(This article has been cross-posted from Brazen Life)
Back in 2008, two college students had the big idea to create a reusable water bottle to fight the global water crisis.
Four years later, that idea is now an exciting and growing business -- Hydros Bottle -- with a full-time team and a U.S.-manufactured water bottle sold at Whole Foods. Each sale funds projects worldwide to make potable drinking water more accessible, both in remote rural and urban areas.
Aakash Mathur and Jay Parekh, two of the co-founders of Hydros Bottle, are examples of individuals who have taken a daunting challenge and presented a solution. But what makes them different is their ability to take an idea and turn it into a vibrant business -- and one that can ultimately make an impact.
Unfortunately, our schools aren't providing the tools we need for businesses like Hydros to spring up all over the place. Whether students are studying business, social work or history, they will want to have a job -- or create a job -- that has impact and meaning for their life. Entrepreneurs and young innovators will also need a framework to harness their talents toward ideas that affect our world. In the 21st century, innovation is the key to survival.
At ThinkImpact, we've made a business of helping aspiring entrepreneurs get real-world access and training to become social entrepreneurs: business-minded professionals who are eager to make a positive impact on their communities. We do this to generate big ideas and to innovate in new economies.
We teach three main concepts:
1. Take an Inventory of Your Resources
We take entrepreneurs into rural African villages to help local populations start thriving businesses. The first thing our young entrepreneurs do is make a list of available resources, including skills of local professionals, financial, environmental and other physical attributes. This helps them get oriented to find the best possible business opportunity they can sustain without outside help.
In a rural community in Kenya, a man named Juma worked with two ThinkImpact scholars, Silviano and Cindy, to develop a rainwater catchment building business. The idea emerged through understanding local resources and leveraging them to create opportunities in a place that seemed to have none. Today, Juma is the proud employer of two other workers as he sells his water systems to villagers in Kenya, and the business has 24 customers.
2. Be a Designer
Next, we teach entrepreneurs to practice "design-thinking" -- a term we borrow from IDEO.org - whereby entrepreneurs engage in research and brainstorming sessions that allow them to consider numerous ideas and solutions to social issues. We peel back layers of a problem to find the best root cause, then look for a specific, narrow way their business could fill that market gap. Then they can design a business around addressing that problem.
In South Africa, a team of locals joined two American students to ask the question: How might we increase access to nutrition in a rural area? That led to brainstorming about fertilizer, school lunch, the role of cows in society, and even peanuts. When all the layers of the problem were peeled back, an idea to create and market highly nutrient-enriched muffins was born, using local resources to develop a tasty local dessert -- and one that improved nutrition!
3. Rapidly Prototype and Innovate
Through a process of iteration, we teach how products and services can become viable business options. Often the first prototype doesn't work as planned, so we show entrepreneurs how to rapidly incorporate feedback from their initial plans and work with community members (or customers) on how to best proceed in the business sense, from writing a plan to accessing loans/seed capital.
Entrepreneurs learn to keep in mind the target audience or customer and listen carefully to feedback. After all, the customer (or population) should be at the heart of any successful social venture.
We doubt there's such a thing as too much innovation when it comes to solving social problems -- but even if there is, we're pushing the limits until we find it.
Saul Garlick, Founder and CEO of ThinkImpact, has partnered with Brazen Careerist to offer a program that trains the next generation of social entrepreneurs. You can register or learn more about The Big Idea course by clicking here.