Three suggestions for ambitious entrepreneurs

1.  Be a market driver, not market-driven: Really innovative entrepreneurship is all about pushing the boundaries of what is socially accepted. Economists and other social scientists typically emphasize current prices, capital, and labor conditions to evaluate market opportunities – hence they see people as market-driven. This overlooks the fact that markets are fluid and dynamic with conditions today not necessarily having a bearing on what is possible tomorrow. Entrepreneurs that try to sell new products, like biomass alternatives to fossil fuel energy, seek to alter the current market relationships rather than ‘discover’  a new one.  Entrepreneurs may well be able to create demand through media campaigns, which at first seem far-fetched or deviant. Realizing that role models can also help create new markets, entrepreneurs may enlist well-known people to promote ideas, try to join public discourse in media, and deliver a clear message.  Gradually, through relational work, a system of producing and distributing new products can be created and legitimated.

2. Look for unconventional partners: When we think about partners for building a sustainable business sometimes the last people on your mind can be essential. For instance, while working on food science and technology in Indonesia, Ashoka Fellow F.G. Winarno saw that the country’s thriving street food culture offered an opportunity. With support from the World Bank, he designed the Street Food Project, which trained 300 street food vendors over two years on nutrition and hygiene. Vendors had been victimized by authorities in the past, but designating them as channels for improving nutrition raised their status along with the quality of street foods. Through creating a system where the vendors were invested in improving nutrition, his model has been replicated in Beijing, Bangkok as well as many cities in Latin America. Entrepreneurs can find key partners in unlikely places, the unorganized and informal economy sector or among other social entrepreneurs. Using new social mediums is a fast and inexpensive way to come into contact with unlikely partners.

3. Keep a daily journal: This suggestion may seem a bit out of place, but research has shown that this simple task may make or break entrepreneurial ventures. Writing in a daily journal is a fundamental way, though not the only way, to make sense of the fast paced life of entrepreneurship. The act of writing forces a period of reflection and promotes pragmatic learning, which overlooked can compromise a venture by creating message-drift – the decoupling of message and potential stakeholders expectations. Writing helps stimulates reflection about how stakeholders think, the incentives they are working with, and their obligations to their stakeholders. This helps bring messages more in line with stakeholder expectations. Hence, writing in a daily journal, or any other platform, promotes  systemic-thinking rather than specific-thinking. Too often entrepreneurs are focused on day-to-day activities of getting the start-up running (e.g. programming code or experimenting with a technology). While these are necessary, the key source of survival for the venture lies in the founders’ ability to build sustainable channels of acquiring resources. Building these channels by definition involves other people, who have developed a variety of ways of making sense of and acting in their world. Reflecting on their motivations and incentives through writing is a timeless virtue.