For-Profit Startups Demonstrate Business as a Force for Good
April 28, 2016: The spirit of Hong Kong’s growing commitment to responsible business practices was alive at the Social Enterprise Marketplace and Cocktail event held at KPMG’s Hub at Hysan Place in Hong Kong. From urban farmers to a makerspace for social and environmental impact, 10 of Hong Kong’s rising social enterprise startups exhibited their products and services as part of Responsible Business Week 2016. Co-organisers, Community Business and The Good Lab, created a socially responsible shopping event to highlight and promote the various ways in which businesses and communities can work together to effect positive action for a more sustainable future.
BALANCING ENTERPRISE AND SOCIAL IMPACT Walking around the different “market stalls” it was very interesting to learn from the exhibitors about how they are using business initiatives to support social causes. Most of them were self-funded initially, or received donations and sponsorships. It is generally their goal to be self-sustaining and profitable whilst remaining true to their social or environmental mission (and investing profits back into the communities they serve). In most cases, the companies sell a product or a service that generates both revenue and a positive social influence.
For example, Kimature promotes environmentally friendly farming practices and sells organic and chemical free skin and hair products from farms in the New Territories. Fair Taste promotes fair trade in Hong Kong through their own and other fair trade branded products.
Bizzie Bee is the fundraising tool and social venture initiative to support the Lizzie Bee Foundation, an organization that runs art projects and provides employment opportunities for students with learning disabilities in Hong Kong. Bizzie Bee sells subscription craft kits for children that help to develop creativity by recycling materials you can find at home. Subscriptions range from HK$199 as a once off to HK$178/month for 12 months, and include kits to make tote bags, notebooks, slippers amongst other things. 100% of the net profits go directly to arts projects run by the Foundation.
MicroForests is focused on providing meaningful training and dignified job opportunities to women who are new arrivals, single parents or from low-income families. They do so through the sale of MicroForest art (inspired by Japanese floral art, Ikebana). They also run workshops for companies and children to extend their outreach.
WORKSHOPS AND TRAINING – OUTREACH AND REVENUE In fact, workshops and training are popular revenue streams for a number of social enterprises, with the benefit not only from access to corporate or school CSR and outreach budgets, but also as a way to generate awareness and foster cross-sector cooperation.
Dialogue Experience has been working with companies and schools in Hong Kong for 6 years, providing experiential leadership and team collaboration learning programs that immerse participants into everyday environments where their senses are compromised by darkness and silence, highlighting what daily life is like for visually and hearing impaired people.
Growing Smart and Good Family Farm are community initiatives, focused on inspiring, educating and improving the wellbeing of their local communities through their permaculture and organic farming projects in Peng Chau and Tung Chung. Both run organic farming workshops and team building activities to promote and support their activities.
SUPPORTING SOCIAL INNOVATION Most of the companies at the event have benefited from their collaboration with The Good Lab, which offers a co-working environment where they can network and learn from a community of like-minded innovators and mentors.
Two of the companies, each a startup in its own right, also provide services to other entrepreneurs who want to make a social and environmental impact. MakerBay is a makerspace in Kowloon where aspirational artists, designers, engineers and scientists can use services, from consulting to digital fabrication, to invent or grow their own businesses. It was started by Cesar Harada, a French-Japanese inventor, environmentalist and entrepreneur, who is currently developing a revolutionary shape shifting sailing robot to explore and protect the ocean with open source technologies!
Make a Difference (MAD) is a platform for young changemakers in Asia organised by the Hong Kong Institute of Contemporary Culture. Through an annual forum, education programmes, labs and other projects MAD aims to build a creative civil society in Hong Kong.
SCALING UP AND FUNDING About half of the companies at the event have already achieved profitability, and some are already looking for opportunities to scale up.
Pol Fabrega co-founder of Rooftop Republic, a social enterprise that promotes urban farming in Hong Kong, says they are pursuing the VC / seed funding route as they look to grow their business. He believes there is a growing socially inclined investor community in Hong Kong that social entrepreneurs can tap into. Rooftop Republic was a finalist in The Venture, a VC competition initiative sponsored by Chivas Regal.
The Good Lab is a member of Community Business’s responsible business network, and they teamed up to promote this event not only to illustrate to corporates how they can participate in CSR in different ways, e.g. responsible procurement, but also as part of a campaign to get more people to learn about the social enterprise landscape in Hong Kong.
RB Week or Responsible Business Week is an awareness week originated by Business In The Community in the UK, for responsible businesses and organisations of all sorts to celebrate and demonstrate the various ways that they are working together to effect cross-sector, positive action for a more sustainable future.
Community Business is a not-for-profit organization (Hong Kong Charity Number 91/6560) whose mission is to lead, inspire and support businesses to have a positive impact on people and communities. It is recognized as a thought leader in corporate responsibility and diversity and inclusion in Asia.
The Good Lab is Hong Kong’s first Social Innovation hub. It has more than 200 members at its co-working spaces, where minds and ideas meet and where socially innovative and sustainable ideas are incubated, prototyped and launched. They have built a community of multiple leading social enterprises and changemakers in Hong Kong, gathering knowledge, networks and expertise in the field of Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
The Venture is a global competition sponsored by Chivas Regal, rewarding startups that use business to create positive change, with a share of US$1million in funding.
By Robyn Evans Cunningham. Robyn is a freelance Startup consultant, leveraging her combination of Hong Kong tech startup & investment banking experience to provide business services to entrepreneurs. Recently she worked with Lamplight Analytics, leading the development of a business proposition for Financial and Service sector clients for their social media analytics platform. Prior to moving to Hong Kong last year, Robyn had a 10-year career in emerging market corporate and investment banking, working for the Standard Bank Group in London.