Entrepreneurship with a Purpose: How to Create a Venture that Leaves a Social Surplus

How to find your purpose when launching a venture

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For years, the Silicon Valley model of venturing has been the gold standard. Entrepreneurs have focused on scaling up to reap financial returns.

However, Georgetown Entrepreneurship at the McDonough School of Business thinks it’s time for a new model. What if entrepreneurs build businesses that are both financially profitable and have at their core the idea of benefitting the common good?

We are at a time in history where the idea of purpose resonates widely across society. So many people are emerging from the pandemic reflecting on how they can take action to improve the world around them. Entrepreneurship is a great place for innovative, impactful ideas to take hold.

Whether you are looking to launch your first or 10th venture, we have a series of steps you can follow to align your business sense with a greater purpose.

  1. Find your purpose. The first step is to think about the why behind your business idea by asking these questions: Why am I doing this? Why is it important? Why now? Why is this the best way to do it? Why should I do it? The second step is to ask yourself these questions five times in five different ways. Exploring the causal reasoning behind your venture will help identify and hone in your core purpose.
  2. Create a culture of purpose. As you build your venture, make sure the culture extends to the entire organization and doesn’t end with you. It takes a team to bring your vision to life in a meaningful way, so you must find a way to energize those around you to build a culture of purpose and passion around your work.
  3. Structure the business model around your purpose. To truly embrace your purpose, build it into your business model so that this value underpins everything you do. For example, in health care a core purpose could be dignity, and a business built around that will look very different than one structured around insurance reimbursement. Building around profitability first can lead you to miss out on your core purpose.
  4. Define how you create and capture value. When you create value, it means a customer left you feeling happy and that they would have paid more for your service. Essentially, the value is more than the price you charged them. Think about whether you want to capture all of the value you create or if you want to leave society with a social surplus. Capturing less value than you create leaves everyone better off.

Of course, a business should be profitable and sustainable in addition to purposeful. But we believe you can achieve all of this and more when purpose is at your core.

As a Catholic, Jesuit university, the idea of serving the common good is part of our Georgetown values. For more than a decade, Georgetown Entrepreneurship has been working with students across all programs at the university to train individuals as change makers who want to do good by society. In addition to coursework, club activities, and pitch competitions, we connect them with local companies for internships or consulting projects. We also invite local startups to engage with our common good venture community at the Georgetown Venture Lab on Massachusetts Avenue.

To collaborate with our students or faculty around the idea of entrepreneurship with a purpose, visit the Georgetown Entrepreneurship webpage or connect with our Corporate Partnerships team.

Gerry George is a professor of management at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business and director of Georgetown Entrepreneurship Initiative. An award-winning researcher and teacher, he has published extensively on innovation, entrepreneurship, sustainability, and tackling grand challenges in society.