Start a socially responsible business

You’ve got your billion dollar idea. And you want to change the world. These needn’t be conflicting goals.

The days when being “socially responsible” meant passively donating to charity are becoming a thing of the past, partly in response to demands made by younger workers and consumers. The Deloitte Millennial Survey 2015 found that young employees want to work for companies that are committed to what has come to be known as the Triple Bottom Line: People, Planet and Profits. And the companies who live that creed tend to engender greater consumer loyalty, as evidenced by The Edelman Good Purpose Study, which found that 68 percent of global consumers would remain loyal to a brand if the organization practiced social responsibility. Here are some ways that you can start going down the “doing well while doing good” path.

Good luck building something that changes the world!

Have more tips? Let us know!

Start Your Business

  • Don’t worry about making it official. Begin by doing the research. There’s no need to register your business until you have a clear sense of what it’s going to be. This could take weeks, even months. Begin by getting to know your market: Interview potential customers, build relationships with partners, and put together a bulletproof business plan that clearly lays out a model that incorporates your commitment to the cause you’re passionate about.
  • Join the Philly Startup Leaders Listserv. Find upcoming events, learn about upcoming opportunities, and ask difficult questions of folks who have been there before you. You can talk to them about the nuts and bolts of starting a business, and about navigating the tension between bottom-line results and social consciousness. Also be sure to look out for Philly Startup Leaders’s annual events:
    • Bootcamp. Every fall, Philly Startup Leaders runs a workshop to help you take your idea from zero to startup in 90 days. This is also a great opportunity to network with experienced entrepreneurs, investors, and community leaders
    • Founders Factory: A day-long conference for Philly entrepreneurs
    • Entrepreneur Expo: A large exhibition of startups in our region
    • Summer BBQ: A happy hour and celebration of the startup community
  • Tap into your community of fellow entrepreneurs. Philly has an amazing startup community—it’s one of the perks of starting your business here. On any given night, you can find a great startup event somewhere in town—you just need to know where it’s happening. Some of the larger, more established groups that meet on a regular basis include:
  • Tap into the community of talent. Look to these organizations for networking and for recruiting solid employees: Code for Philly, Girl Develop It, IT Pros Philly, N3rd Street Unplugged, Philly NetSquared (technology for nonprofits) , Quack & Hack – Philadelphia, The Philly Front-end/UX Meetup, and Virtual Reality Philly.
  • Join a co-working space: The city is bursting with them, each with a different vibe and different assortment of businesses. For example, Industrious and Benjamin’s Desk both house smaller startups, but Industrious has closed office cubes, while Benjamin’s Desk has a more open floor plan. Attend events in these spaces to better understand the types of people/businesses that work in the office.
  • But don’t rush to pay for space! Most entrepreneurs start businesses out of their home or local coffee shops since office space can be a large expense. Once you feel you are gaining traction, or once your team begins to grow, you can find a space that works for your company.

Ready to build your team? Here are a few tips.

  • Build relationships. Begin looking for your teammates before you can afford to bring them on or have work for them to do. Get them involved in your company and share your progress so that they feel invested in your growth. Let them know you’d love to hire them when the time comes.
  • Define roles. Understand who you want to hire and create a clear job description for the role. “We just need more manpower” doesn’t work out well in the long run.
  • Post your job listing on Technically Philly, Philadelphia Business Journal, or any local media outlet that fits your niche.  Tap into your own networks as well; social media can be a great way to get the word out to candidates.
  • Look outside your community. Just because a prospective hire doesn’t work in the startup world now, that doesn’t mean he or she wouldn’t be a great addition to your team. Also, consider diversity of all types not just when reviewing resumes, but also when advertising your positions.
  • Speak with a recruiter. In the Philly tech scene, top talent is in high demand and most developers are getting recruiting calls on a weekly basis. Recruiters can be extremely helpful when it comes to finding the right talent, but they come at a significant cost. Among those to check out: Itprosphilly and CandiDate.

Raise Money (the right way).    

  • The first round of funding, called Friends and Family (…and Fools ), can be raised through Kickstarter or through conversations with your close network. This might be the time to start hanging out with your rich uncle. 
  • Find an angel, or angel group, such as Mid Atlantic Diamond Ventures or Robin Hood Ventures. If you’re a student, consider applying to the Dorm Room Fund (managed by First Round Capital). This is also another great time to reach out to Startup PHL to learn about its angel fund. Philly also has some individual angels who invest locally, but you’ll have to do some research (i.e. networking) in order to identify them.
  • Ben Franklin Technology Partners is a non profit venture capital firm supported partially by the state that has made a lot of local Philadelphia investments.
  • See a huge list of local investors here.  If you can get a stamp of approval from any of these groups, it’s worth a lot more than just the money you’ll have in your bank account.
  • Bring money into Philly.  Remember, just because you are starting your company in Philly, that doesn’t mean your investments have to be local. Most entrepreneurs go on a road trip to meet investors across the country that have an interest in their product.

Next steps.

Make It Socially Responsible

  • Join a socially minded co-working space, like City Coho, and Culture Works, that will allow you to immerse yourself in a community of like-minded founders. The community managers at each location can serve as great resources whether you choose to work in their space or not.
  • Join the Sustainable Business Network. They have events and programs geared towards helping people like you! For example, they work with the Clean Air Council to run Greenfest Philly, a day-long exhibition of eco-friendly businesses. They also have a great listserve and resource center.
  • Talk about being socially responsible.  A lot.  If you’re committed to the Triple Bottom Line, you should bring it up in every conversation you have about your business, because it’s who you are. Engage in the “Why” of your business and partner with non-profits in the area that share your mission. This is a great way to recruit talent, spread awareness and support surrounding businesses.
  • Become a B Corp. Changing your articles of incorporation from a C Corporation to a B—or Benefit—Corporation extends your company’s fiduciary responsibility beyond shareholders to employees, the community, and the environment. Wayne, PA-based B Lab is the non-profit that jumpstarted the international B Corp movement, and you can get started by taking their free B Impact Assessment Test, which forces you to think critically about the impact of your business practices.
  • Become a Co-op. Co-ops are businesses that are democratically owned by members.  Members serve as both customers and employees. So, rather than aiming to generate profits for shareholders, co-ops aim to improve quality of services to their members. The Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance has a lot of great information, including this list of resources.
  • Join 1% For The Planet, a global movement of companies donating at least 1 percent of their annual net revenues to environmental organizations worldwide.
  • Join the one-for-one movement. Companies like Tom’s Shoes or, locally, Cora for Women (which The Citizen profiled) have built social impact into their respective elevator pitches and self-identities. For every pair of shoes bought in the United States, Tom’s donates a pair to a child in need. Similarly, for every organic feminine hygiene product ordered through Cora in the U.S., the same is given to a girl in a developing country.
  • Be transparent with your customers. Take a page from Timberland, which places its Timberland Nutritional Label on its 3 million pairs of footwear, detailing not only where the product was made, but the energy footprint needed to make it.
  • Reward volunteerism in your workforce. Time off for doing good isn’t only the right thing to do, it actually improves morale.
  • When you buy, think local and socially responsible. Search for products that are made in Philadelphia before heading to Amazon. If your product isn’t available in Philadelphia, look for a vendor with a positive social mission.
  • Build an eco-friendly culture. Implement simple business practices such as office recycling, turning off the lights, or avoiding printing unnecessary materials.

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