Chapter 4: Incorporate a (Social) Mission - Technical.ly
Tomorrow Toolkit for Entrepreneurs
4
At the Tomorrow Tour stop in Philly.
Incorporate a (Social) Mission By Christopher Wink
From the very beginning, think: is there a deeper meaning to how my venture can help my community, my country or the world?

You can deliver on a mission many different ways. But an organization without one won’t likely do much.

That’s why before you have a product or process, you need to have a point.

To Detroit Bus Company founder Andy Didorosi, solving the right problem is the key to any successful small business, especially if it’s a social mission, like his. In this case, Didorosi’s bus company was launched to expand public transportation options in Detroit. It was a business idea with a social cause.

“You need to also find out the reasons why you are doing what you are doing,” he said. If you are doing it because it just looks cool or you think it’s fun, you’re going to burn out really quick. If you’re doing it because you care about the need that you are trying to fulfill you can get though a lot of those dark moments.”

Are you trying to deliver the most addictive mobile game experience to help make people happy? Do you want to build exceptional software? Would you like to develop an unrivaled ecommerce experience?

Those are valuable technical challenges to address. Many alternately look at cultural and social problems as a chance for entrepreneurship too.

Detroit SOUP Director Amy Kaherl is one of the many entrepreneurs in her city across the country combining tech tools with long-standing methods of helping to address her city’s deeply-rooted challenges. She’s combining innovative crowdfunding with traditional community potlucks. “We can look at Detroit’s problems and use the resources that have always been here with our own outlook,” she said.

For Laurin Hodge, her mission in 2012 to develop employment opportunities for citizens returning from incarceration developed into Mission: Launch. The Washington D.C. based nonprofit supports returning citizens in developing their own businesses and advocates on their behalf.

Before Laurin’s mother Teresa went to prison for fraud and related crimes, Laurin said she knew virtually nothing about the U.S. criminal justice system.

“Going through the process with her opened up our eyes,” Laurin said. “And prison and reentry are things that, truthfully, either you’re a saint to care about or you only care about it [when it] happens to you.”

She was exposed to a challenging issue and sought to solve it — not unlike an app developer or software entrepreneur. She started with a mission, to support people like her mother in developing second chances, and then an organization developed because of it.

“We began to see just the importance of strategy development and having a plan for people when they come back home,” she said. “That has nothing to do with a conversation of innocence or guilt.”

But the mission started first. 

Start with the mission, and then see what kind of organization is best to solve it, said Laurin Hodge, the cofounder of Mission: Launch.

Your Checklist:

  • Special words: Start by writing a list of 5 to 10 words that fit your focus. They can be adjectives or what you hope to offer. The goal is to highlight the terminology you think should be included in your mission. Hodge might have written words like: “returning citizens, entrepreneurship, reducing recidivism, equity, access for underserved communities.”
  • Who are you?: What makes you and your organization special? Write a sentence on what is distinct from you in executing your mission from others. For Hodge, she might have written: “Mission: Launch will train and support returning citizens in how to start their own small businesses, rather than working for others, to create new skills and support others.”
  • Define why the world needs you: Didorosi stressed the importance of identifying the mission at the beginning. What is so unique to you that others will pay for your product or service? How will you fulfill the mission you identified? Hodge might have written, “with one of the world’s highest incarceration rates, the United States needs an array of strategies for integrating returning citizens into productive roles in society. Since many jobs bar people with criminal records for applying, Mission: Launch will develop a pipeline of new small businesses that are friendly to returning citizens.”
  • We are X, and we do Y for Z: Write down this helpful sentence and fill in the blanks for you. Hodge might have started with “We are Mission: Launch, and we offer entrepreneurship training and support for returning citizens.”
  • Fill in the blanks: Take a sentence from each of your three preceding answers and put them together. That might be a good first draft mission.
  • Share it: Share this with friends and family. Do they understand it? Could it be shorter? Could it be more to the point? Feedback can also help refine big-picture strategy. As Didorosi shared the Detroit Bus Company’s mission, the company’s potential to reach people who were left out of the transportation system became clearer.
  • Right Now: Read mission statement basics. There are many great deeper resources on writing mission statements, including this article from Bplans.com.

The point is that your mission’s language might tighten but its core goals likely won’t, so start with purpose.

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