This past month social entrepreneurs gathered at the Social Enterprise Alliance (SEA) Summit 2014 in Nashville, Tenn., and enjoyed content-rich workshops, engaging pitches from social entrepreneurs, excellent Southern cuisine and music from some of Nashville’s up-and-comers. SEA did a greatwrap-up to give you a sense of the vibe at this year’s conference along with some notable highlights.
As longtime supporters of this conference, we have noticed that each conference has a unique undertone. For us, this one showcased where we are as social entrepreneurs: it was once enough to have ideas, but now we must marry that passion with the discipline and rigor of an entrepreneur.
Since we were in Nashville – the home of Johnny Cash – we have affectionately called it “walking the line.” As social entrepreneurs, ideas alone are not enough. We have to walk the line and ensure that we follow the appropriate measures to maximize the possibility of success.
Here are a few highlights from the conference:
Market Research Rocks – REDF, a leader in workforce social enterprises in California, had an excellent session focused on the importance of market research to validate any idea. They emphasized the importance of finding high-growth industries (via comprehensive industry analysis) for future social enterprises to ensure that clients could move into the workforce with real opportunity for advancement.
Ensure Proper Pitch – Conference attendees were entertained and engaged by entrepreneurs pitching their ideas and ventures in the Business for Good competition and Spark Stories. Congratulations toHydroBee for winning the competition! Pitches are an art form, but can be broken down into a science. Start with a story, connect with the audience’s interests, and always, always make the business case for your unique value proposition.
Join the Choir – The conference theme was “Connecting for Purpose,” which showcased the value of the community coming together to share best practices, connect around common ways of working, and advocate to government and other stakeholders about how to best support the growth of social enterprise. If you are interested in supporting the growth of social enterprise, SEA (with support from Social Impact Architects) launched a postcard campaign to Congress. We are on the verge of great progress in our policy efforts and we’d love for you to join the effort.
The conference wrapped up on a great note from Seth Goldman, founder of Honest Tea. He told his story of how the company started and how it has evolved as consumers have changed. He also shared that Honest Tea has also been a market maker, pushing other brands to follow their lead in reducing calories of beverages and encouraging environmental sustainability.
We loved his final thought that summed up his company’s philosophy: “People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.” We met many social entrepreneurs who are doing it in Nashville, and we are proud to walk alongside many of them.
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Suzanne Smith, MBA (Dallas, Texas) is a serial social entrepreneur and bridges many disciplines, including serving on the National Board of the Social Enterprise Alliance, coaching nonprofits as Managing Director of Social Impact Architects, and Co-Founder of Flywheel: Social Enterprise Hub, and educating future leaders as Adjunct Professor at the University of North Texas. She holds an MBA from Duke University, where she was a CASE (Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship) Scholar and continues to serve as a Research Fellow.