Affecting Global Change via Impact Entrepreneurship

Impact Entrepreneurship focuses on honing innovations aimed to help better the world.  The Social Business Impact Symposium highlighted this topic at its summit on Saturday March 25, 2017.  The event was brought to Cornell by The Johnson College of Business, Social Business Consulting and REV Ithaca Startup Works.

The rise of impact entrepreneurship was discussed in a panel by  three outstanding entrepreneurs ready to share their experiences: Lisa Ann Pinkerton (Founder and President of Technica Communications), Jillian Gedeon (Co-Founder of International Youth Alliance for Family Planning) and Selina Ang (MBA’12; Head of Business Development at Ox Verte) and moderated by Anke Wessels (Executive Director, Center for Transformative Action).  Through each of their stories, these women addressed critical aspects of breaking into the social impact entrepreneurship field.

Top Left: Lisa Ann Pinkerton
Bottom Left: Jillian Gedeon
Right: Selina Ang

Context and inspiration

Each of these entrepreneurs became inspired in different ways.  In the case of Lisa Ann Pinkerton, she saw an opportunity in struggling tech firms and decided to launch a tech public relations company to meet this need.  She tailored the company to support clean tech startups and created opportunities to advise these impactful companies to make the right business decisions.

Selina Ang started her career as a management consultant and found impact entrepreneurship later on in her life.  Specifically, she found herself looking for a career change and found a start-up that addresses food disparity through meals. She was passionate about the positive tangible positive mark she could make on this company.

Unlike the two other leaders with prior work experience leading to their entrepreneurial ventures, impact entrepreneurship was Jillian Gedeon’s first workplace experience following college.  She was inspired by her studies in sexual psych class that lead her to  doing interdisciplinary work in health science around the Thailand and Burma border. She found her passion for family planning at an international youth conference and decided to create a family planning network designed for youth by youth.

Key opportunities and leadership

In order to propel any impact entrepreneurship cause forward, you need to possess a lot of passion for the issue you are focusing on.  While some worry that they may be unable to find the drive necessary to combat the uncertainty of entrepreneurship, Lisa Ann Pinkerton spoke to this concern by relaying that an entrepreneurial spirit and enthusiasm exists inside of everyone. In fact, she believes that a way to cultivate this is by taking small risks everyday.  She cites that her small pursuits in youth such as babysitting and selling girl scout cookies strongly allowed her to excel and grow in her current entrepreneurial way of life.

On the other hand, Jillian Gedeon found her opportunity to pursue impact entrepreneurship by taking a break from the hustle and bustle of life following college. This let her hone her own values and find opportunities in unexpected places such by engaging in service and observing the needs of individuals while traveling abroad.

Another less personal way to identify key opportunities with impact entrepreneurship is by studying the markets.  Selina Ang certainly had an affinity with her cause, however she also saw a lucrative market opportunity in the food industry which has been rapidly increasing in size.

Overcoming obstacles 

Impact entrepreneurship is a field riddled with strained relationships.  From an individual standpoint especially, it can be difficult to navigate how to stay true to your individual vision as an entrepreneur and simultaneously maintain profitability.  This is a critical issue for impact entrepreneurs in both private and public sectors.

Notably, Lisa Ann Pinkerton recognized a major challenge to be finding synergies between client satisfaction and realistic company goals.  At some points, she lost sight of this vision, lost clients and had to reply on networking and cold call in order to reconnect her business to the overall market. However, Lisa viewed failure as a positive opportunity. In fact, she concluded that a supposed “failure” actually informs the market for when the time is right for your idea.  Given this, she advises that entrepreneurs should move forward boldly despite any anticipated challenges.

Jillian Gedeon also experienced problems with clients particularly as her organization grew.  An operational disconnect between donor and organizational goals created a large rift in the growth of a cause she cared so much about.   Jillian emphasized always staying true to your mission.  If someone doesn’t have faith in your objectives, then they probably aren’t your best partner.  Find individuals who will support your cause without changing your goals.

Other obstacles can arise from personal lifestyle changes. Selina Ang had a pivot in her life trajectory. She became accustomed to the active entrepreneurial environment to successfully help develop a business with little niche experience.  She addressed this challenge by deep diving into research and utilizing her analytical skills.

Creating a team that really works

At the end of the day, impact entrepreneurs work together towards a common goal.  No-one can get there alone. Lisa Ann Pinkerton surrounds herself with individual driven by her mission above all so that they are bound together during times of conflict.  In turn, she stressed utilizing the team as a motivator to prop you up during difficult times. Selina Ang addresses becoming the critical member of the team to rely on by being informed, being reliable and working hard.

Ownership can help be an effective motivator towards a common goal.  Jillian Gedeon believes that ownership is key to a conducive team.  In this, people  exercise more creativity, are held more accountable for their actions and are more motivated to work hard for you as their leader.

Advice for impact entrepreneurs

Lisa Ann Pinkerton encouraged budding entrepreneurs to recognize that if you are interested in something, other people will be too. If something fuels you or bothers you, do your best to have the courage to act on it.  On a similar note, Jillian Gedeon asserted that social causes are the best fuel for any entrepreneur.  She emphasized over-communicating your purpose in order to convey a clear image as to what you want your impact to be.  In this way, you can recruit more supporters.

From a business standpoint, Selina Ang stressed the importance of differentiating factors as competitive advantages.  In the case of impact entrepreneurship start-ups, this usually will be your image or your values.  She recommends that impact entrepreneurs identify those critical ideas early on in defining their mission so that they can hold them close when times get difficult.