Advice for female founders who want to start a social impact business.

Advice for female founders who want to start a social impact business.

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Companies with a positive social impact come in all shapes and sizes. Some may be social enterprises by incorporation. Some may be B-corp certified and some social by business model alone, but they share a vision focused on solving a societal problem. As the world faces more and more crises, we certainly need more social impact businesses that are good for business and society.

Starting a social impact business is a challenging but worthy task. Add to that the prejudice women often face alongside our insecurities, and not enough women are taking the leap. Research, however, shows women’s investment decisions are influenced more by their social and environmental values than men’s, so perhaps this is an area where women can, and should, take the lead.

Five female founders share their wisdom hoping to inspire other women who want to start a business that helps solve social or environmental issues.

Just go for it

When Claudine Adeyemi was sixteen, her dream of being a lawyer may have seemed far away. She found herself homeless and with nowhere to turn for advice and support. Facing these almost insurmountable hurdles, she stuck to her goal and made it as a lawyer at a top London law firm.

With her life experience and convictions, she started the company Career Ear, where access to career information and advice is a right, not a privilege. Her advice on starting a social impact business; “Go for it. Take action! If there is a cause you care about or an issue that you want to solve, do something about it.”

Susana Nunes, the co-founder of the royalties-based platform We Do Good, focuses on getting investment for sustainable projects. Talking to her younger self, she would say, “it’s not useful to hide and not dare, don’t wait to feel like an expert before you express your opinion.”

When inequalities between men and women still exist, we can’t wait for the system to change but must actively help new female entrepreneurs. In essence, Susana says, let your guard down and take a shot, “at the very least, you may inspire other women into entrepreneurship and others to have a positive impact.”

Learn from others and your community

Sheeza Shah started the rewards-based crowdfunding platform UpEffect based on her belief in social enterprise and her Islamic values. So far, they have helped to raise almost £300 000 to fund 20 companies. Alongside her co-founder, they have worked hard to ensure their business model is in line with their values and maintained control of their capital to stay focused on their mission.

Looking back, Sheeza says she may have worked for another social company first to learn the ropes and prepare for the steep learning curve. As they move forward, though, she advises learning from and picking up ideas from other founders while realizing there are different ways of running a company.

Kess Eruteya founded InclusionZ, a platform providing resources and support for future work leaders, especially from diverse backgrounds in generation Z. At the age of 19, she has already built a community of around 5,000 members. Kess says just start as “you’ll never be ready.” She has, however, found the support of her mentor and her community fundamental in helping her move forward. “It doesn’t matter how old you are; having someone to support you is important.” She’s found it especially powerful to find a female mentor who she feels represents and understands her.

Prepare for challenges and to be challenged

Dina Bayasanova started the platform PitchMe to help more people get into work regardless of their background. Her advice is “prepare to be challenged at every turn.” You must believe in what you are doing and don’t let these challenges detract you from your goals. Be prepared to hear ‘no’ and keep going. Think of every “no” as an opportunity to turn it into a “yes” later.”

To help you face those challenges, she says having highly supportive and trusted people around are essential. From supportive co-founders to advisors and friends, “having trusted people with whom you can talk through your ups and downs is very important to your overall wellbeing and your success.”

Working on your impact

Nadia Simpson started Nadia Esi Naturals which creates a natural haircare brand, using recycled materials and donating 10% of sales to Blessed Little Angels school in Ghana. In finding your impact goals, she advises looking at the Sustainable Development Goals by the United Nations. Pick one or two of these, and think about ways your business can help.

She does, however, say don’t worry about the numbers too much in the beginning, “Even if I can only help one economically disadvantaged child feel empowered and worthy, then I’ve done a fantastic job. Don’t think about the numbers too much; just get started, have the goal for helping others and the planet in mind. You can start looking at numbers and data as you grow and increase your goals for impact.”

Once you know your impact Sheeza, from UpEffect, says write down your values, your why, and where you see yourself ten years from now. Reminding yourself of this will help you stay true to what inspired you to start the company. Kess, from Inclusion Z, reminds herself when she’s working on her business, “this is bigger than me.”

Build a business

Don’t forget that you are still building a business. Claudine from Career Ear reminds us, “profit and purpose are not mutually exclusive, and you have to work just as hard on delivering the impact you want to see as you do on building a financially sustainable business.”

You must be commercially viable to survive as a business and have an impact. Think deeply about who will pay for the product or service, why they will pay, and what they would pay.

Find your path

When it comes to social impact businesses, your purpose will help guide you, but you must take the steps yourself to make it happen. You may not feel ready; you may not feel legitimate, but push past that and start. Some self-belief, the right people around, a focus on your goals, and a sound business model will put you in good stead.

Overall, each woman, each founder, each person has their own story. As Kess shared, “leadership isn’t one size fits all.” Be inspired by those around you but curate your style and dare to do things differently.

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Roland Millaner