Alberta Social Entrepreneurship Support System: Local capacity building and funding for non-profit social enterprises in Alberta.
“We’re lost, but we’re making good time”, Yogi Berra
“Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is an absurd one”, Voltaire
“People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole”, Theodore Levitt
Even though these quotes span some 245 years and involve a range of pundits that include a French author/philosopher, a baseball player, and a business professor, their collective truth has never been more profound than in this age of startups.
If you are creating something new you have to learn your way into the future, and that can be hard. These quotes forewarn the three most common mistakes that can doom a startup:
- The Mistake of Measuring What is Easy, Rather than What is Important: “We’re lost, but we’re making good time”
- The Mistake of Thinking Certainty is Better than Doubt: “Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is an absurd one”
- The Mistake of Focusing on Your Product and Losing Sight of the Problem: “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole”
Not only is the gravitational pull of these errors enormous, it is hard to get back on track once they occur:
“In almost every case of a project failing, mistakes were made in one or more of the critical assumptions upon which the projections and decisions were based. But the company didn’t realize that until they were too far down the road. Money, time, and energy had already been assigned to the project; the company is 100 percent committed; and the team is now on the line to make it work.” (Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice, Clayton M. Chrsitensen, Taddy Hall, Karen Dillon and David S. Duncan, 2016, HarperCollins, p. 46).
As Ash Maurya points out, the key risk for most startups is building something nobody wants. That’s why it is crucial “… to accept that your initial vision is built largely on untested assumptions (or hypothesis)” and to focus on risk mitigation through “… constant, disciplined, experimentation” (Running Lean: Iterate from Plan A to a Plan That Works, 2012, O’Reilly Media, Inc., p. 4, 8 and xiv respectively).
Enter A.S.E.S.S., a resource we are piloting that condenses the best expertise we could find to help you embrace that discipline and navigate these issues in a step-by-step process.
It has been said it’s in the ‘learning’, rather than the ‘deciding’, that change will occur (The Death Of Strategy, Bill Fischer, November 2016, Forbes Online). To that end, you will get the most out of A.S.E.S.S. if you think of it as a tool (a chance to probe the assumptions and maximize the opportunities to learn embedded in your decisions) rather than a chore (simply recording what you have decided).
“In the end, a checklist is only an aid. If it doesn’t aid, it’s not right. But if it does, we must be ready to embrace the possibility”,
Atul Gawande, ‘The Checklist Manifesto’
What it looks like:
I. The Basics:
Worksheet 1: The Idea You Want to Develop
II. Opportunity Analysis:
Worksheet 2: A) Choosing Your Main Beneficiaries & Customers
Worksheet 3: B) Steps Your Target Beneficiaries/Customers Must Take and Things Your Organization Must Do
Worksheet 4: C) Analyzing the Most Competitive Alternative
Worksheet 5: D) Stakeholder Engagement: Allies & Opponents
III. Bringing it all together:
Worksheet 6: A) Concept Statement (‘The Theory’ behind your idea)
Worksheet 12: B) Scope of the Venture (‘The Numbers’ behind your idea 5 years out)
IV. The Business Model:
Worksheet 7: A) Identified Cost Types Related to the Steps You Must Take
Worksheet 8: B) Estimating Annual Operating Costs
V. Testing and Tracking:
Worksheet 9: A) Likely and Worst-Case Cost Estimates
Worksheet 10: B) Flagging Important Assumptions
Worksheet 11: C) Zoning in on Your Three Key Assumptions and Transitioning to Your Pilot
The goal of this process is to assist you in identifying the important aspects of your venture that success hinges on and the riskier aspects of your model you need to keep an eye on. It can also point out the most inexpensive way you can test your venture, assist you in forecasting your start-up needs, and help you be resilient/ opportunistic as your social enterprise evolves. This testing/ piloting phase is key to the success of your venture as it will allow you to determine if the venture you have proposed has the potential to create the social and financial impacts you have outlined.
Contact us at email@example.com and identify you would like to get started on the A.S.E.S.S. process.
One of our team members will direct you to two documents. The first document will ask you for details on your organization and the second will focus on the idea you are wishing to explore using A.S.E.S.S. We ask you to complete both these forms as we have learned that we can often spot key issues from these worksheets that, once addressed, greatly improve an organization’s ability to move through the rest of the worksheets and, more importantly, substantially enhance the planning around the venture.
When complete, please email BOTH of these forms back to firstname.lastname@example.org. Once received, they will be reviewed by a Trico Foundation team member who will either follow up with additional questions/ clarifications or simply give you access to the rest of the A.S.E.S.S. modules. Once you receive the greenlight and access, you will be able to proceed to the rest of the worksheets at your own pace.
PLEASE NOTE: As a toolkit, A.S.E.S.S. is open to all. However, if you think you may want to apply for funding at some point in the A.S.E.S.S. process, please immediately review our program parameters below around what we can fund. Additionally while the process is open to all, because of capacity we are unable to offer in-depth coaching and review to all organizations. At the time of our first review, we will let your organization know how we can support your team moving forward.
What you need to know:
It’s not just another funding process
In a typical funding process you fill out a form for the sole purpose of getting funding. If you don’t get funding, you tend to feel like you wasted the time you spent filling out the form and chances are, the process of filling out the form didn’t make you a better organization. From the funder’s side, applications are a very small snapshot of who you are. In designing them, the funder is hoping it will tell them what they need to know in order to decide whether to fund you, but it can be challenging to get a complete picture from a small snapshot.
What if we changed that model so that the forms captured all the great knowledge from leaders around the world on to how to develop a venture – in the process, becoming a toolkit that gave you insights on how to enhance your venture, even if you didn’t receive funding? What if that toolkit enabled us to better coach you and help you? What if it enabled us to more effectively determine where you really needed funding and how it could help you the most? What if the process seemed less and less like an arbitrary decision from a funder and one that made complete sense to you, to the point where it almost seemed like a mutual decision? What if the insights from this toolkit were more valuable than any funding that could be provided, and what if they exponentially enhanced the impact of any funding that was provided?
We believe the answer to those “what if’s” is A.S.E.S.S. and we hope this process will benefit your organization in three major ways:
1. These worksheets will give you the opportunity to explore your social enterprise in-depth, enhance learning, and assist you in identifying needs/ next steps within your venture. This can come in two ways: where the worksheets help you reach your own insights and where the worksheets enable us and others to work with you to help you gain insights about your venture.
2. There will also be a number of additional supports available to you throughout such as resource referrals, coaching, and funding (hereafter collectively referred to as ‘the supports’). The funding we can provide will be contingent on the worksheets revealing that such funding is necessary to overcome a barrier that can only be cured by money. Please be aware, we aren’t taking this approach to be stingy. In fact, we want to help as many organizations pursuing social entrepreneurship as much as we can. It is simply the case that money will be most impactful for both you and us, if it is used strategically.
3. We hope that throughout this process you will have the opportunity to work with and learn from your peers; both through examples of organizations currently operating a social enterprise and by connecting with the other A.S.E.S.S. participants. You will hear more about this aspect as it evolves. For now, simply know that we hope you will see yourself as a part of a community where you can gain insights and share insights.
We have really tried to provide a tool that helps organizations engage in better planning that confirms the project excites them, has the best chance of success, and accurately pinpoints where funding can be of the most help.
What kind of funding are we talking about?
The worksheets are designed to help you identify key barriers and, wherever possible, help you figure out solutions to those barriers. Of course, we are aware that some barriers can only be resolved by an influx of funds. As a result, throughout the process of completing the worksheets organizations will be able to make an ‘ask’ for funding to support their planning process.
When it comes to funding, we know that not all problems can be solved within a maximum amount of $10,000. As a result, the size of the ‘ask’ is no longer limited to our previous restrictions of $10,000. ‘Asks’ can now range in size from a small amount (e.g. $1000), to larger amounts (e.g. $25,000), to even higher depending on need. Again, please bear in mind funding will only be given if the worksheets demonstrate that organizations have hit a roadblock that they cannot overcome themselves. Of course, our team will work with you to assure that all resources and avenues are explored and help anywhere and everywhere we can.
Historically, our support also focused on funding the hiring of a consultant. Feedback confirmed that not all barriers can be addressed by hiring a consultant for a feasibility study or market analysis. For example, many barriers could be addressed by a pilot project, by developing a prototype or by acquiring a piece of equipment. As a result, funding in the new system can be for anything (again, as long as the worksheets confirm the merits of the social enterprise and the need for the funding).
Is my organization eligible?
While anyone will be welcome to fill out the worksheets as a tool to assist them in planning for and executing their venture, our ability to fund organizations is limited in a few ways:
- The stages we focus on are post-ideation: Specifically, at the post-ideation phase an organization has a specific idea for a venture they want to develop. Of course, that idea can evolve over time but there is a fair amount of specificity as to what the venture is;
- Be a qualified donee under CRA regulations;
- Be based in Alberta and serve Albertans;
- The social enterprise must address a gap in society (i.e. relief of economic exclusion, relief of poverty, relief of social exclusion, promoting good health or well-being, helping children and/or youth at risk, relief of the aged/seniors, enhanced quality of education, gender equality, clean water and sanitation, affordable and clean energy, sustainable cities and communities, responsible consumption and production, climate action, enhancing life below water or on land, enhanced peace and justice); and
- The organization must be taking ‘direct action’ to close a gap in society: “A direct action is one an actor takes personally in order to bring about a specific desired outcome. An indirect action is one in which the actor convinces [or helps] another person or entity to take the specific action that brings about the desired outcome.”1 For example, consultants, incubators or accelerators, or associations that achieve social impact by helping other social enterprises achieve social impact, while laudable, do not qualify for funding through the A.S.E.S.S. program.
Funding decisions will be made based on your Ask and the worksheets that have been completed. The decision making process will vary in length depending on the size of the Ask. That said, should you have any questions at any time, please reach out to us. Successful applicants are required to sign a letter of offer accepting the terms before a cheque will be mailed out and all successful funding applicants are obligated to submit a completion report based on the timelines/ conditions of funding listed in your offer.
Note: although the planning toolkit is available to all organizations, the goal is to have the Foundation’s funding available to charities and non-profits in Alberta that serve Albertans. While the funding of charities is currently allowable, we are working with CRA to confirm the parameters in which we can provide funding to non-profits. Stay tuned for updates by subscribing to our newsletter.
What resources are available if I have not selected an idea to explore?
It is important to point out that this process is meant for organizations that have settled on a social enterprise idea that they wish to explore further (i.e. it’s post-ideation).
If you have not yet committed to an idea for a venture, please check out some resources on organizational readiness, ideation and opportunity identification that we have compiled. These resources will assist you in learning more about social enterprise and what it could mean within your organization—with that hope that this will lead you into the A.S.E.S.S. process.
Why twelve worksheets?
While twelve worksheets may seem like a lot to complete, we have condensed for you the wisdom of almost every resource we could find on social venture start-ups and lean start-ups. In these worksheets we have tried to highlight the crucial issues you will need to look at if you are going to run a social enterprise and the questions supporters (from team members, to Boards, allies and potential funders) typically ask.
As well, bear in mind these charts are only a fraction as difficult as it is to start-up and run a social enterprise. As many venture incubators say: you are going to have to address these issues at some point, do you want to do it now or after years of effort (when supporters are starting to get impatient) and after thousands of dollars (when funders are getting antsy)?
Why am I asked to focus on five years out?
As you work through this toolkit, it is designed to ensure that you are working off of a vision of what your venture will look like after it’s been operating for 5 years. Certainly, this will evolve through pilot projects and other learnings, but if you don’t have an early high-level idea of what your venture will look like when it is up and running you are less likely to flag what will need to be done to ensure your venture is a success. Without such a vision you are also less likely to convince others to buy into your venture. Failing to consider how things will look when the venture is up and running also diminishes your ability to devise the pilot projects you really need and maximize your learning from them. Add it all up and working from a five year vision of what you would like your venture to be will have a huge impact on your chances of success.
How do I get started?
See the above section
To sum up, we have really tried to provide a tool that helps organizations engage in better planning that confirms the project excites them, has the best chance of success, and accurately pinpoints where funding can be of the most help. We are hoping that better planning and more flexible funding is the perfect combination to help the growth and development of impactful social enterprises in Alberta.