By Merrill Schmidt
Location: Little Rock, Arkansas
We just finished the second week of Little Rock Summer of Solutions, and there’s a lot going on! We’ve been gardening, attending trainings, planning our summer projects, cooking community meals, and connecting with different organizations. Even though launch week is over, we’re still learning lots of new information—how to weatherize a house, how to lead a cooking class, how to start a business. In order to prepare for the rest of summer, we formed committees for planning specific programs, such as garden management and community dinners.
So far, I’ve particularly enjoyed our entrepreneurship workshops with Matt Hampton of Elevate Entrepreneurship Systems. Through weekly workshops, Matt is helping us develop social enterprises. Last week we learned about business modeling. Matt explained that there are four fundamentals of business: human resources, marketing, operations, and finances. First we practiced business modeling using Starbucks as an example. We mapped out how Starbucks carefully manages its operations, human resources, and marketing to create a cool coffeehouse environment. With its trendy vibe, Starbucks is able to sell $5 cups of coffee and bring in revenue.
After we discussed Starbucks and business modeling, we broke into two teams to map our own potential businesses. My team developed the “Garden Spa,” a business that uses herbs and produce from our garden to create natural products, such as tea and soap. At first, we got a little carried away with all the possibilities. We wanted to open a spa in a greenhouse, sell food and cosmetics, have a book club, teach workshops, and have clients make their own products…all at the same time. Matt critiqued our business model, and we realized that it needed to be more focused. Once we decided to focus on selling natural products, the idea sounded more plausible. We came up with a better mind map and figured out what we would do next. I got excited because the plan seemed like something we could actually do.
I think the business modeling process is valuable because it helped us start thinking out of the box… Maybe we could start a business. Maybe I could really create my own job. I’ve heard about people creating their own job, but I had no idea how to make it happen. After participating in a summer of entrepreneurship workshops, we will be better prepared to develop businesses that benefit the community, the environment, and our bank accounts. We might even have a fully developed business plan ready to go. Who knows?
The entrepreneurship aspect of the program is very important to me. I want to learn how to continue doing this type of community work as a career. Before this summer, I had always been drawn to nonprofit work; however, as a recent graduate, I’ve had trouble getting a full-time job in the highly-competitive nonprofit sector. Social entrepreneurship has opened up a new set of career possibilities. Instead of doing internship after internship in hopes of a nonprofit job, I can create my own job or work with a team to start a socially conscious business. Matt’s training will help prepare us for this exciting challenge.
I hope that the idea of social enterprises grows and spreads. I think that social entrepreneurship could help fill in a big gap in our economy. The government and nonprofits have not solved all the social and environmental problems we face. At the same time, there are a lot of talented people who want to work on environmental justice issues but are currently unemployed, underemployed, or working in an unrelated field. I think that social enterprises will bridge the gap between the workforce and the work that needs to be done.
What do you all think? Could social enterprises bridge the gap? How do you all think we could educate people about social entrepreneurship and support them in their ventures? Join the conversation on facebook!
Exciting work – sounds awesome! I’d encourage you to check out a cooperative started in Summer of Solutions Twin Cities several years ago that is becoming a viable business helping people save energy and generate clean energy at a neighborhood scale: http://www.cooperativeenergyfutures.com