Wednesday, June 24, 2009

BOP Blips

- Nice to see IDDS get a shout out in this month's Fast Company calendar. This will start on July 8 in Kumasi, Ghana. Two Colorado State students, Sule Amadu (Cohort 1 and recent grad) and Habib Anwar (our new Cohort 3), will be helping out, and Bryan Willson and I will be there for part of the program. Full time faculty will include Amy Smith (MIT), Ben Linder (Olin), and Ariel Philips who will be hosted by KNUST's John Quansah and Crossman Hormenoo. The program ends in time for the participants to be part of the Maker Faire Africa in Accra from 14-16 August.

- For another GSSE team blog, check out: Organic Oasis and their aquaponics venture in Peru.

-To see a lot of electrons being being burned on the aid vs entrepreneurship debate, take a look at Easterly's blog and Maggate Wade's post on Huffington. My take- we need African Cheetahs, but they need to figure out where the real game is. (Hint: maybe not attacking MV tours!) I know there is an argument that there is no such thing as bad publicity, but I think that beating up on Jeffrey Sachs is not a particularly useful undertaking at this point. I had been pleased that Easterly's blog was beginning to have more of a focus on identifying true Searchers, but I don't think he can help himself from rising to MV bait. I guess his self-identified role is critic. But I hope he continues to promote Cheetahs/Searchers, study them and let others know what is working, rather than the harping on what isn't working for the Planners. What doesn't work can be instructive, but not as instructive as what works. When one learns to paint, one studies the masters. Inquiring minds want to know: Who are Easterly's masters? I hope that is his next book.

- Panda Bikes, started by GSSE grads John McKinney, Mark Schlink and Jacob Costillo got a nice segment on Denver's Channel 7 tonight! The first organic bamboo bike for under $1000. On sale soon! Here is the video link.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Pay Attention To Your Private Parts

When you are designing a venture, spend some time on the network. Think about the "5 Deals" in a venture: customer, founders, funders, employees, and supply chain. Your venture will need to make a deal with each of these groups to build out the network.

Once you have sketched out your proposed network (use a dirty napkin for karma points), think about which of these deals are private, and which are public.

Private in two ways.

First, is this a deal with a public organization (charity, social enterprise, government agency) or private organization (a company)? If private, the consideration (the legal term for value) will need to have some financial components. Not all financial, but primarily. If public, then the mix will likely involve some non-financial items.

Second, is this deal private between the parties? Can you talk about it? Typically, a venture does not disclose terms of supply arrangements, founder and employee options, or terms of financing. Be sure you understand what you can talk about, and what you can't. And understand that if you have public organizations in your network, they may have a different culture, and rules, about disclosure.

Now back to the napkin. For many BOPreneurs, there will be a mix of public and private organizations in the network (yet another "hybrid"). As with any entrepreneur, your job is to create and share value. Not just for your organization, but for this network. Too often, founders will focus on creating value for a specific group ("our" investors, "our" users) but not for the entire network. Does the network create and share value effectively and efficiently? Is each group providing and receiving value? Can you find that elusive synergy that characterizes strong networks?

An example from Envirofit. Our cook stoves are manufactured in China by a private company. Envirofit (a non-proift) ships these to India and sells them through a network of dealers and retail outlets (mostly private, but some NGOs). Our customers purchase the stoves, and receive a warranty from Envirofit. Envirofit employees have incentives to sell stoves (but the details are private), as do the dealers and retail outlets (profits!). We provide value to our donor-investors by reducing pollution and improving public health. Paying attention to the private parts of the network is important. Private firms are willing to work with social enterprises, but they also want to be paid. And these deals with private firms can be a source of competitive advantage for your venture (price, reliability, etc.).

The trick, of course, is to provide value all the way through the supply chain. Customers like the stove and find the price attractive. Dealers sell at a price which provides an attractive profit. Envirofit gets enough margin to pay employees and suppliers. Manufacturers make an attractive profit by selling the stove to Envirofit.

These 5 deals are key to building your venture. Now they are on your napkin, be sure that you can make the numbers real, and that you understand what value each organization provides and receives by participating.

Monday, June 15, 2009

"It is very possible, for you very possible.”

Great to see blog postings coming from our GSSE teams in the field.

Running Water International is working in the Njoro region Kenya this summer on biosand filters (BSF) for clean water in homes and schools. They have already started taking orders!

And they now have a waiter inspired mantra: "It is very possible, for you very possible.” Indeed.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Teaching "about" stuff

One common discussion around universities is about the value of teaching disciplines that society tends to view as an art or a talent. In my area, I often hear it expressed as "can you really teach entrepreneurship?" Implicit in the question is that entrepreneurs are born, not made. I have also heard that people question whether one can be taught: leadership, teamwork, art, etc.*

This is a topic that has been discussed in this blog since its humble beginnings.

But what is my answer to the question? I usually respond "I don't teach students to be entrepreneurs. I teach them about being entrepreneurs." There is a difference. Not all students want to become enterpreneurs (a source of continuing puzzlement to me). But they want to find out more about the role of entrepreneurs in business and society. Or maybe entrepreneurship courses are popular for the same reason "Social Deviance" is popular in psychology and sociology departments- morbid fascination?

What seems to work best for my classes is providing a framework, discussion, and a chance to practice. A mix of encouragement, support and questions. For those that lean entrepreneurial, my classes provide examples and a chance to test out a new venture. And, I hope, a dash of inspiration. If they decide to pursue a new venture, class is just the start. Then my role becomes advising, assisting, watching.

Really, though, the answer to the question is more complicated. What is important is what students learn, not what I teach (I still cling to the idea that there is a correlation). Some students learn to be entrepreneurs in my classes. Some learn about entrepreneurs in my classes. In many cases, it is not the particular content of hours of reading, cases and discussion. But rather at some point, a student realizes "I can do this." They give themselves permission. They realize there isn't a litmus test or an entrance exam for becoming an entrepreneur.
* I am not getting into levels of genius here. For instance, I think it is possible to teach basketball, but not possible to teach just anyone to be Kobe or Jordan. It is possible to teach painting, but not possible to teach just anyone to be Cezanne or Homer. And there are many impressive people who are self-taught. But being a self-taught entrepreneur is different than being a born entrepreneur, isn't it?