Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Shuffling into Intersections

Puzzled by my current reading. Just finished Ishamael Beah's "A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier." Concurrently working through Jessica Livingston's "Founders at Work" and Niall Ferguson's "The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World."

So what is the connection between child soldiers in Sierra Leone; founders such as Steve Wozniak, Paul Graham and Craig Newmark; and Medicis and silver mines of Peru? I have no idea.

All are excellent, but my current selections seem a bit like selecting shuffle on an iPod (is this an option on Kindle?). Guess it will be a test to see if I can see any intersections. Maybe I will see a pattern or get an insight. Maybe not.

I think "shuffling" is one way to foster to intersectional creativity and innovation. The random events in a day are a shuffle... are you paying attention to the hands you are being dealt? What are you doing to get a variety of ideas from different cultures and disciplines? Are you keeping track of them?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

20 Lines About 20 New Ventures

One of my great joys is helping students who are working through the challenges of building a business. Here are my one line descriptions of the 20 businesses which I have had the privilege of seeing in my role as an entrepreneurship instructor this spring at Colorado State University and Bainbridge Graduate Institute. What these students are doing is difficult and inspirational. Some are real ventures, some class projects, and some dreams deferred until personal situations allow them to proceed. I learn from each team, and am proud of them all.

Colorado State University MBA

1. Adventure Academy of Northern Colorado: an after school Outward Bound program.
2. Beacon Financial: financial services for immigrants from China and India.
3. Colorado Equine Rehabilitation Center: helping horses heal after surgery at CSU Vet Hospital.
4. Green Ride Colorado- a more convenient and eco-friendly airport shuttle service.
5. Harmony Wellness Systems- reducing employer health costs through wellness programs.
6. KromaTid- cancer diagnosis through a proprietary method of identifying genetic inversions.

CSU Global Social & Sustainable Enterprise MSBA

7. AYZH- designing and producing products to empower women at the base of the pyramid.
8. Cradle of Tea- launching a healthy and delicious new beverage from Ethiopia.
9. Ecuador ICT- telemedicine and tele-eduction for rural Ecuador.
10. Latin Health Services- helping make South American homes safe from insects and chemicals.
11. Organic Oasis- providing vegetables and fish in an affordable, closed loop aquaponics system.
12. Rocky Mountain Hops- providing local hops for Rocky Mountain craft brewers.
13. Running Water- household water filtration products for rural Kenya.

BGI MBA Program

14. Char for Change- cook stoves and biochar provide cleaner kitchens and income in Peru.
15. matching organic farmers and volunteers for labor and learning.
16. Healing the Hero- therapeutic wilderness trips for our returning veterans.
17. Restoration Abbey- using information technology to restore the lives of former slaves.
18. Second Helping- enterprise approach to meals for those in need on the Olympic Peninsula.
19. Tangerine Solar Cooperative- solar energy, with a twist, in Hawaii.
20. Terrabytes- reducing the ecofootprint of clients' information technology systems.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Nonprofit with Attitude

The other day during the CSU Clean Energy Supercluster Expo, someone said to me: "I can't believe Envirofit is a non-profit. They don't look or act like one." I took this as a compliment for Envirofit, and a criticism of more traditional non-profits in the energy field.

Envirofit is a non-profit, 501(c)3 corporation. But we intentionally try not to act like one. We make and sell products. We define success as making and selling a lot of these products. We have a complex supply chain with large multinationals. We have built a distribution network in India for our stoves, and in the Philippines for our retrofit kits. We offer a warranty on our products, something poor customers aren't use to getting. We care about marketing, and we care about our brand. While we are not yet profitable overall, we do make a profit on each unit we sell. We hope to sell enough volume soon to become a profitable company, and we are on track to have millions of dollars in revenue.

We aren't doing these things to make money for our shareholders (we don't have any). We are doing them because we believe this is the best way for our company to have a significant impact on the environment and poverty, and to do so in a sustainable and scalable way. When we started the company, we couldn't promise attractive returns to investors, but we could offer attractive impact. Since our goal was to clean up the environment, and alleviate poverty in developing regions, we could qualify as a non-profit organization.

My point? Envirofit is a non-profit organization. But it runs as a company. If you decide to start a non-profit, be sure you realize that this is but one decision on your organization's design. It certainly defines some things you can and can't do. (At times, it has been a bit of a bother for us.) But it doesn't have to define your relationship with customers, the types of employees you attract, and the way you conduct business.

Other non-profit BOPreneurs with an enterprising attitude? Kiva, One World Health, Accion and One Acre Fund all come to mind.

In short, don't let your legal form drive your business attitude. Don't let "non-profit" become a mindset.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Who is Steven Johnson of the BOP?

The value of ludicrous ideas in NY Times article about Steven Johnson, whose "work tends toward the nodes where social issues intersect with design and urban planning issues." An example from the article is the "bike vest" shown above.
Instead of working with gurus or innovation processes, Johnson is more intuitive: “I wish... to be irresponsible, rash, associative, dreamy, impish, brainy, intuitive, and stupid.”
A good reminder that even serious work, such as designing products and services for the world's poor, could benefit from some wackiness and fun. Wouldn't it be cool if some of the video clips we saw from the field were, instead of earnest multistakeholder co-creation design charrettes, some people goofing around and having fun? Ludicrous indeed.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Eco-chic & Schwag-free

Bryan Willson and I headed to the Denver Green Festival yesterday to talk about Innovations for Energy, Environment and Health, which basically means we got to tell stories about Envirofit cook stoves and Solix Biofuels. There were some great speakers and entertainment. And the conference organizers took many steps to make this truly a "green" festival.

What I wasn't ready for was what I saw when I went upstairs in the convention center. It was a huge trade show, with the floor filled with booths with the latest in "green goods" for home, body and mind. Gotta love the American consumer. And with trade shows comes schwag (no, not bad weed, but the promotional items used to encourage you to remember a product).

One sign asked: "are you eco-chic?" When I signed in at the speaker booth, I was asked if I wanted some organic, fair trade eye cream. (to be fair, at least they didn't provide the "goodie" bag that one gets at many conferences).

Sorry, but for me, at least one step toward true eco-chic is to just say NO to schwag.