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Why you don’t have to be “older” to change the world

New and Networking

Why you don’t have to be “older” to change the world

Sheeza Ahmad is the founder of HelpingB, a crowdfunding platform that helps young entrepreneurs become change-makers. Passionate about the entrepreneurial spirit of young people, she shares her tips for young entrepreneurs who want to get out their and start making a difference.

"For many years, it was a common misapprehension that an individual’s ability to create impact and his or her age were mutually dependent. Fortunately, this is now changing as the younger generation is going against the norm and breaking countless barriers. Winning a Nobel prize was once reserved for the “mature” generation, but last year 17-year-old Malala Yousafzai stunned the world when her and Kailash Satyarthi won the Nobel Peace prize.

Similarly, if we look at the age of successful entrepreneurs, we’ll find that Forbes’ annual 30 under 30 social entrepreneurs list includes many names of effective changemakers. Let’s not forget also that Sir Richard Branson was just 16 years old when he launched the ‘Student’ magazine. Figures released by the Office for National Statistics show that the number of self-employed young people has grown by 71,000 since the start of the economic crisis.

Why? It’s quite simple. At a young age, you are more comfortable taking risks and you have fewer commitments holding you down. Due to free access to powerful online marketing tools you are also less dependent on the need for high budgets, therefore your costs will most likely be very low, especially if you’re starting an online business. Further, young individuals tend to be more tech-savvy in comparison to their older counterparts, open-minded and energetic; paving room for increased innovation. Let’s address the key areas that require attention in an early stage venture.

A social enterprise versus a commercial business


We’re all here to serve a purpose and if we’re not utilising our knowledge and our skills to make the world a better place for our future generations, then I personally feel like we’re wasting the world’s most valuable resource - the human mind. Also, what many people are unaware of is that social entrepreneurship is the answer to some of the world’s biggest social, environmental and economic problems. By nature, social entrepreneurs are system-shifters as they challenge the status quo and innovate their own answers for solving global social problems. Suppose each entrepreneur in the world focused on a specific problem? Both the economy and the beneficiaries would equally benefit and an entire community could be positively transformed. Combining the social impact created by all of these entrepreneurs would mean a different world to what we have today.

By definition, a social enterprise is an organisation, which focuses on environmental, social and economical well-being with a sustainable business model. The primary aim of a commercial business is to maximise shareholder wealth whereas the primary aim of a social enterprise is to maximise social value. Simply put, it is the bridge between non-profit organisations and commercial businesses.

How to validate your idea and market opportunity


So you have an idea, which you believe is completely innovative. The first thing I would say to you is to avoid this mind-set. No idea is completely innovative or unique, everything is inspired and incrementally innovated through our environment, existing ideas and products. Also, though you might not have competitors today, you will tomorrow. What you need to do to validate the uniqueness of your idea and the business opportunity is to conduct extensive market research.

Do lots and lots of market research and then go back and do some more. You need first-hand feedback from your primary beneficiaries to truly understand what their requirements are so that you can address them correctly. Additionally, network and tell people (not just your friends and family as you want honest and critical feedback) about your idea and find out what they think. If you’re taking the right feedback on board and making changes where necessary (remember, you don’t need to agree with all of the feedback) and the response after all of this is positive, you’re well on your way to building a great product or service.

How to convert your social idea into a sustainable business


Without a sustainable model, your impact will be limited and short-lived and without the creation of social value, your business will lack a meaningful purpose. The very first thing you need to figure out is how the business will survive without public funding, grants and donations. How will you make the business stand on its two feet all on its own? If you can answer that, you can then focus on creating social value.

Identify your revenue streams as early as possible and make sure they are relevant to your mission e.g. TOMS’ social mission addresses lack of footwear available for children in developing regions. Their business model is to sell shoes to customers who can afford their product and then to donate a pair per sale to a child in need. Evidently, TOMS’ revenue stream is directly relevant to their social mission, which means they’re not confusing their market.

How to identify the right time to take your idea to market


This depends on the market you’re going after and also how far along you are with your business. If you’re very early-stage, make sure you have a working prototype to show to your prospects. Going too early and that too without something to show would mean that you risk losing the market’s attention, especially if you’re continuously promising things but aren’t delivering on anything. If there is demand for your product, you’re ready to take orders and you are able to deliver these, then you’re most likely ready to go to market. Do ensure that you have some metrics to show before you launch. You can build these by finding customers within your network. The bigger your numbers, the more growth you will experience.

How to raise funds


The biggest challenge for young entrepreneurs is limited access to funding, and this is a problem that HelpingB and other organisations such as Virgin Startup are addressing. Generally speaking, raising funds for a project or an idea can be a daunting task for start-ups. This has paved the way for an innovative form of fundraising: crowdfunding. Crowdfunding brings together a group of passionate supporters to fund a project that they believe in bringing to life. Through crowdfunding, fundraisers with ambitious ideas are able to collect market data, validate the market opportunity, capture customer information, promote, build relationships, and raise low-risk funds. If a crowdfunding campaign is unsuccessful, since no money is exchanged, the project owner has the opportunity to re-tailor the project to meet market expectations and try again.

Age is only a number. What you need to focus on is to seek opportunities that push you to think creatively so that you can start solving problems on your own rather than depending on external bodies that may or may not deliver. Running a social venture is a long journey but a worthwhile one; just remember to celebrate your successes, learn from your failures and have the courage to get back up and try again. As Virgin Media Pioneer Onyi said, “To become distinguished, it is critical you don’t despise your small beginnings; rather, you should have a clear and defined vision of where you want to go."