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Oksigen Lab is a Brussels-based research and incubation centre providing support to social entrepreneurs, both start-ups and scalers. By working on a daily basis with social entrepreneurs, we have identified the following key challenges faced by starting social entrepreneurs:

1. Overlooking the market while focusing on the societal challenge

Social entrepreneurs are driven by a strong ambition to solve a specific societal challenge. This is your purpose and what motivates you. And this is also very important to convince your first customers, investors and partners.

However, putting too much attention on the societal challenge can lead to a narrow-minded vision and might conduct social entrepreneurs to overlook the key starting point of any business idea: the market. Is there a market? Is someone willing to pay for my service/product?

Defining your market and your value proposition is key before starting your social business. Even if we meet an increasing amount of social entrepreneurs with great business skills, the majority of social entrepreneurs we support often lack business acumen. An important part of our work consists in helping entrepreneurs identify and quantify the market and value proposition.

 2. Creating a complementary team in terms of skills and mind-sets

If you want to be impactful and successful with your venture, you need to attract the right people. The difference will not lie in a great idea or great social business, but in the excellence of implementation. And implementation is driven by the people. Of course, it is important to identify a promising idea and further develop a robust business plan and strategy. However, what matters most is your ability to implement your strategy effectively.

Attracting great people in your venture is key. And we are not only referring to paid employees, who are often difficult to enrol in the start-up phase due to limited funding. Also identify your key stakeholders and engage with them. Make them your allies.

When composing your founding team, avoid people with similar competencies and mind-sets. It is all about complementarity. Map your personal weaknesses and identify your needed skillss. This will help you better target your search for potential partners.

3. Keeping focused

As starting entrepreneur, you will face different moments where you will have the impression to be “lost”. You see a lot of opportunities and want to explore them all. Sometimes you are overwhelmed by requests from potential partners and customers. It is exhausting but also inspiring and motivational when you book the first success. Still there is a danger zone. Being distracted by a variety of actions can dilute your focus.

When you have the impression of losing control of the situation, take a step back and go back to your initial plan and strategy. If you feel that your strategy needs to be adapted, please do. Be agile. But if you still believe in your initial strategy and have the impression that you are losing focus to implement it, it’s probably time to stop some activities.

Focus is a powerful strength. It gives you a certain serenity, fresh mind, creativity and professional attitude towards other stakeholders.

4. Building resilience

As a social entrepreneur, you have a great mission: making the world a better place! This is a huge task and it requires collaboration with partners. Do not take this responsibility for yourself only. It is also important to build your resilience as the entrepreneurial path will by a mix of inspiring moments but also some challenges. It is key to keep your energy level up in order to be able to continue your journey, even in difficult times. Your mission is worth it, so be determined but kind with yourself.

5. Securing funding

Securing funding for your start-up is a big challenge. It often requires a mix of funding types: funding from friends/family, bank loans, equity debt, convertible debt, crowdfunding, etc. In order to convince potential investors, it is key that you have enough funding to invest in your project This demonstrates your commitment and belief in your venture. And obviously, a robust business model and a strong team will help to convince funders.

Consider funders as partners by engaging with them for advice and networking. They believe in your project and have the ambition to make your project work. It is not only about “money”.

Wanna live this for real? Participate to Startup Weekend Changemakers: www.swbru-changemakers.org


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Marie-AmŽlie Lenaerts