Launch Your Social Enterprise with Design Thinking

5-stage toolkit to effectively kickstarting your social + eco enterprise

Find here the top strategies for the design thinking process, which is human-centered, with an iterative approach to problem-solving that focuses on empathy, experimentation, and collaboration. 

Embarking on the entrepreneurial journey with a social entrepreneurship idea can be both exciting and daunting. It is essential to start on the right foot and avoid common mistakes that new entrepreneurs often make, such as excessive planning and focusing too much on launching the business. Instead, the key to success lies in validating your idea and continuously refining it based on feedback from potential customers and other stakeholders.

In this blog post, we will discuss the importance of validating your idea, various methods to do so, and the role of mentors, accelerators, and partnerships in your journey. By following this guide, you will learn how to launch your social entrepreneurship idea in a way that is effective and efficient.

Why Validate Your Idea?

Validating your idea should be your top priority as an entrepreneur. Lauren Edwards from the social entrepreneurship accelerator SEA Change, emphasizes that their accelerator’s goal is not to help people launch their businesses but to determine whether their ideas are worth pursuing. The sooner you realize whether an idea is viable or not, the quicker you can pivot and focus on ideas that have the potential for success.

To validate your idea, you need to talk to people, build prototypes, attend events, and gather feedback from various sources. This process not only helps you refine your idea but also keeps you flexible and in touch with your potential customers and other stakeholders.

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Applying Design Thinking to Entrepreneurship

So how do you validate an idea? Try design thinking.

The design thinking process is a human-centered, iterative approach to problem-solving that focuses on empathy, experimentation, and collaboration. It consists of five interconnected stages: empathizing with users, defining the problem, ideating potential solutions, prototyping, and testing.

This process encourages a deep understanding of users’ needs, fosters creativity, and promotes continuous learning through experimentation and feedback. By placing the user at the center of the process and embracing an open mindset, design thinking allows for developing innovative and effective solutions tailored to real-world challenges.

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1. Building Empathy

The first step in validating your idea is to talk to potential customers and others affected by your product or service. Make sure to ask open-ended questions and understand the problems they face. Determining whether your idea addresses a pain point or merely a discomfort is crucial, as people are more likely to pay for solutions to their pain points.

This step requires active listening, observation, and engagement with users to gather insights about their experiences, feelings, and motivations. By placing oneself in the users’ shoes, you build empathy, and have a better understanding on how to address their specific problems.

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2. Defining the Problem

Before you start validating your idea, take time first to define the problem you are trying to solve. Crafting a well-defined problem statement will make it easier to see what you’re testing, and this connects the dots between empathy and validation.

If you’re stuck, fill in the template: 

[User group] needs a way to [user’s need/desire] because [insight or reason behind the need/desire].

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3. Ideating potential solutions

Using your problem statement, put on your brainstorming hat, and devise ways to solve this problem. One big problem people face is having a preconceived notion that they try to force on their customers. Let go of what you think the answer may be and find an answer to the problem statement you crafted from your conversations.

The point is not to have the perfect solution but to have a small idea that you can test and get feedback that will increase your empathy.

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4 & 5. Prototyping and Testing

Creating a minimally viable product (MVP) is another essential step in validating your idea. An MVP is the simplest version of your product or service that you can present to potential customers for feedback. This can range from a basic mock-up to an early version of your product without all the bells and whistles.

When you have an MVP, you can observe how people interact with your product and gather valuable feedback. Focus on developing small tests to obtain immediate feedback and be open to making changes based on the input you receive from your future customers.

When you’ve completed the testing, the feedback you receive gives you new empathy and understanding. So start at the beginning and continue going through this process until your business is up and running. You should be able to complete an iteration of testing and validation in anywhere from a couple of days to a few weeks. Remember: you’ll learn more from taking small, consistent steps than big leaps.

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Participate in hackathons and accelerators

Hackathons and accelerators can be excellent platforms for validating your idea. Hackathons usually involve weekend events where you collaborate with others and receive input from mentors and community members.

For social enterprises, consider participating in GiveBackHack, a launchpad specifically designed for social entrepreneurship.

Conversely, accelerators are longer programs that often last three to four months or more. They offer mentorship, peer support, and networking opportunities with business experts. However, research accelerators before committing, as some may require an ownership stake in your company.

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Seek Mentorship and Peer Support

Mentors play a crucial role in idea validation and business development. They offer valuable guidance, industry expertise, and objective feedback. By sharing their knowledge and experience, mentors can help entrepreneurs avoid common pitfalls, make informed decisions, and accelerate their progress.

Entrepreneurs can explore various avenues to find a suitable mentor, such as networking within their community or industry. Local business organizations, social entrepreneurship networks, and relevant nonprofit organizations may provide mentorship opportunities or referrals. Online platforms and social media can also be instrumental in connecting with potential mentors in a specific field.

In addition to mentorship, peer support is a vital element in idea validation and business development. Engaging with fellow entrepreneurs who face similar challenges fosters a supportive environment that encourages collaboration, knowledge exchange, and mutual growth. Peer support can also provide fresh perspectives, enabling entrepreneurs to refine their ideas further and navigate obstacles more effectively.

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Save time with Key Partnerships

Partnerships can create synergies that enhance each organization’s value proposition, expand their reach, and facilitate access to resources or expertise that might be otherwise unavailable. Moreover, these collaborations can lead to cost-sharing, increased efficiency, and mutual growth. (Save time not re-learning what someone else already knows!)

Collaboration is vital in social entrepreneurship, as it fosters a supportive ecosystem that drives collective impact. By working together, businesses can leverage their unique strengths, address social challenges more effectively, and create lasting change.

There are numerous examples of successful partnerships in social entrepreneurship. For instance, TOMS Shoes and the shoe charity Soles4Souls collaborated to distribute footwear to underprivileged communities, combining their resources and expertise to make a greater impact. Another example is the collaboration between Grameen Bank and Danone, which led to the creation of Grameen Danone Foods, a social enterprise that provides affordable, nutritious food products to low-income consumers in Bangladesh. These partnerships demonstrate the power of collaboration in driving social change and fostering sustainable business models.

When starting out, look for non-profits who are might have access to the community you want to impact with your business – quite often, these are gold mines where non-profits with a limited budget are willing to partner with you to magnify the impact.

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In Conclusion

Launching a social enterprise can be challenging, but validating your idea, seeking mentorship and peer support, and forming key partnerships can create a sustainable business model that drives social impact. Remember to focus on your customers and continuously refine your idea based on their feedback. With the right mindset, resources, and support, you can launch your social entrepreneurship idea in a way that is effective and efficient.

We hope this guide has provided valuable insights and practical tips for launching your social enterprise the right way. By following these steps, you can avoid common mistakes and build a successful business that positively impacts society. Remember to stay flexible, focused, and committed to your vision, and you will be well on your way to launching your social enterprise.

About the Author

Adam Morris hosts People Helping People, the podcast to inspire greater social change and help their ventures. He is currently showcasing the Social Impact Starter Kit on Kickstarter to help social entrepreneurs develop great ideas.

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