Entrepreneurship@Cornell Celebration 2013
Change for Good
Social entrepreneurs pinpoint tips for making startups with a conscience sustainable
Three Ithaca-based social entrepreneurs shared lessons learned from their startup experiences during a panel discussion, "When Does Social Value Translate into Market Value?". The event, sponsored by Johnson’s Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise, was held at Sage Hall April 19 as part of Entrepreneurship@Cornell Celebration 2013.
Emma Frisch, director and founder of PEAKS, served as moderator for panelists Eric J. Miller, instructional coach at Imagine Learning and founder of Finger Lakes Naturals, and Elisa Miller-Out, CEO of Singlebrook Technology.
Miller’s business idea for Finger Lakes Naturals, a vending-machine business that provides healthy, nutritious snacks, grew out of his own interest in providing healthy food to his own children.
Miller-Out, who co-founded Singlebrook Technology, a Web and mobile software development company with a mission of "technology for change," was inspired by the concept of social entrepreneurship. She sees Singlebrook as a pursuit that draws on her creativity and provides an outlet to express her artistic side as well as exercise her strong interest in management.
Frisch initially co-founded PEAKS, a crowdsourcing startup that helps social entrepreneurs raise support and funding for their causes, in order to obtain funding for EkoRural, a nonprofit she and a couple of friends had worked with in Ecuador’s Andes. In 2011, PEAKS joined Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County and its website now lists a wide variety of causes.
Miller, Frisch, and Miller-Out shared the following tips for managing a socially responsible startup:
- Make sure there is a demand for your product.
- Test your product to ensure it is rock-solid and effective. “We’re a technology company. If we can’t produce software that executes and solve problems, we’re dead,” said Miller-Out.
- Find innovative ways to reduce costs. Finger Lakes Naturals, for instance, has a cellular modem device wired to individual vending machines that keeps track of how many of which items are selling at what pace. This allows for tremendous cost savings, noted Miller.
- Broadcast your mission and be open to doing pro bono work. As the leader of a certified B Corp that places a strong emphasis on social and environmental responsibility, Miller-Out emphasized the importance of pro bono work as a way for social entrepreneurs to market their companies. “We get a lot of our business from referrals and some customers sign contract with us just because of our mission,” Miller-Out explained.
- “Fail fast.” All three speakers agreed it’s important to get out there and execute your plans. If you fail, get back up and try again.
— Reported by Hyungjin Choi '16