Hatching An Idea Into A Civic Venture

Jan 17, 2012

Ben KoteyToday’s guest post is written by Benjamn Kotey, the Venture and New Program Development intern in the Civic Incubator at Points of Light. He provides research support in new program developments and analysis of the social enterprise arena. He holds a BBA in Risk Management and Insurance, and a graduate degree in Economics from Georgia State University.

About a year ago, I heard this song by Diana DeGarmo entitled “Dreams.” It starts with something like “dreams are just dreams when they are stuck inside your head…” and the lyrics go on from there. This song struck a chord with me because I’ve always been fascinated by how something as abstract as an idea of a social venture, can be turned into something tangible to be witnessed by other people, and even have a real social impact. If you are a social entrepreneur trying to start a new venture, the question of how to turn an idea into a real solution is easy to answer when you have the necessary resources at your disposal. On the other hand, this is a difficult question to answer when you don’t have those resources at hand.

Word Map Social Entrepreneur With the latter scenario, how then do you move from point A to point B? At this point, building a solid business plan or a model with which you can convince funders to support your venture and solicit help from potential partners can help.  For startup non-profit and for-profit civic enterprises, the process of building a business model is essential because not only does it help you define your value proposition, vision and mission, but by tackling some of the difficult questions such as the four Ws (what, why, where, who), you the civic entrepreneur, becomes better equipped with a plan of action and a solid sense of direction than before.

I spent the last three months at Georgia Tech Flashpoint with the Civic Incubator team from Points of a Light going through the process of building a business model for a new program that we were working on.  Judging from where we started to where we are now, I would say that it paid off, given the amount of time that we spent pondering over some difficult questions, writing and rewriting our value proposition. Now we have a clear sense of what this program is about and a clear sense of direction as to what steps to take next.  I am proud to say that the idea is no more stuck in the head.

Once you have your ideas written down and tested the next step is action. Fortunately for for-profit startups out there, there are over 200 accelerator programs like Flashpoint in the country that are providing mentoring, seed funding, office space and networking opportunities to help entrepreneurs bring their ideas to life. On January 10, 2012, Flashpoint held its Atlanta Demo Day and it was incredible to see how some of the teams have grown, having been there to observe some of the pitch practices. Hundreds of startups are graduating from these programs each year and they are making effective contributions to the economic growth and development of their localities. The majority of these accelerator programs are focused on technology and for-profit startups. But with more than 50,000 nonprofit organizations popping up each year, coupled with the benefits that come with increased civic engagements and community building activities, it looks like startup civic enterprises can use some accelerator programs here. Check out what Points of Light is doing in this space.  After all, we can’t have great positive ideas just stuck in our heads.