Three Things You Can Learn from Our Early-Stage Entrepreneurs


Click to listen to DCSIP participate in DC Young Entrepreneurs podcast

Recently, I sat down with Kat Colvin of DC Young Entrepreneurs to record their very first podcast. Kat invited me to share the lessons we have learned from some of the finest people on the planet–our DC Social Innovation Project grantees (download the podcast for free today!). Our incredible family of innovators includes people who embody the grit, the creativity, and the genius necessary for success.

Here’s the thing: There is no tougher time in an idea’s life cycle than the first terrifying year of early-stage incubation. All of our innovators—successful or not, have learned the hard way about what it takes to crack the first stage of success.

As we gear up to announce our next grant cycle to make two new social capital grants valued at $25,000, I want to share with you three of the many lessons our grantees have taught us about what it takes to make a successful leap into social enterprise:

  • Write Your Way to Success. Our entrepreneurs (or treps in DCYE’s lingo) have taught me that the leap to innovation starts with a very cheap tool: a pen. I have heard over and over again from our grantees how the act of completing our application created a powerful experience. It made it real. It required our grantees, some for the first time ever, to strategically identify what they wanted to do and how it was different. If you’ve ever had an idea, consider our application process a tool to help you crystallize your great idea.
  • Unique Questions Create Great Solutions. There are good ideas and there are GREAT ideas. The best ideas are created when we use the power of curiosity to ask open-ended, specific questions. Good questions like these, help us explore problems as opportunities to innovate. Our grantees are developing new solutions because they are thinking smartly about the power to combine two ideas in new ways, developing new bridges to link new trends to tough problems, or redefining a challenge as an opportunity. Great open-ended inquiries can lead to specific, innovative ideas that can transform how we tackle common and pressing problems to change the equation.
  • Be Lean Together. For so many early-stage successes, their staying power is inextricably linked to their connection to their innovation tribe. Particularly in the prototyping stage, finding good partners who can link, amplify and build on your service model is one of the best investments in success that you can make. It may feel like a lonely world out there, but the DC space is crowded with a capital C. So find your tribe of organizations working on a similar issue or in your local community, articulate how you can be a good partner to fill a niche in the solution supply chain and then partner, partner, partner. Even better, include these folks in your ideation process to make sure you are asking the right questions and understanding what has worked and what has not on your issue. You will be amazed at how it can double—if not triple—your impact in the first year alone.

We hope these ideas and even more shared in the podcast helps get your creative juices flowing to develop bold, unique approaches to tackle poverty in the District!

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