Sunday, December 17, 2006
Sunday, December 10, 2006
I went to COLORADO COLLEGE (known far and wide as "CC") last week to talk about entrepreneurship and sustainability. I spoke about the CONVERGENCE of social entrepreneurship and sustainability in the BOP, driven by environmental degradation and poverty. As Jeffrey Sachs has pointed out eloquently, these two go hand in hand. To a BOPreneur, that means you need to address both if you are going to be effective. That is what we are doing with Envirofit.
Anyway, one of the students asked how I had the CONFIDENCE to launch Envirofit. I think this was a polite way of asking "are you CRAZY?" But as with many student questions, it kept coming back, days later. For the record, my answer was that I didn't have a lot of confidence that we could pull it off in the very beginning. But the idea seemed COMPELLING. So we gave it a try. Then it had us.
Well, I kept thinking about it. I even pulled out the dictionary. Interestingly, CONFIDENCE has several meanings. One is "feeling of CERTAINTY". Well, we were certain that there was a problem (urban air pollution from motorcycles is a huge problem in Asia). But we had no feeling of certainty that we would be successful in solving it. Another definition of confidence, however, is "trust in a person or thing". Well, I did have a lot of trust in both the idea, and the people with whom I was starting the business. So, it turns out, I had did have confidence in starting Envirofit, just a different type of confidence. I think that second type of confidence is critical to a start up. If you don't trust the idea or the people, you should move on.
A few other "C" words that might be applicable to the entrepreneurial endeavor might be COURAGE and CURIOUSITY. Courage is an interesting word, with its roots going back to early words for "heart". I think many entrepreneurs are led, in part, by their hearts when they start a business. Those early days are often called a "labor of love." To the extent courage is an approach to the unknown, it fits for entrepreneurs. But to the extent it deals with danger, the word is probably melodramatic when applied to entrepreneurs, and best left to soldiers and spies (although some BOPreneurs have some pretty crazy stories).
CURIOSITY is defined as "a desire to learn, especially about something new." Clearly a driver of entrepreneurship. But it has to be COUPLED with action. It is not enough to learn. You have to do something with the knowledge. Then you will have CREATED something. And if it has value, it will become an enterprise with a life of its own. And that is what entrepreneurship is all about.
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
Realize I haven't been a good blogger recently, and that while there may be good reasons, there are no excuses in the bloggosphere.
Good news on two fronts.
First, the Bright Light Stove project is moving forward. I often say that the key ingredients to a start up are an idea, a team and a little money. This was the first project to emerge from the CSU Global Innovation Center that my colleague Bryan Willson and I started with a vision that we could apply the "Envirofit" model to develop other commercially viable solutions for chronic pollution problems in the developing world.
Our idea was an improved cookstove that replaces open fires and stoves with a clean source of cooking, heating and light. Indoor air pollution from cookstoves is one of the largest causes of repiratory disease, miscarriage and infant mortality in the developing world. Close to half the world's population still cooks with traditional methods and biofuels (think "campfire in your kitchen"). Our stove looks much like the old pot bellied stove, with a few differences. It is made largely from sheet steel, the ceramic combustion chamber is smaller and more efficient, and it uses a thermoelectric generator to convert waste heat into electricity, which can be stored in a battery and used later for running a light or small appliance (radio). This project was started by CSU engineering and business students last fall, and they came up with a strong business plan last spring.
Several important action items were identified. Getting primary market research from users and forming local partnerships for manufacturing and distribution. We were very fortunate that the NCIIA provided a start-up grant and that our engineering team won a Mondialogo Engineering prize for the design.
With this encouragement (and money), the student team has been hard at it this fall. Again, good fortune led to a connection with two great organizations in India, SEWA Bank and SELCO. And Vinod, who hosted one of my students in an semester in India, introduced us to Jaynix, a firm in Nashik with metal working expertise run by a family with big hearts. With their assistance, we have developed a primary research approach, where we will install stoves in the households of women microentrepreneurs who are SEWA Bank customers. This Friday, the first of our team leaves for India, and we hope that by next week our stoves will be puffing away in Ahmedabad. I feel very lucky to be working on such a meaningful project with such wonderful people.
The second item of good news is that last night, the university gave final approval to our new graduate masters degree program in Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise. This will be a 3 semester program, with a significant field work component. I believe it is very different from most business degree programs, and will be well suited to those who have made the decision to embark on the journey of creating, building and leading enterprises that are based on solving our global challenges of poverty, pollution and disease. I have been encouraged by the support around the university and from many others in the field. In particular, Ashoka, SocialEdge, and Echoing Green have been helpful in providing some giant shoulders on which to stand. And Jim Collins's work has been reaffirming and helpful as we set our BHAG ("Big Hairy Audacious Goal")for how our institution can do meaningful and relevant work in the future.