How Entrepreneurs Can Serve the Planet

by Kristine Hansen on January 10, 2014
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Steve Strauss is a proponent of starting up businesses and uplifting people who live in poverty. The Portland, Ore.-based consultant merges his two passions in Planet Entrepreneur, a book he edited and co-wrote with 13 other members of the World Entrepreneurship Forum.

Through case studies and real-life examples, the authors strive to inspire entrepreneurs to collaborate with policymakers and world leaders to effect global change. “I love helping people start and run a business,” says Strauss, who blogs regularly at TheSelfEmployed.com, a partnership with Staples and SCORE. He also writes a small-business advice column for USA Today.

The Intuit Small Business Blog spoke with Strauss (pictured) in late October, as he was packing for the forum’s annual meeting in Singapore. We asked for his thoughts on global entrepreneurship and social good.

ISBB: What is the World Entrepreneurship Forum all about?

Strauss: It’s a global think-tank dedicated to entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs are the creators of wealth and social justice. There’s what we call “the global entrepreneurship revolution.” There are so many new markets now, whether you’re talking about Asia or South America. Anybody can be a global entrepreneur now. The idea is to teach about how global entrepreneurs think.

How can small-business owners get started on a path of New Humanism?

There are so many things that divide our world today, whether it’s poverty or violence or global warming. Entrepreneurship is one of the few things that ties people together. It doesn’t matter where you’re located in the world. If you create textiles in South America and sell them over the internet in India, you’re a global entrepreneur. You don’t serve the market if you don’t solve the problem.

I wrote the book with 13 co-authors, different members of the World Entrepreneurship Forum. I was the editor in tying these ideas together. There’s a guy — Baybars Altuntaş — who’s on the Turkish version of Shark Tank that wrote a chapter. Inderjit Singh [a member of Singapore’s Parliament] started 10 companies.

What are your tips on finding people to collaborate with?

Venture capitalists are very savvy investors and look at a lot of different things, like your business plan and your “secret sauce.” The most important thing to look at is the entrepreneur and his or her team. [VCs] want to know if you’ve created a group around you that shares your business and your passion. It’s a matter of finding people who know what you’re doing and what you’re compatible with.

Many people start as friends. I love the story of how Trivial Pursuit started. They were two journalists in the [late] ’70s who loved to play Scrabble and Monopoly. They went to the Montreal toy show and met with investors. That’s how most people start: They come up with an idea and find people around them who think it’s a great idea too.

In the book, we list angel-investment groups. EBAN is one. SCORE is a great place to go. You get free confidential accounting from seasoned business people.

What are some examples of entrepreneurs who’ve touched on climate change, pollution, poverty, economic stagnation, or unemployment with great success?

Baybars Altuntaş’ chapter tells the story of how he started out working for somebody else and created a franchise association in Turkey. He placed an ad in a tiny newspaper (for $400 worth of Turkish lira) that turned into several thousand dollars immediately. It was all through smarts.

How can technology and social media solve real-world problems?

Entrepreneurs have used technology through the ages. Technology has always had a huge impact on small businesses. The advent of the internet and the computer revolution has [made it] so that anyone can start a business anywhere in the world and very inexpensively. If you’re a shopkeeper in Albania, [before] you could [only] sell rugs in your little village, but now you can sell them on eBay and get a lot more. It’s easier and more affordable than ever.

There are lot of impediments for women in [developing] countries. You still have to get the permission of your husband to buy land or secure a loan, for example. We’re seeing technology allow people to break free of these restrictions.

How can social media be a helpful tool for raising awareness of an idea with a global-minded initiative?

We all love word-of-mouth advertising. Today, word of mouth is word of clicks. When someone forwards your email newsletter, that’s word of mouth. When someone likes your Facebook page or follows you on Twitter, that’s a personal endorsement. You can exponentially get the word out. It used to be you had to advertise; now you don’t have to do that. You can go on social media and use your time instead of your money.

Kristine Hansen is a business writer for Intuit and is passionate about solving small business problems.

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