How to Conceive and Prototype Your Socially Responsible Tech Startup

Here at Launcht we come into contact with more than our fair share of budding social entrepreneurs and many of them ask, “where do I start?” or, “how to I build my idea into a business?”

Earlier this year the Launcht team attended the 2012 Harvard Social Enterprise Conference, in a session titled Technological Solutions: The intersection of technology, policy and social change there was a lot of discussion about the best way to conceive of and bring to life a tech based social enterprise. From our own experience and some of the concepts raised in the session we have put together what is, in our opinion, the optimal progression to bring a new social venture to life. We take you from inspiration to implementation.

Passion

Start with your passion. Whether it be sparked by a single experience or a lifelong interest all social enterprises need to be based on a passion. Without passion any entrepreneur will shortly find that there are much easier ways to make money than startup social enterprise.

Pain Point and Skill Set Identification

Passion is not usually lacking in the population that we find ourselves involved with. The more frequent issue that people run into is how to turn that passion into action. If all it took was passion to enact change then one undergraduate environmental studies class would be able to solve the world’s energy problems. The devil and the details are in what you do with that passion. The first step that needs to be taken is identifying a pain point that is causing the problem you want to address and ask what needs are not being met that causes this social ill? Likely, the issue has myriad such needs. The challenge is finding the need that you can do something about. How could your skill set address the problem? Is there a network that you could develop to create a skill base to address the problem effectively? Finally, is this problem being addressed effectively by another party? Sometimes bringing your fresh perspective to an existing team is the most effective way to enact change.

Design Thinking

Successfully addressing a societal problem in a new and unique manner necessitates the need to identify the issues standing in the way of your target population’s access to the services you want to offer. Increasingly the framework that social entrepreneurs are using to address this problem is Design Thinking. For a primer on the tenants of design thinking please read this fantastic piece in the Stanford Social Innovation Review by Tim Brown & Jocelyn Wyatt titled Design Thinking for Social Innovation. The approach that Brown and Wyatt champion in this article encourages engaging deeply with your target population to assure that the approach you take in addressing the problem fits with the population’s needs and lifestyle. Little changes in approach and implementation can mean the difference between adoption and rejection by a target population.

Revenue Model & Funding

Once you have your approach it is time to figure out how to make it sustainable. Developing a revenue model is key at this stage. If no revenue model exists for your approach then it is either time to retool or switch over to a non-profit model. No matter which side of the coin you fall on it is time to put all that work into a plan to start to attract funding. This is the stage where successful Crowdfunding most frequently takes place, drawing people in with not only your passion but your well developed plan.

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