By Geri Stengel
American companies just had their best quarter ever and I have a suggestion for how they can use those profits: Sponsor training and networking for values-driven businesses, those small businesses that create jobs while treating people and the planet with respect.
It’s a logical extension of corporate responsibility and would have a far-reaching effect.
Payrolls, inventories, customer service, shipping, employee training are the stuff of all enterprises whether aimed at social good or personal wealth. But values-driven entrepreneurs have more to learn, a harder balancing act, a narrower tightrope to walk. They must find a way to thrive, while resisting the urge to cut a little off sustainability in order to make more profit.
That triple-bottom-line stuff ain’t easy, especially when the economy wobbles. Interaction, brain-storming, mentoring, and support are needed.
The solution lies, I think, in ongoing networks and learning opportunities for socially responsible entrepreneurs similar to the four-week FastTrac GrowthVenture course developed by Kauffman: The Foundation of Entrepreneurship in partnership with the Levin Institute for NYC Business Solution. The class and its partner course – FastTrac NewVenture – are designed to help entrepreneurs build successful businesses despite economic conditions.
I recently facilitated a FastTrac course and was impressed with the amount of help the students got from each other. It was an enriching boost to business plans and problem-solving using information from professionals, and brain-storming and networking with peers.< But these programs do not deal with the triple-bottom-line balancing act. We need programs that focus on socially responsible entrepreneurs, the values-driven, small business owner who needs the business skills s/he might find at a university but whose time and money margins are too narrow to allow time to go back for an MBA or Executive MBA and the network that comes with it.
Certainly values-driven entrepreneurs could attend and benefit from classes such as FastTrac but they would not get help with their special balancing act:
- When and how much priority do I give to profit, people, planet or people?
- How do I keep investors happy?
- Where do I find suppliers committed to sustainability?
When you are part of a network of fellow values-driven entrepreneurs, you’ll:
- Learn how others are balancing the three Ps;
- Make connections that can help you with the issue you’re facing now or might face in the future.
- Be held accountable and revise that business plan, practice your pitch or come up with a long-term scaling strategy that keeps the focus on mission as well as money.
By the way, “peers” does not mean people in exactly the same business. As one of my students said, going into the class she thought a jewelry maker, a caterer, an IT guy, and an eco-tourism company would have nothing to offer her as a teacher of languages to preschoolers. But her experience was “transformational,” and the insights from her classmates have set her on a new path.
American Express, IBM, AT&T, Bank of America and other large corporations have professed an interest in helping small business.
I’d like to see these and other large companies make strengthening triple-bottom line small businesses their cause. Underwrite ongoing training and networking for values-driven businesses.
It’s important. We want banks and angel investors to view value-driven companies as good investments, so let’s improve their chances for success. Let’s commit to regularly revitalizing, recharging, and refreshing those who take on the arduous task of making a living while making a difference.
Geri Stengel is founder of Ventureneer, which connects values-driven small business owners with the knowledge they need to make the world a better place and to thrive as businesses. You can learn new skills, collaborate with peers, develop solutions to your real-world problems, get one-on-one help from experts, and access the information you need to make better decisions for your organization.