Who are social entrepreneurs? 

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Social entrepreneurs have always existed. In the past, they were called visionaries, humanitarians, philanthropists, reformers, saints, or simply great leaders. Attention was paid to their courage, compassion, and vision, but rarely to the practical aspects of their accomplishments.

Typical social entrepreneurs can be described as: 

Pragmatic visionaries who achieve large-scale, systemic, and sustainable social change through a new invention, a different approach, a more rigorous application of known technologies or strategies, or a combination of these. 

Social entrepreneurs share common attitudes such as: 

  • An unwavering belief in the innate capacity of all people to contribute meaningfully to economic and social development. 
  • A driving passion to make positive social change happen. 
  • A practical but innovative stance to social problems, often using market principles and forces, coupled with dogged determination, that allows them to break away from constraints imposed by ideology or fields of discipline, and pushes them to take risks that others wouldn’t. 
  • A zeal to measure and monitor their impact. Entrepreneurs have high standards, particularly in relation to their own organization’s efforts and in response to the communities with which they engage. Data, both quantitative and qualitative, are their key tools, guiding continuous feedback and improvement. 
  • A healthy impatience. Social entrepreneurs don’t do well in bureaucracies. They cannot sit back and wait for change to happen – they are the change drivers. 
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Small business blog posts we liked this week

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Here are a few new things going on in the world of Canadian entrepreneurship, and some small business articles we enjoyed this week.

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Benefits of Lean Start-up

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What is Lean-start up?

Launching a new business – whether it’s a tech start-up, a small business, or an initiative within a large corporation – has always been a hit-or-miss proposition. According to the decades-old formula, you write a business plan, pitch it to investors, assemble a team, introduce a product, and start selling as hard as you can. And somewhere in this sequence of events, you’ll probably suffer a fatal setback. The odds are not with you, because about 70% of all start-ups fail.

In the last decade however, a new approach to managing start-up has emerged, one that can make the process of starting a company less risky. It’s a methodology called “Lean start-up” and it favours experimentation over elaborate planning, customer feedback over intuition, and iterative design over traditional “big design up front” development.

We like Lean Start-up as a start-up philosophy for four reasons:

1. Lessen Uncertainty

Using the Lean Start-up approach, companies can create order instead of chaos by utilizing tools to test the start-up’s vision continuously. Lean isn’t simply about spending less money, or just about failing fast, and failing cheaply. It’s about putting a process, a methodology around the development of a new business and its products and services.

2. Work Smarter Not Harder

The Lean Start-up approach has as a premise that every start-up is a grand experiment that attempts to answer a question. The question is not “Can this product be built?” Instead, the questions are “Should this product be built?” and “Can we build a sustainable business around this set of products and services?”

This experiment is more than just theoretical inquiry; it’s development of a first, and early, product. If it’s successful, it lets a business owner get started with his or her start-up: enlisting early adopters, getting first sales, adding more features to each further experiment or iteration, and eventually starting to build scale into the business.

By the time the product or service is ready to be distributed widely, it’ll already have established customers and solved real problems.

3. Learn When it’s Time to Pivot

A core component of Lean Startup methodology is the build-measure-learn feedback loop. The first step is figuring out the problem that needs to be solved and then developing a minimum viable product (MVP) to begin the process of learning as quickly as possible.

Once the MVP is established, a start-up can work on tuning the engine. This will involve measurement and learning, and must include actionable measurements of success. Ask simple questions to study and solve problems along the way. When this process of measuring and learning is done correctly, it will be clear whether or not the company is moving the drivers of the business model. If not, it’s a sign that it is time to pivot or make a structural course correction to test a new fundamental hypothesis about the product, strategy and engine of growth.

4. Validated Learning

When you focus on figuring out the right thing to build – the thing customers want and will pay for – you don’t have to spend months waiting for a product beta launch to change the company’s direction. Instead, entrepreneurs can adapt their plans incrementally, inch by inch, minute by minute.

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Entrepreneurial inspiration from Eric Ries


What is a pivot, and how can it help your business?

Making the decision to pivot is one of the hardest aspects of the Lean Start-up method of managing start-up. Founders and entrepreneurs are emotionally tied to their products, and energy and money have been invested. A pivot isn’t necessarily a failure – it means that you will change one of your hypotheses about your product or service. There are different variations on the pivot – read more in our blog post Lean start-up: Is it time for your small business to pivot?

“Pivots are a permanent fact of life for any growing business. Even after a company achieves initial success, it must continue to pivot.”
– Eric Ries, in his book The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses

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Ready to start a small business? Ask yourself these 13 questions first

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Finally, you’ve had the great business idea you’ve been waiting for, and you’re ready to become an entrepreneur!

Not so fast. It’s important that you start your entrepreneurship journey on the right foot. There are many things to know before you set up shop. Will your idea work as an actual business? Are you ready for the hard work and stress that comes with entrepreneurship?

Ask yourself these 13 questions before you start a small business

  1. What is most important to me in running a small business – making money or doing what I love?
  2. Do I have management or technical experience in a business similar to the business I want to start?
  3. Do I have any accounting or bookkeeping knowledge?
  4. How well do I handle risk?
  5. How do I cope with stress?
  6. Are my finances strong enough to support me if my small business doesn’t see income immediately?
  7. Do I have the support of my family and friends?
  8. Am I willing to work longer than usual to start my small business?
  9. How well do I lead or manage others?
  10. How adaptable am I?
  11. How do I make difficult decisions?
  12. Do I have a long-term plan for my small business?
  13. Do I have a business model?

If you’ve answered “no” to any of these questions, don’t worry! It’s actually a good thing. Knowing what you don’t know is important, and can help you find – and fix – critical gaps in your knowledge. Training in entrepreneurship skills will also increase your odds of success. After all, nearly one half of all small businesses close within two years of start-up in Canada, so equipping yourself with as many business skills as you can is always a good thing.

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