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Is it feasible to build a company based on passion for the environment?

After working in the sustainability sector for nearly a decade I have met extremely talented individuals that actively seek organizations with a strong mission to make the world better. Such organizations are rare and I wanted to check with the community here if they know of organizations that have thrived less because of their product/idea and more because of their ability to rally dedicated and talented people? Do you think the strategy for such a company differs from that of, say, a company with a strong product focus?

15 Replies

Ulrik Horn
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Ulrik Horn Entrepreneur
Project Manager at Watty
By the way, I am looking for a (full stack) programmer co-founder in Stockholm or Oslo with a strong passion for the environment and/or poverty reduction if anyone knows someone or knows how to get in touch with such a person.
Lester de Souza
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Lester de Souza Entrepreneur
Counsel, Barrister & Solicitor at DE SOUZAS
Ulrik, it seems there is a growing interest in what you are looking for. The challenge with an early entrant is the absence of precedents. What you might want to do is connect with those who have a similar vision. There are many dedicated and talented people. Question is: what are their priorities?
Ulrik Horn
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Ulrik Horn Entrepreneur
Project Manager at Watty
Thanks Lester. I did a search for people here on FD in Stockholm and Oslo with the "Green" tag but only got one or two results. There have been organizations in the past with a relatively strong mission. I used to work for a company in the UK called Garrad Hassan that attracted top talent with a passion for the environment. When the company was acquired by an Oil and Gas giant people fled the organization! This is one of several observations that inspire me. When you ask what the passionate and capable people's priorities are, do you mean whether they would sacrifice salary and/or time to embark on a risky adventure with an uncertain outcome in the early days of the company? I think once we have a proven product and can hire people on more or less standard contracts it will not be hard to recruit.
Lester de Souza
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Lester de Souza Entrepreneur
Counsel, Barrister & Solicitor at DE SOUZAS
There is a fundamental difference between Corporate Social Responsibility compared to starting from the perspective of passion for the environment / poverty reduction. From your description, it seems the Oil and Gas giant was interested in the take over to satisfy the CSR interest. The people who were taken over were there for their passion. The priorities are different. So, I would suggest, having a proven product and ability to hire may actually make it more difficult to distinguish between people who are there for the job and those who are there for their passion. The reason for a person working will make a difference in the results you want.
Craig Larson
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Craig Larson Entrepreneur
Business Development • Analytics • Smarketing
A mantra given me while a student of Buckminster Fuller is "Do More With Less ... Time Materials, Energy". Check out LockBlox.com. We make concrete block like elements from compressed agri-waste (the straw that is burnt in the field after harvesting wheat, rice, etc. To the topic: LockBlox is uber environmentally sustainable however, regardless of passion, it has been difficult to obtain growth capital. Can you help us with this most green endeavor?
Ulrik Horn
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Ulrik Horn Entrepreneur
Project Manager at Watty
Thanks Craig it is good to see others pursuing green ventures. While I do not want to exclude any future cooperation I prefer a co-founder in Stockholm or Oslo. Or are you fleeing the possible Trump fallout? ;)
Scott McGregor
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Scott McGregor Entrepreneur • Advisor
Advisor, co-founder, consultant and part time executive to Tech Start-ups. Based in Silicon Valley.
I recently began working with an Angel who shares a passion for the environment, and who operates both a non profit foundation and some for profit businesses. I am also taking a free Coursera course: https://www.coursera.org/learn/grand-challenges which explores many technologies and ways for companies to be both profitable and help the world achieve sustainability goals. I think you might find it directly addresses your interests. Here are some of my observations from my own experiences in business and charitable organizations. It is very easy to take a passion and to many start initiatives that generate expenses and maybe informational results, without generating revenue. However, without revenue that exceeds the expenses, the business will never become self-sustaining ("evergreen"), and will always be in jeopardy of running out of money without regular cash infusions. Unless they have a single patron, they will need to have a staff dedicated to a constant fund raising effort. Whether or not they have a 501(c)3 status or not such organizations are effectively charities the constantly consume cash. In contrast, profitable companies are self-sustaining and generate ("throw off") cash. In a traditional "C" corporation this profits goes to the share holders, who in turn often fund many charitable organizations as philanthropy. In the new "For Benefit" (B) corporations, instead of distribution of profits to the shareholders some or all of those profits may be directed to other beneficial causes. However, even C Corporations often do charitable giving. Unlike patron's whose cash is constantly declining, growing profitable corporations keep generating increasing amounts of cash allowing them to underwrite even more initiatives. But C corporations can only continue to grow if people actually buy their products, so they need to be close to the target consumers of those goods. There is waste generated when companies overestimate markets demand and produce more than demand. But for a company to be sustainable, this can't happen often. In contrast, charitable efforts often generate large amounts of waste. Enthusiastic (but sometimes ill informed) well meaning donors often contribute what they think local people want or need, often without checking with the local populations or the groups that serve them. The result can be too much of the wrong supplies, in the wrong places, and not enough of the needed supplies. For instance, after a disaster like the earthquake in Haiti, lots of food might arrive a ports with no way to distribute it, leaving it to rot on the docks, while there may be a shortage of tents that could be dropped by helicopter or small plane into inaccessible areas with need. C Corporations can rally passionate people in two ways: first of all these companies may produce products that are in demand by other environmentally concerned customers and whose products directly benefit sustainability. These products could include solar panels, windmills, efficient irrigation systems, co-generation plants that produce energy from waste and produce valuable by-products, etc. They can also include mobile apps that piggyback on cellular phones and networks to provide distributed sensors for agriculture, park preservation, etc. or 3D printing technologies that obviate the need for shipping and warehouses of stale inventory by manufacturing only what is needed, only when it is needed, and at the location it is needed. Passionate employees can directly connect their passion to the products. Secondly, a company may produce products that are not directly related to sustainability, but the company may make charitable giving part of their business strategy. For instance, Warby Parker makes eye glasses; that's not something you might think of as a sustainable or developmental product - but with 15% of the world's population needing eye glasses but lacking the financial ability to acquire them, there's a need, and Warby Parker contributes a free pair to the needy for every pair they sell. Their employees and their consumers can be passionate about that kind of action. More and more for profit companies are doing this same kind of thing.
Craig Larson
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Craig Larson Entrepreneur
Business Development • Analytics • Smarketing
Let's table politics for now. It has me concerned ... no, scared. Geography shouldn't constrain our entrepreneurial efforts. LockBlox is international, in fact it must launch in India, Africa, and other areas not so restricted by codes and regulations. Another company I'm working with is NG1 TechFlo. They are expanding across the US, visiting Vale in Brazil next week, and will be featured at the Grayline event in Iceland coming up soon. They reduce environmental impact, providing 10%+ fuel economy by simply changing an exhaust pipe. The technology applies to practically all internal combustion engines. Here too, we are looking for strategic partners.
Aaron Schmookler
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Company Culture Engineer / Change Management Improv Trainer / Keynote Interactive Speaker
Hi Ulrik. I share your passion for the environment and it's well-being. That said, it's not enough to found a company on.

As with any company, you've got to identify a specific problem that you can solve. And you've got to create a solution for it. Then you can found a company and inspire people to get on board with you to bleed and sweat for the cause. People have to believe in the mission, yes. They also have to believe in the solution.
Paul Garcia
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Paul Garcia Advisor
President at TABLE
Ulrik,
You can certainly found a successful company with an environmental protection mission, but "passion" is an overused and an emotional connection to an industry, not itself a reason to do anything. There are four criteria for creating a career you will love, absolutely none of them rely on having a passion. In fact, if passion is all you have, investors might be inclined to run away. They want business skills, good planning, and a clear path to success, not just passion, because passion alone doesn't make money and can get in the way of making good business decisions.

I encourage you to establish your four criteria clearly and then decide how to turn that into a business of your own or whether you prefer to use the information to choose a career someone else started but you are helping to grow and evolve.

1) Location: where do you want to work
2) Industry: what type of product or service do you want to represent
3) Title and Responsibilities
4) Definition of Career Success: what goals and wins do you wish to accomplish and how do you wish to be rewarded (money, awards, title, expert recognition, etc.)
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