lack of access to healthcare or education, and environmental degradation. Besides generating profits, social entrepreneurs seek to create a positive impact on society.
However, one of the major hurdles that all Middle Eastern entrepreneurs face is securing early-stage funding, and this problem is no less significant for entrepreneurs involved in social ventures. Luckily, opportunities are emerging to help altruistic innovators at this early stage, such as The Venture. A global initiative, The Venture has $1 million to invest in social entrepreneurs around the world.
Developing a Great Social Entrepreneurship Idea
To have a chance at funding through The Venture, Middle Eastern entrepreneurs need to present a clear, cogent plan for addressing a major social problem. The first step in achieving this goal is to articulate both the problem and the solution clearly. Entrepreneurs should be focused in their approach, which means identifying not just the problem, but also the root causes behind it. With the root exposed, it is possible to propose a plan for fixing, or mitigating, the issue. For example, an entrepreneur may want to increase the overall level of education in their country. Lack of access to education can have many root causes, and trying to address them all will likely not produce any results. The entrepreneur needs to consider what specific cause they can target, whether it has to do with physical access to schools or the availability of scholarships. To get the attention of funders, entrepreneurs need to demonstrate exactly how their project will effect change.
After demonstrating the efficacy of an idea, entrepreneurs need to think about sustainability. Social enterprises are still businesses, and funders will want to know that an idea has the potential to grow over time. It’s likely that other people have thought of similar solutions to a problem, but entrepreneurs can distinguish themselves with a clear vision for the future and a plan for how the business can grow and expand into new markets. For example, creating a web-based education solution is a great way to address educational access problems, but how will the company adopt new lesson plans and languages to make it a viable solution across multiple markets? Thinking about sustainability involves becoming an expert about the existing market. Entrepreneurs need to have a deep understanding of the particular field in which they plan to operate, and the other solutions currently available, in order to prove their idea is better than others. Social entrepreneurship, just like any kind of innovation, involves constant learning and complete commitment to a cause.
Building Businesses While Maintaining Vision
Some social entrepreneurs worry about the conflict between growth and ideals. Many fear that expansion necessarily involves compromising the company’s mission and values. In reality, this idea is far from the truth. The foundations of scalability largely lie in the company’s vision and mission statement. With their mission at the heart of everything, companies can develop a brand that is powerfully tied to that mission in the minds of consumers. As the business grows, entrepreneurs need to take steps to keep communication open with existing customers and assure this demographic that the social mission of the company will stay intact and not be compromised. Entrepreneurs are right to worry about the appearance of their brand in the minds of consumers, but they shouldn’t underestimate the power of first impressions and ongoing communication. Going above and beyond to communicate a mission to customers will build the trust that can enable the company to expand.
In order to expand, companies must also have a straightforward and replicable business model. Simple business models and processes make companies more scalable, so that operations do not have to change during expansion. Investors look for entrepreneurs who understand this concept and make their processes as simple as possible from the very beginning. Retroactive simplification is not an easy procedure. Of course, streamlined processes do not guarantee that nothing will need to change as companies enter new markets. Entrepreneurs must do their due diligence and ensure that they understand the new market and how the problem that they address affects it.
Social entrepreneurs don’t necessarily need to compromise their values to expand their businesses, but sometimes they will need to rethink their approach. This issue relates back to scalability. Before proposing an idea to investors, entrepreneurs should have a sense of how their product or service can be altered to meet the different needs of different markets. Investors are most interested in lasting ideas with the ability to effect major change, which requires a certain amount of adaptability. By building this into the business idea from the beginning, entrepreneurs can decrease the likelihood that they will have to compromise their values or mission to expand.