Thanks Jean for the thought provoking question! This exact question consistently keeps me up at night. How can we make 100% certain that we create an even playing field for ALL entrepreneurs? From the start, SEED SPOT has been diligent in creating a safe space for all dreamers to find a home, explore problem solving, and create positive change in their community. SEED SPOT has worked with 357 social entrepreneurs, of which 49% are female and 45% are minorities.
Beyond the numbers, it is a truly human story of positive transformation. We can look at numbers and statistics, but humanizing the stories of entrepreneurs will ultimately drive change. #facesoffounders
Imelda Hartley, a domestic violence survivor, identified that one of the hardest parts for women and men to leave abusive relationships is the lack of job security and dependency on the abuser. To solve this, she created Imelda’s Happy Tamales, a business that provides employment to women leaving domestic violence shelters. I first met Imelda through Véndeme Tu Sueño, our partnership with Univision. This partnership developed through the same value of welcoming all dreamers to create impactful businesses.
Partnerships will help create a stronger entrepreneurial ecosystems. If traditional entrepreneur support organizations (incubators, accelerators, etc) reach out and work with community based organizations, this will create a broader exposure to resources provided for ALL entrepreneurs. This is an all hands on deck approach to empowering a more equitable community of entrepreneurs.
At a 5-Day Women’s Boot Camp for Social Entrepreneurship, founder of AVA School Solutions, Danna Evans, had a lightbulb moment that changed the trajectory of her career. During a mentoring session with Heidi Jannenga, the co-founder and President of WebPT, Danna said “Heidi, the technology that you build for WebPT could help make vision and hearing screenings for school nurses easier and more efficient.” Heidi responded “Why don’t you solve that problem for school nurses?” Now, Danna has built a company that is serving school nurses, school systems, and state education departments. Since that day, Danna has remarked that Heidi gave her “permission” to be an entrepreneur and build a company because she saw first hand that it was possible.
Creating norms and social modeling techniques is hyper important to encourage more individuals from all backgrounds to be entrepreneurs. We need to not only focus on the high growth businesses like AVA, but also on the main street businesses like Imelda’s Happy Tamales. Highlighting entrepreneurs from all backgrounds, ethnicities, industry areas, geographic locations, and socio-economic circumstances will be paramount in influencing more individuals to solve problems and create companies.
Have you ever thought about how visually impaired individuals do not have an easy way to communicate via text? Three entrepreneurs, Caroline Fabricius Ahlgreen, Josh Kaplan, and Max Whooley identified this issue and created a keyboard attachment to smart phones that uses braille thus enabling visually impaired individuals to type, instead of relying purely on voice to text capabilities. Caroline, Josh, and Max were 17, 16, and 15 years old, respectively, when they created the company BrailleBoard. They were part of SEED SPOT NEXT, our program working with high schools and middles schools to train social entrepreneurs. BrailleBoard is patent pending with a bright future. Empowering the next generation is the the utmost importance.
We need to start educating on entrepreneurship at an early age and ubiquitously across the country. Entrepreneurship classes should be a class open to all students, regardless of where the school is located or the amount of funding the school has. Students should hear from successful entrepreneurs from their community that they can identify with, be mentored by, and learn from. We know that there will always be problems in communities across the world and we know that impact-driven problem solvers will find unique market-based solutions. Let’s give the next generation a head start in creating a better tomorrow.
Ultimately, it will take many like-minded individuals and organizations to create a more inclusive ecosystem. We all should focus on building better more inclusive partnerships, highlighting diverse entrepreneurs success stories, and focusing on the next generation of problem solvers.