Three Takeaways in my First Steps as a Social Entrepreneur

Armand Tossou

Armand Tossou

This article was originally posted on Dowser. It is written by Armand Tossou, a Fulbright scholar from Benin who is an MBA Candidate in the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA program at Colorado State University. Armand and his co-founders Yesse, Aaron, and Leana, are starting a social venture that will support rural farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa through increased access to agricultural technologies.

Until fall 2013, I had lived in my home country (Benin) and entertained big dreams about weeding poverty out of the African Continent. Now I am studying social entrepreneurship at Colorado State University in a path-breaking MBA program called Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise (GSSE), as a Fulbright grantee. The purpose of this personal story is to share the outcome of the metamorphosis that I have been through, a change in perspective which can be summarized into three takeaways in my first steps as a social entrepreneur: realism, a positive attitude, and the myth of innovation.

Realism

Benin in West Africa

Benin in West Africa

Being born and raised in Benin offered me the opportunity to witness firsthand the daily struggles of people at the base of the economic pyramid. The challenges ranged from low literacy rates, food insecurity, limited access to healthcare, poor transportation infrastructure, and inefficient public services, just to name a few. That exposure motivated me to give up a promising career in finance and accounting, and embrace socialentrepreneurship, hoping to help end poverty in Africa.

Fast forward to my very first classes as a ‘GSSEer’, which brought a number of facts to my attention, I quickly realized that poverty is a massive and complex challenge, deeply rooted in intricate cultural, economic, environmental and governmental realities. In addition to the harsh reality of global poverty, my classes showcased brilliant social enterprise initiatives created by smart individuals with the blessing of well-to-do people, which even still ended in perfect chaos. Two case studies of those failed social enterprises were the One Laptop Per Child initiative in India and the Play Pump project in Africa: both ambitious, well-meaning, well-funded projects that have struggled to produce results.While poverty alleviation obviously remains a noble and worthy cause, those staggering facts soon formed a ‘reality lens’ through which I started looking at my initial social entrepreneurship ambitions.

A Positive Attitude

There’s a very fine line between realism and pessimism when it comes to social entrepreneurship. The successful cases I studied in class as a ‘GSSEer’ kept me from crossing that line. More than anything else, the outstanding success of Aravind Eye Hospital in India left a lasting impression on my mind. I was inspired by their ability to do well financially while delivering high quality eye care to the poor free of charge. Additionally, the organization, founded by Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy during his retirement years, has quickly expanded and risen to a status of global reference.

Convinced that social entrepreneurship can succeed even under extreme conditions, I have decided to contributeto the global poverty alleviation effort. With three other ‘GSSEers’, I endeavor to formulate an innovative solution that will help farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa increase their income by enabling access to appropriate agricultural technologies. Upon finalization, our venture will first be implemented on a small scale – most likely in Uganda – before we consider its full scale enrollment across the African Continent. There is a popular saying that ‘hell is full of good meanings, but heaven is full of good works’. The same holds true for social entrepreneurship. Although our venture has no guarantee of success, as entrepreneurs a positive attitude will help us give it a shot.

The Myth of Innovation

The development challenges that I have been exposed to throughout my life in Benin gradually generated the solid belief that it would require particularly original thinking in order to bring about effective solutions. Not until I became acquainted with the perspective of Dr. Jerry Sternin and Paul Graham did my philosophy about innovation change altogether. With his ‘Positive Deviance’ concept, Sternin urges solution seekers to copy success rather than seek to innovate. He first demonstrated that principle in 1991 in Vietnam, by finding an effective and replicable solution to widespread child malnutrition within six months. The feat was accomplished not by inventing a nutrition program, but by identifying families in four Vietnamese villages with healthy children (positive deviants) and copying their nutrition habits. Graham offers the same piece of advice in his blog post, ‘Copy what you like’. After all, what is the point in reinventing the wheel?

My team makes good use of the positive deviance principle in the formulation of our venture idea by scrutinizing business models from many organizations that have established records in providing either the same or similar solutions to farmers across the globe.

In summary, my route through the GSSE MBA thus far has been sprinkled with life-changing learning points. Now equipped with realism, a positive attitude and a new understanding of innovation, I hope to improve my odds for success in social entrepreneurship.

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Making A Difference: You Have to Walk the Talk

The Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA program is proud to present the 7th cohort of ventures. Over the past several months, they have grown from fledging ideas into realistic enterprises. They have pivoted, crashed and burned, risen from the ashes, and evolved into their current status. Of course, that’s not to say that won’t continue to happen as they pursue a sustainable business model, but I’m impressed with the progress they have made and the motivation to create impact that drives all of these entrepreneurs.

And so, without further ado, I present to you the GSSE Ventures in our 7th cohort of students.

Enjoy!

-Kat

GSSE C7 logos

Posted in Entrepreneurship, Global Orientation, Highly Applied Curriculum, Impact Investing and Startup Financing, Sustainable Enterprise | 1 Comment

Building Momentum: GSSE student venture sprouts from a passion for sustainability

3/18/2014 – This post was written by Natalie Hansen, and was originally posted on the College of Business website.

Fargreen Co-Founders Tanmay Telang and Trang Tran

Fargreen Co-Founders Tanmay Telang and Trang Tran

A small fungus has taken over the sustainable enterprise world — and is improving the lives of rural Vietnamese farmers in the process. Trang Tran and Tanmay Telang, co-founders of Fargreen, have pulled in thousands of dollars in funding and accolades from business competitions in just the first year of the venture’s existence. The money and publicity mean that Tran and Telang are closer to their five-year goal — to inspire 1,000 farmers to use rice straw to grow mushrooms.

Fargreen, which uses the motto “Going Far by Going Green,” began as a learning tool, Tran says. Tran is a Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise (GSSE) MBA program alumna and Venture Accelerator student at the College of Business.  “After one semester in the GSSE program, I wanted to try out my own venture,” she explains. When she started planning her own enterprise, it was an easy choice to focus on boosting Vietnam’s sustainability efforts. With the help of co-founder Thuy Dao, a friend and agricultural engineer in Vietnam, the idea of using waste from rice production as bio-fertilizer for growing mushrooms was born in February 2013. Later that year, Tanmay Telang, also a GSSE MBA alumnus and Venture Accelerator student, came on board and Fargreen was on its way to bettering Vietnam’s rice farms.

Mushrooms sprouting from rice straw

Mushrooms sprouting from rice straw

“90 percent of rice production happens in Asia,” Telang explains, “And Vietnam is the second biggest producer.” Typically, used rice straw is burned and releases thousands of tons of pollution into the air every year. As the first sustainability-driven startup in Vietnam, Fargreen is working toward preventing 10,000 tons of gasses from being released through open burning. Using the rice straw to grow mushrooms also gives farmers another income source.

To help Fargreen get off the ground, Tran and Telang have entered – and won — several national and international business competitions including the Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition and the Western USA regional round of the Walmart Better Living Business Plan Challenge (they compete in the finals round later this year). Fargeen is competing in the William James Foundation Sustainable Business Plan Competition and is gearing up for the Blue Ocean Enterprises Challenge at CSU in May.

The duo is headed to Vietnam later this year to oversee further implementation of their business plan.  Telang says they continuously look for new team members from diverse backgrounds who share a passion for international development and understand Fargreen’s mission.  “It’s a multi-layer problem. This is all about collaboration and helping farmers become more prosperous,” Tran says.

If you are interested in supporting Fargreen’s efforts, see their websiteFacebook, or Twitter pages.

Posted in Alumni Profiles, Entrepreneurship, Global Orientation, Highly Applied Curriculum, Impact Investing and Startup Financing, Stories from the Field, Sustainable Enterprise | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Oh the Joys of Living in Colorado: a Ski Race + Ethical Biz Case Competition

3/17/14 – This guest post is submitted by Art Dillon, the Director of the Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative in CSU’s College of Business. Art sponsored a team of Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA students to compete in the 2014 Race and Case Competition, where they placed 2nd overall.

2014 Race and Case CSU COB Team

The 2014 Race and Case CSU COB Team

CSU’s team of six GSSE graduate students (Aaron Sebesta, Quynh Nguyen, Armand Tossou, Eric Byington, Katie Bessert, and Samantha Slater) represented the College of Business in the 2014 Race and Case Competition sponsored by the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver.

The two parts of the competition included an ethics case presentation and a downhill ski race. The ethics case centered on issues surrounding a startup company named Sample 6, which has developed a much faster process for identifying the food borne pathogen, listeria. CSU’s team identified the key issues in the Sample 6 case, conducted background research on the company, and developed their recommendations for Sample 6’s business plan. The team members then presented their proposal before two separate panels of judges during the Case portion of the competition.

Next, the team traveled by bus with the other four university teams to Beaver Creek for the Race portion of the competition. All five university teams completed their timed downhill races, and these scores were added to the scores for the Ethics Case presentations. During the closing dinner, the results were announced, and CSU’s team placed second! Proud of our students for their speed on the slopes, and smarts in the classroom…

- Art 

The 2014 Race and Case

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Stay Tuned… GSSE Students Going Above and Beyond

Stay tuned for updates regarding some of the awesome successes of our Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA students, alumni, and ventures over the past several months.  Too much good stuff to review in one single post, so this will serve as a preview of what is to come:

  • GSSE alumni venture Fargreen is on a roll! Fargreen is processing mushrooms in Vietnam from rice straw that would otherwise be openly burned. They have earned entrance into several business plan competitions, have won the grand prize in one, were awarded a Fellowship, and are semi-finalists for another.
  • GSSE alumni Shabda Gyawali is the Investment Manager at the Dolma Impact Fund in Nepal, where he was instrumental in putting together the nation’s first $20 million impact investment fund.
  • Current GSSE students placed 2nd in a local Race and Case competition.
  • GSSE alumni venture MamaCarts is launching their pilot in Benin, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation.
  • GSSE alumni venture monkii bars reached their $25,000 Kickstarter campaign goal in less than one week!

Stay tuned for these updates and more, as our GSSE students continue to rock the social enterprise world!

-Kat

TheGoodMBA.com

Posted in Highly Applied Curriculum, Impact Investing and Startup Financing, Stories from the Field, Sustainable Enterprise | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Put a Face to the Name: Getting to Know our Global, Social, and Sustainable Entrepreneurs

For anyone who reads this blog regularly, you know that it largely revolves around students in our Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA program, which trains entrepreneurs to solve social and environmental challenges. As a graduate of the program myself, and an employee for the past 4 years, it may not come as a surprise to hear that I love our students, and I am always so impressed with their experiences and passions. This 7th cohort of students includes engineers, lawyers, social workers, and outdoor educators. Students hail all the way from tiny African nations including Benin and Lesotho. They have been Peace Corps volunteers and Fulbright Scholars.  However, despite the diversity in the group, they all share a passion for market-based solutions to global challenges, and they have all sacrificed something to spend these 18 months with us at Colorado State University.

And so, without further ado, I invite you to get to know our talented, motivated, and inspirational group of GSSE MBA Candidates, whom we lovingly refer to as C7!

The 2013 Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA Candidates at Colorado State University

The 2013 Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA Candidates at Colorado State University

Download their bios here.

-Kat

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Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is: The Importance of Being Business Savvy

2/13/14 – This guest post is written by current GSSE MBA Candidate Katie Bessert. Katie is starting an impact investing fund that focuses on the water industry.

“We all stand for something, and my bias is to do things that also promote the benefits of markets and incentive structures, and if we can align those, that’s the low-hanging fruit.” — Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman Sachs, CEO
Colorado State University Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise student Katherine Ellen Bessert

GSSE MBA Candidate Katie Bessert

Impact investing has been around for hundreds of years, but because the media has inundated us with images of glaciers disappearing, distended bellies on babies, and sewage-filled gutters we have been guided towards these popular causes in our charitable giving.  Last year the U.S. alone donated roughly $316.28 million to charitable organizations. You know why? Because throwing money at things that make us sad makes us feel better, simple as that!  After seeing Harry Styles or Charlize Theron tweet about a national disaster, we text in our $10 donations and feel like we made a difference.  I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but, that’s not working.

So – what does work? There are currently 1,426 billionaires on the planet managing $5.4 trillion in assets. These people didn’t acquire this audacious amount of money because they blindly threw their earnings at things that made them “feel better”.  There is sound and quantifiable reasoning behind their investments which include measuring risk, growth and opportunity.  These practices need to cross over into the philanthropic world if any real change is to occur.

The good news is that this paradigm shift is beginning to happen.  Organizations are now realizing that financial sustainability within a social or environmental business is imperative in order to have a real impact. With the growing popularity of micro-loan institutions like the Grameen Bank, people are becoming aware that individuals in developing nations are solutions unto themselves and not just the passive beneficiaries of celebrity endorsed charities.   The big hitters like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are responding to this psychographic shift by offering, and engaging in, investments that promise positive social impact as well as financial returns.   The World Bank has even gotten in on the game with a Development Marketplace which funds different social enterprises around the world. A company, no matter how good the intentions or how exquisitely idealistic the motivations, creates zero impact once bankrupt.  A donation to an organization that delivers a glitzy solution – without engaging the community that it affects – disappears as soon as cameras are gone. After the twitter feed has died down, and the funding has dried up, more often than not all that remains is an inoperable water pump and a tax write off.

And yet there is another way!

Business can create change the way capitalism creates wealth.  There are new analytical devices, like B Analytics, which uses proven metrics to evaluate businesses based on multiple impact variables. Impact returns can therefore be measured and reported alongside financial returns. There are also tools to mitigate potential risk, like the psychometric application from Entrepreneurial Finance Lab which evaluates high-potential, low-risk individuals and businesses and “measures credit risk without depending on business plans, credit history or collateral.”  These tools make it possible to identify innovative local solutions that affectively address issues with the goal of financial sustainability.

If this notion seems a little farfetched, please refer to Aavishkaar India Micro Venture Capital Fund. Aavishkaar is one of the most successful impact investing firms in the world managing over $94 million in assets.  They have managed to foster businesses with an intrinsically connected focus on commercial and developmental success while managing to deliver an average of 13% internal rate of return to investors. They have never accepted a grant and have grown every year since 2001.

What needs to happen now is for people to stop throwing their money at gimmicks like Jay-Z and his magical merry-go-round water pump.  Instead, financial institutions need to get people on the ground in developing countries to measure attractive businesses that address social needs.  Philanthropists need to reassume their roles as investors and realize that the same principles used to create their wealth should be used in evaluating lasting social impact.  Financial returns and social benefits are not mutually exclusive and the sooner that we can shift away from donating money because Katy Perry told us to, toward investing money into the brilliant minds and practices of the people themselves, the better off we will be.  The solution already exists, and she is out there waiting for your investment.

-Katie

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Want to Build a Business that Makes an Impact? You’ll Need Some Rigor with your Focus

1/30/14 – Andy Kumar recently graduated from the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA program at Colorado State University, which – along with the Center for Fair and Alternative Trade – hosted Dr. Michael Conroy in October of 2013.

Dr. Michael Conroy

Dr. Michael Conroy

Dr. Michael Conroy launched his accomplished career as a Peace Corps volunteer in Latin America – an experience that dramatically shaped his focus and left him looking for solutions to development issues. He is a self-described “recovering economist,” who has taught for almost three decades at the University of Texas, Austin and Yale.  His book, Branded!, discusses the business of product certification and its impact on organizations and how they manage their brands.

As Chairman of HUB Oaxaca, Dr. Conroy now dedicates time to supporting entrepreneurs, and on a chilly afternoon in October, Dr. Conroy came to visit Colorado State University and meet with our student entrepreneurs. Together, they discussed the complexities of regulatory environments, venture creation, and the importance of driving impact.  While the dialogue crossed a range of topics, I noticed a theme: to accomplish anything, you need rigor and focus. Here are two examples for you:

Entrepreneurship is hard work

Entrepreneurship is hard work…

Example 1: Reaching Proof of Concept

  • To get ventures funded, potential investors want to see ‘proof of concept’. They are interested in ventures that don’t just treat problems as opportunities, but can actually produce measurable results. This requires rigorous planning and measurement practices.

Example 2: Developing Culturally Appropriate Solutions

  • Both rigor and focus are required to identify culturally appropriate solutions to development problems. Collaboration alone is nothing short of exhausting.  Using collaboration to understand traditions and cultures, and then to develop innovations, is truly an accomplishment. So how do you overcome the exhaustion to engage in co-creating a culturally appropriate solution for users? Through rigorous research, a laser-focus on product development with the end user mind, and measuring the impact.

Rigor and focus.  The more rigorously you approach the process, the more thorough your results and the quicker you will reach your milestones. The faster you get to a focused idea to test it, the more likely you are to create something valuable.

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What I Love About Entrepreneurs: Passion + Perseverance

1/22/14 – Andy Kumar attended the 2013 Net Impact Conference, and recently graduated from the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA program at Colorado State University.

Net Impact San Jose - photo credit Leif Linden, 2013

Net Impact San Jose – photo credit Leif Linden, 2013

Every day, programmers, engineers and, forward thinking technologists of Silicon Valley continue to do what they do best: innovate. However, for one short weekend of the recent past, they shared the innovation stage with mission-driven business thinkers from around the planet.  Student and professional Net Impact members from every sector of business came together to share ideas and methods to account for ‘silent stakeholders’, and in some cases generate wealth across the triple bottom line.

Based on breakouts sessions, panels, and conversations over meals and drinks, the general buzz was about corporate social responsibility and entrepreneurship.  CSR dialogues focused on metrics and intrapreneurship, and while I find this to be fantastically interesting, I must expose my bias – that of an impact-driven entrepreneur. I was much more concerned with the energizing people and practitioners of the enterprise space that were present.

From keynotes to coffee talk, the entrepreneurial message was the same: find a direction that you are passionate about, and persevere.  Sticking with what lights your fire, challenges your mind, and feeds your soul creates a situation where you can thrive personally and professionally while driving impact. The words of Jim Collins and Paul Graham ring in my head from intense semesters of GSSE work with a caring cohort of clever and dedicated students, as I mull over the relationship between passion and perseverance.

-Andy

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What This Blog and a NYC Subway Have in Common: 2013 in Review

Many thanks to all our bloggers and readers in 2013 – and to the WordPress.com stats helper monkeys who prepared this 2013 annual report.

  • This blog was viewed about 7,900 times in 2013. A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people.  If the blog were a NYC subway train, it would take about 7 trips to carry that many people.
  • In 2013, there were 47 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 79 posts.
  • The busiest day of the year was April 3rd with 266 views.
  • The most popular post that day was: Introducing MamaCarts: The Complete, Clean, and Delicious Way to Solve Urban Food Insecurity

Click here to see the complete report - and we look forward to a brand new year of stories of social entrepreneurs, and the role our university has in advancing businesses that achieve social and environmental benefits.

- Kat

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