You want to start a company that makes the world a better place. How are you going to do that, then? I’ll tell you how. And I won’t just tell you how to start one in the UK, I’ll tell you how to do it in Myanmar too. And if you can do it in Myanmar, I’m pretty sure you can do it anywhere in the world.
1. Join a community.
I love coworking spaces. I love to visit and work from new ones in new countries. In London, I spend most of my time in Impact Hub Westminster, and I’m even on their website as a coworking lifeguard.
Joining a supportive community is a vital ingredient in your start-up success, so do it! Where else are you going to make friends that get you through your hard times, and help you celebrate your wins? Check what’s around you and go for a look, or join a tour of coworking spaces in London.
What do you do if no community exists? You start one. That’s exactly what Allison Morris (pictured above), and Pete Silvester did with Project Hub Yangon. The space launched in 2013, but the community-building work really began when the pair hosted Global Entrepreneurship Week in Myanmar in 2012. They hoped that Project Hub Yangon would become a place for like-minded people to discuss ideas, work on projects and create businesses. That’s exactly what’s happened.
Finding new members, and managing the space are the daily battles of every coworking space, but their vision has become a reality. In their first year, as well as hosting the space for members with local space manager Zar Chi, they supported 5 local start-ups through a sponsored incubation program.
“It’s still a lot of work, but it’s worth it to support the local entrepreneurial ecosystem.” Allison Morris, Co-founder.
When I got there, they’d just installed their third independent internet connection, to deal with Myanmar’s notoriously unpredictable service. It was one of the fastest I found in Yangon. They’ve even got an emergency battery that keeps the wi-fi going even when all the other electricity goes out!
If you’ve got some work or research to do while you are in Yangon, definitely check it out.
2. Get Support.
I’m sure it is possible to do everything yourself. I don’t have any evidence to back that up, but I’m sure someone, somewhere has created a social enterprise without any support whatsoever. Probably someone very wealthy. Who just buys support. If you are not in the extremely rich minority, then seek out support for your ideas.
There are all sorts of support programs for social entrepreneurs around the world. Too many to list. One of my favourites in the UK is UnLtd. Not only will they give you the grant to get you started, but they’ll connect you with the right people, and support your growth too. Have a look, see how they can help you.
If you’re a young, and unemployed in Myanmar, what can you do? Find Ryan Russell and Mary Sanra Russell. In 2012, they started Opportunities Now. It’s an entrepreneurship training programme that gives young people in Myanmar the training, mentoring and loans they need to get started. And it’s really working.
Already 30 young people have been through the 1-year programme, and this year, 55 will graduate. If you’re an international student and you’d like to mentor a young entrepreneur in Myanmar for 8 weeks, get in touch with Opportunities Now, now!
3. Network like crazy.
That’s it. You’re on the road with your idea. What’s next? Make sure everyone knows about it. Practice your pitch. Go to events. Meet everybody. Tell them your ideas. Don’t be shy, they won’t steal them, and they may even help you out. That’s just the way it works in social enterprise. Everyone collaborates. In the UK, go to big annual events like OxfordJam, and smaller regular ones like SE_Alley. You’ll probably bump into me!
In Myanmar, you surely have to join the most connected network of them all – AIESEC. It’s thanks to AIESEC Myanmar co-founder and uber-connecter, Klaus Oberbauer, that I was able to meet so many social entrepreneurs in such a short time. Thank you, Klaus!
AIESEC is a youth-led organisation that enables thousands of international exchanges every year. I’ve seen how much travel and experiences abroad can change people, so I’m all for it. Their goal is for peace and the fulfilment of humankind’s potential. Not a bad goal to strive for.
4. Bump into Aung San Suu Kyi, and tell her your plans.
Always be ready for the conversation that could change your life, and change the world. You never quite know when you are going to end up at an event with a Nobel Peace Prize winner, a democratic freedom champion, the leader of the opposition, and perhaps all three in one person.
If you get the chance, what are you going to say? This person has the resources and influence to make your change happen now. You only have 30 seconds.
What did I say? Well, on this occasion, we didn’t get our 30 seconds… What would you have said? Let me know in the comments. I’d be really interested!