“Business is everywhere; you can shape it and mold it.” This idea began Jamie Shea’s conversation about how social entrepreneurship can be the key to tackling social problems by using business skills to run a business with a greater goal of impact rather than optimal profit. Shea works on strategy development for Mission Throttle and was the feature speaker of the Second Annual Get Launched 2012 event hosted by the Blackstone LaunchPad.
Shea said that we are a society that makes money and then gives it away in order to make a social impact. He, however, suggested that we change that. He gave the example of a local farm that has the option of selling its produce to either Ann Arbor or Detroit. If they sell to Detroit, they only get three-fourths of the profit that they would if they sold to Ann Arbor.
In the current system, that farm would sell 100 percent of its produce to Ann Arbor and then give its profits to the government through taxes and also nonprofit organizations.
The new legal structure that Shea suggests is to skip the government and the non-profits and go for maximum social impact rather than maximum financial return. Through this method, the farm would sell only 60 percent of its produce to Ann Arbor at full price and 40 percent of its produce to Detroit at three-fourths of the full price.
Thus, instead of having a strictly for-profit business or nonprofit business, all businesses would be for-impact businesses in order to do social good.
Yolanda Gandy, a former Wayne State student, asked if it was possible to merge a for-profit with a nonprofit. Shea responded that you can either merge them into one company or you can take the profits from the for-profit company and give it to the nonprofit to cover the operating costs while still allowing the nonprofit to raise money for additional donations.
However, a for-impact business, as opposed to a nonprofit business, is a business that has the goal of creating a profit but to also create impact too. Shea’s idea here is that “you can’t be defined by what you’re not,” but instead for what you are.
Of all the possible locations, Shea said that he thought Michigan — specifically Detroit — is currently in the midst of the best time and the best location to make it into the leading state of social entrepreneurship. He spoke of “the great philanthropic mindset of Michigan … the vibe of creation, the energy of the working people and the collective identity and purpose of the overarching goals.”
Cities such as New York and Chicago are settled. Shea gave the example of how people reminisce about “how you should have been there when it happened” — when the cities were created and really creatively grew into themselves.
This is Detroit’s time to do just that, he said. People are excited about the possibilities of creation and of being part of it. In a decade, or even two, from now, people will be reminiscing about Detroit in the same way. People will talk about the passion, the dedication and the renaissance of the city.
Shea’s outline for making a change is hinged on that passion. He said in order to make a change, you must first follow your passion and then decide what your social impact goal is with that passion. From there, you must compile a business strategy and then decide how that business strategy will work to make a social impact.
The panel of movers and shakers gave inspiring examples of students who had the passion that drove them to make an impact. The panel included Timothy Hooker from Pure as Pond Ice, Krystle Antonio from True Identity, Charlie Cavell from The Pay It Forward Initiative, Jackie Zimmerman from Girls With Guts and Norman Dotson from Click the Cause.
The consensus of the panel was to follow your passion, with Antonio saying, “following your passion will lead you to where you want to go, even if you don’t know where that is yet.”
The take away from Cavell was to “maintain focus on your passion” — you have to remember why you do what you do because it’s easy to get caught up in the technicalities of making a business work. For example, he makes sure to remind himself of why he knows how to use an excel spreadsheet as a social worker — a tool that allows him not only to manage payroll, but also ask for money in order to make an impact.
Zimmerman said that in order to succeed, you have to push yourself into awkward positions.
“Lots of people will offer their help if you only ask for it,” she said.
Hooker said in order for him to succeed, he first started by “reaching out to the resources closest to him.” He asked everyone he knew for help — people he already trusted that he knew had skills and resources.
Dotson stressed the importance of having a support system to help manage the overwhelming responsibility of running a business. Zimmerman said that it is vital “to be smart on how you build your board of governors.”
For example, she reached out to her mother to assist with taxes and financial advice.
And afterward, Cavell commented on the importance of having a Blackstone LaunchPad event such as this, saying, “the function of the panel was to inspire people, and it did just that, as Shea showed the gritty parts of business and how it fits into a larger impact.”
The event not only gave people the motivation to make an impact but also very practical ways to do so. Visit the website http://wayne.edu/blackstonelaunchpad/ to see how to make ideas into a reality.