Social and Sustainable Ventures.

Scott partnered with African and American universities with funding from USAID to found an entrepreneurship incubator in Nairobi, Kenya. We incubate social ventures across a wide array of industries including, but not limited to, information technology, agribusiness, service sector, manufacturing, distributing, and creative industries. Programming also includes extensive training, coaching, mentoring, networking events, Shark Tank pitches to investors, and business plan competitions.

Primer on Social Entrepreneurship

​Mohammed left the meeting with his family and friends feeling determined, yet slightly puzzled.  On average, his group of the closest people in his life supported his idea to start a new business venture.  Mohammed desired to begin manufacturing sufurias at the Export Processing Zone in Athi River for distribution throughout East and Central Africa.  He exited the meeting with a commitment amongst the attendees to provide 250,000 KSH to hire a consultant to assist Mohammed write a business plan.

However, among his close friends and family, two particular individuals stood out to challenge him: Juma and Isa.  Both having recently completed their MBAs, Juma and Isa strongly encouraged Mohammed to take a new and different look at his proposed business.  The two argued that Kenya contained enough copy cat businesses and they did not see the unique value that Mohammed’s business would bring to the market and to society.

Kenya stands as the epicenter for entrepreneurship in the entire region.  Whenever someone travels the world and then arrives in Kenya, our entrepreneurial spirit strikes them.  Not only do Kenyans try and find a solution for every ailment befalling humankind, we also compete fiercely in nearly every industry.  Further, high proportions of Kenyans do not merely hold a regular job, but instead hold a job while also owning a kiosk, farm, consultancy, and a startup business or two.  Entrepreneurship runs deep in our blood as the framework for our own unique national identity.  One merely needs to look out our First Family to notice the string of businesses they continue to diversify into over the years as an example of the Kenyan dream.

One Kenyan obsession in business planning involves engaging strategic planning consultants to author business plans for entrepreneurs and business owners.  Consultants throughout Kenya get rich by writing substandard business plans for unsuspecting clients.  Now, holding strategic planning meetings with your staff or, for a startup business, your initial investors or partners remains critical as a salient right of passage towards success.  However, most business plan consultants merely write the business plan based on limited client involvement, the plan looks nothing like how the company will progress in the near to mid-term future, and the company often does not find it helpful or useful as a roadmap.  The company likely simply provides the business plan to a financial institution for funding, and then puts the plan in a drawer.

Why not write the business plan yourself?  A business owner should not find authoring a strategic plan difficult.  Save money.  Hire a consultant for some brainstorming ideas, then write it yourself.  In honour of USIU, Colorado State University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Business Daily, and USAID’s annual Jamii Social Business Plan Competition January through April 2014 with cash prizes, incubation, and scholarship awards, Business Talk hereby commences on a three month series covering how to start a business venture, write a business plan, and secure business startup funding.

Starting off, a mistake most budding entrepreneurs make revolves around their product.  Perhaps they had a dream or spoke to a friend about a certain product and became obsessed with the probability of selling that product.  However, before you develop a product for sale, you should, instead, determine your goal.  What exactly do you wish to accomplish?

So please take a piece of paper right now and draw a straight line across the page.  On the far left side of the line, write the word “Social”.  Then, on the extreme right side of the line, pen the word “For Profit”.  You see, all businesses exist on some continuum on the line.  Perhaps your goal involves only earning money for yourself no matter what affect to society comes thereafter.  An example of a purely profit motivated business: a tobacco company.  Tobacco sales lead directly to customer deaths.  Inasmuch, a tobacco firm provides no benefit to society whatsoever except making money for the owners.

Then, on the other hand, a purely social firm focuses exclusively on benefits to society in terms of people and the planet.  NGOs, theoretically, operate without thoughts of profit and only on how to help the world.

Here in Kenya, USIU believes that profit motives lead to sustainability and ensure greater success for societal improvements.  The East Asian economic tigers, such as Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, etc. all famously held the same level of economic development as Kenya in 1960.  However, the three before mentioned countries in particular now enjoy “first world” developed economy status.  Why?  Did NGOs work together to pull them out of collective poverty?  No, but rather solid government export-led growth policies encouraged entrepreneurship that boosted the nations.

Given the two extremes of the spectrum, killing customers vs. only saving the world without profits for sustainability, where do you desire your new business venture to fall?  Corporate social responsibility (CSR) alone does not make a firm socially conscious.  Take Safaricom and Coke as an example.  While both firms invest heavily in CSR activities, their very core businesses also help society.  Communication capabilities and convenient money transfers boost our whole national economy forward through easier business transactions.  Similarly, clean nutrient fortified drinks assist our counties towards better nutrition and water source supply chain management.  So, Safaricom and Coke, like countless other business ventures in Kenya, fall in the middle of the line because of their focus on people, profit, and the planet. 

 What about you?  Might you do good for the world and make money at the same time?