Coming up with a good social enterprise idea is one of the biggest hurdles new social entrepreneurs and nonprofit organizations face. We want to “do good,” but how do we actually develop those innovative and sustainable social enterprise ideas?
By the end of this post, you’ll have the five steps to finding your social enterprise idea. But before we dig in, download the Social Enterprise Sweet Spot workbook to keep track of your ideas as we brainstorm!
Let’s jump right in and talk about how to generate ideas for social enterprise at your nonprofit organization and social entrepreneurship ideas to create on your own.
The best social enterprise ideas are built off of four main components:
I call this Intersection, the SOCIAL ENTERPRISE SWEET SPOT.
Whether you’re developing social entrepreneurship ideas for yourself or social enterprise ideas for your nonprofit, we’ll go through the steps to find the perfect idea.
1 | PASSION
What do you love to do?
What gets you so happy you talk about it all the time?
What are your hidden talents and hobbies?
What do you do in your spare time? What would you do if you didn’t need to work?
What is your team super excited about?
Maybe your nonprofit already has areas they are passionate about. If you’re looking to start a social enterprise with a team, be sure to write down all of the passions of the team members.
Don't worry about business ideas just yet - write down everything that you are passionate about in the Social Enterprise Sweet Spot workbook.
2 | TALENT
What are you good at?
What are your natural skills and abilities?
What are you formally trained in or have education in?
What did you go to school for? What do you have a certification in?
What does your organization know how to do really well?
Do you work for a nonprofit organization that is the best at preparing young adults for work? If you’re working on this with a team, write down all of the talents and skills for individual team members, as well as skills of the organization.
Write down all of your talents and skills in the Social Enterprise Sweet Spot workbook.
3 | MARKET
Now this section may take a little work, just a heads up. But this is SO WORTH IT. This is the part that creates the BUSINESS of your social enterprise idea. Because without someone to pay you, you just have a nonprofit program. And don’t get me wrong, there’s certainly a time and place for nonprofit programs. But, if you can find an ideal customer who will pay you for a product or service, well then you’ve got yourself a social enterprise.
What is there a market opportunity for?
What will customers pay you for?
What products or services could you charge a fee for?
What problems exist that a customer would pay you for?
Sometimes it’s easier to think about this question in terms of what do people complain about. What have you noticed or heard in your community as a problem?
Write down any potential market opportunities in the Social Enterprise Sweet Spot workbook.
4 | CAUSE
This is probably going to be the easiest part of the whole process to identify, because just by finding and reading this post, you have an interest in solving a social or environmental issue.
What social or environmental issue are you trying to solve?
You probably already have an idea about what cause you are most passionate about, and maybe even listed it above already!
Perhaps you or someone you know has suffered because of a social or environmental issue. Perhaps you feel strongly about a particular cause from past volunteer experience. Nearly all social entrepreneurs I’ve met have some type of personal tie to the cause they are supporting through their social enterprise, and trust me - this personal drive really helps stay grounded and keep your social enterprise running when you want to throw in the towel. #socentrealtalk
If you’re not totally sure what cause to support, if you’re new to all of this, or need ideas, check out the Global Goals for Sustainable Development at www.globalgoals.org.
Write down the cause area you choose to support in the Social Enterprise Sweet Spot workbook.
5 | INTERSECTIONS
Now comes the super fun part!
DEVELOP YOUR SOCIAL ENTERPRISE IDEA BY FINDING INTERSECTIONS
Review the first two pages of the Social Enterprise Sweet Spot workbook.
What themes do you recognize?
Do all of your ideas have to do with women’s empowerment and products for women? Do all of your ideas circle around recycling and diverting waste from the landfill?
What combinations of ideas go together?
Let’s say you’re passionate about cooking, and work for a nonprofit working with homeless youth. You’ve noticed that there’s a food desert (no/low access to healthy food) in the neighborhood. Could there be an opportunity to create a food truck that delivers healthy food to low income communities? See how those ideas fit together? Take some time in this section to really think and explore combinations. The combinations of ideas don’t necessarily have to be around a theme. Let your creativity go wild here!
What ideas stand out to you or get you most excited?
Trust me - you’re going to need that excitement. If you’re not bursting-at-the-seams excited about an idea, cross it off. For example, you may have cooking skills but don’t enjoy food prep or clean up, so you’re not going to be excited to start a new social enterprise in food service. See what I mean? Circle all of the ideas that get you really excited, and cross off anything that doesn’t.
Write down all of those combinations and intersections in the Social Enterprise Sweet Spot workbook.
SOCIAL ENTERPRISE SWEET SPOT
Pick out the best idea from the intersections above in the Social Enterprise Sweet Spot workbook, and write that in the space provided. Draw some hearts and stars, exclamation points, or whatever you fancy. That's your Social Enterprise Sweet Spot!
You did it! CONGRATS!
This is just the first step in starting a social enterprise business.
If you're serious about actually launching a social enterprise business, you'll want to write a full business plan and make sure your idea is relevant, sustainable, and marketable. I probably gave you a mini heart attack - just reading the words "business plan" - but I'm here to help. I created a business plan template for your social enterprise idea. It's just one page, and guides you through questions to think about in each part of your social enterprise business plan.
You can get this free social enterprise business plan template in our free resource library by joining our community!
Be sure to download the Social Enterprise Sweet Spot workbook to keep track of your ideas. You may want to come back to this brainstorm at some point to add ideas, and launch another new social enterprise!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: BETH PALM, MBA
Hi there! I'm Beth. I'm here to equip social entrepreneurs and change makers like you with the tools to change the world. As a jack-of-all-trades nonprofiteer and recognized social enterprise expert, I've walked the talk in this emerging industry. With over a decade of experience launching and managing social enterprises, I want to share my best tools, resources and knowledge with you.