The Los Angeles based Sustainable Business Council held a panel on this past Tuesday, Tools & Tips for Building a Sustainable Business. Panelists came from different parts of the business eco-system: venture capital, debt capital, law, marketing, government, and even education.
Regardless of what area the panelists represented, a common theme emerged: a successful green business needs to be a successful business, period. The tools, tips, and tricks of the trade are similar, if not one and the same as any other business.
The old business adage of “who you know and who knows you,” rings true for green start ups. Doug Roberts of Thompson Hine LLP suggests to surround yourself with good people, and people who have already “been there done that.” It’s all about the network.
For instance, when you need funding your green business, venture capitalists and angels are inundated with requests from entrepreneurs across the board. They have little bandwidth to examine every single executive summary or business plan that crosses there path. A warm intro from someone in your network stands a better chance than a cold call. You may have the next great green thing, but if you don’t have an “in,” you may be out of luck.
When you seek debt financing for a green business, Natalie Orta of the Small Business Administration urges that it is the same process as a traditional business. 1) How much money do you need, 2) What will it be used for, 3) How will you pay it back.
Money is money. Borrowing is borrowing. Risk is risk. Green or not.
Susan Emmer of Farmacy Agency points out the being green is not enough, that “green is secondary.” Customers want something because there is a benefit to them. A new green product has to be just as good or better than a current non-green product, at a competitive price. X out “green” and “non-green” in the last sentence, and you are left with traditional start up business advice. Being green does not necessarily give you an advantage.
What gives you the advantage is thinking of your green business as a business, exclamation mark! Yes, it is important to keep the green or sustainable aspect in your start up. Goodness knows this world needs to move towards sustainable business models. Thinking in terms of being a bona fide business may be a way to sustain your business beyond a start up.