The New School describes impact entrepreneurs as “individuals from diverse backgrounds [who] do well by doing good, using their talents to help shape a more inclusive, sustainable, and equitable economy.” How well do you fit that mold? Even if you don’t consider yourself a classic “impact entrepreneur,” you can absolutely have an impact on the world around you — and the people with whom you share it. Start with these 10 business ideas and initiatives.
- Invest in Yourself
Not sure quite yet just how you’d like to put your talents to use? Bide your time in class. No matter what you ultimately decide to do, an advanced degree or license — an MBA, JD, or medical credential — can dramatically boost your credibility and earning potential as a solo professional or small business owner. That, in turn, is a prerequisite for impactful entrepreneurship.
- Find a Place You Love — And Make It Your Own
Everyone has a “special place,” but few actually make money off theirs. It’s not as hard as it sounds. After spending countless summers on Manitoba’s beautiful Hecla Island, Canadian entrepreneur David Janeson finally took the plunge and purchased a small resort and marina at the island’s far tip. He, his wife, and a tight-knit worker crew spent the next couple years fixing it up; today, it’s one of the island’s top tourist draws. You can do the same with your special place — as long as it’s for sale.
- Set Up a B Corp
B corporations, or B corps, “are for-profit companies [that] meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.” B Lab, the certifying body, compares B corp certification to USDA Organic or Fair Trade certification for food products. B corps can do anything they want, as long as they meet B Lab’s exacting certification standards. If you’re serious about pursuing impactful, mission-driven entrepreneurship, B corp certification is a good first step.
- Focus on Peer Communities
If you’re a creative, independent professional looking to make a bigger impact, why not launch a business that lifts up your peers? It might be an artist collective, a creatives-only coworking space, or even a bargaining unit like the ambitious Freelancers’ Union.
- Learn to Cooperate — Literally
Cooperative businesses aren’t always appropriate or practical. Before you get too far into the planning weeds, check your jurisdiction’s cooperative statutes to determine whether the model is feasible for your business idea. Generally, smaller-scale production businesses work well as cooperatives — so, if you’ve always wanted to start a brewery or organic snacks house, this might be your chance.
- Promote Health & Wellbeing
If you don’t have a special place to celebrate with your new enterprise, consider lifting up a long-held passion instead. One clear example to follow is Patagonia, the storied outdoor apparel and equipment company. Since its founding in 1976, Patagonia has kept an unwavering commitment to the wellbeing of its customers and employees — and to the health of the planet itself. Can you challenge your business to do the same?
- Spearhead a Sustainable Transformation
Not sure you have what it takes to launch a company from scratch? If you have the capital and know-how, consider buying an existing company and transforming it in your image. Untold thousands of family-held firms chug along in reasonably prosperous but otherwise unremarkable fashion. Find an ownership group looking to sell, rather than pass the business on to the next generation, and make investments that they couldn’t or wouldn’t. The ride won’t be bump-free, but you’ll learn a lot along the way — and chances are good you’ll leave the company better than you found it.
- Chase Those “Great Places to Work” Accolades
Not because they look great on your company’s website, though that’s a nice bonus. No, because taking care of your employees is simply the right thing to do — and a proven strategy for improving your team’s productivity and performance. If everyone who works for you doesn’t enjoy coming to work each day just as much as you do, can you really say you’re running a great workplace? Or that your company is keeping up its end of the implicit bargain it’s made with its workforce?
In fact, why not make that bargain explicit? Incorporate an “employee bill of rights” into your employee handbook or workplace bylaws, and hold management accountable for enforcing each item on it. Roll out meaningful benefits and reforms that improve your employees’ finances and work-life balance. Don’t get distracted by window dressing: Foosball tables and catered lunches are nice, but they don’t effect lasting change.
- Head Abroad for a Good Cause
If you’re not tied down stateside, consider heading somewhere that sorely needs your talents and capital. Developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, South Asia and elsewhere are in the midst of a sustainable renaissance. Lending your voice to the growing groundswell of support for clean water, renewable power, and mobile communications projects in these regions is a great way to do well by doing good.
- Create a New Platform
These days, everyone wants to be the next Uber — to the point that the most common phrase in entrepreneurs’ pitch decks is “Uber for x.” This approach to entrepreneurship is uninspired, to put it mildly. Yes, Uber and Lyft are wildly successful platforms that successfully disrupted a multibillion-dollar industry. You too can create an app-based platform without reinventing the wheel or falling back on the tired “Uber for x” trope.
Think instead of processes or applications that remain more complicated, arcane or walled-off than they should be. Develop — or hire smart people to develop — solutions that flatten the playing field and lower barriers to entry. Don’t worry if there’s already someone playing in this space: There’s room for multiple home-swap marketplaces, for instance.
If you’re not app-inclined, design an old-fashioned platform. Small-time commercial real estate landlords are rushing to embrace the coworking revolution; if you own Class B or C space in a good location, why not invest in a retrofit?
Every Day Is a Gift
No matter what you decide to do for your next act, remember that every day truly is a gift. If you’re not living that truth in your work, maybe it’s time to go into another line of business.