What does it take to be a social entrepreneur?

Earlier this month, three of our initiatives were given the opportunity to share their entrepreneurial journey with students from Ducere Global Business School’s Masters of Business Administration (Innovation and Leadership) program.

Amanda Bartley, PwC’s national Corporate Responsibility director moderated the panel consisting of Michele Miller, founder of Robotics WPS, Nicole Brown, global CEO of Robogals and Justin Matthys, co-founder of Maths Pathway.

The panel discussed their biggest challenges and how being a part of the 21st Century Minds (21CM) Accelerator Program has enabled them to expand their networks and access the expert knowledge and diverse skill sets of their mentor teams.

We captured some of their responses for you to learn more about their experiences:

Why did you apply to be a part of 21st Century Minds?

Nicole Brown (NB): I saw this as a great opportunity to gain more professional knowledge. My team and I recognised we had gaps in our knowledge that we needed to fill. The program has provided us with a platform to develop our own skills and our mentor team has been so helpful, especially in the areas of impact assessment and partnership development

Justin Matthys (JM): To grow our network. All of the initiatives who are part of this program are solving a part of the problem in different ways. And when you’re running a start-up, your job description changes weekly! Having advice from people who are experts is incredibly beneficial. There are so many challenges that others have solved that we can learn from.

Michele Miller (MM): To access a supportive STEM community and gain invaluable advice. As a young business this program has helped me grow my knowledge and has given me the confidence that what I am doing is on the right track.

What are the biggest challenges you face as a social entrepreneur?

MM: Decision making. This is a huge daily challenge – who handles what, what gets prioritised? Each decision has a flow on effect.

JM: Everything is challenging! You’re always moving from one challenge to the next because once you’ve solved it, the next thing you work on becomes your new challenge. A big challenge however is the tension we face between impact and scale. Do we innovate to make things more consistent or do we focus on growing our organisation through marketing? Making decisions that impact our students knowing how how different the reality would be if we weren’t involved is always something we consider.

NB: As a global organisation, working across different time zones is one of our biggest difficulties. Especially when we’re all students! The differing schedules can be challenging. A key part of overcoming this is building an open and honest culture.

“For me, it is so important that my team understand our global goals and feel empowered to make decisions autonomously. This is something we are continuing to build on as we grow as an organisation.” Nicole Brown

How do you capitalise on the national conversation about ideas, science and innovation?

NB: We’ve been invited to parliamentary conversations and roundtables with other professionals within this space. At these events, we are often the only not-for-profit represented, however it is encouraging to be able to influence the national conversation. Being students, I believe we provide a different perspective to many conversations that may not necessarily be considered; therefore the national conversation provides a platform to share our generation’s ideas.

MM: We’re now able to have an impact on a wider audience. My relationship with PwC has helped with this, because now we’re gaining access to collective groups who make decisions, rather than one school at a time.

Our current education system is steeped in tradition. What barriers have you faced in trying to improve it?

JM: It is essential to engage all levels of leadership, all stakeholders – teachers, parents and students when trying to address change. It’s important to show you’re good at what you’re doing and making an impact. We’ve also had to help our stakeholders understand that what we’re offering is something they need instead of want.

“The best approach is to be honest! Let them know the destination is worth getting to.” Justin Matthys

MM: It is crucial to build strong relationships with schools. Simply selling a product is not going to work at all. Don’t underestimate the power of ‘word of mouth’. Be available for your clients – take calls right away and be proactive. Know the market you’re dealing with and the State Departments that manages it, because some departments are more proactive than others. And try to get in front of the right decision makers!

Kirstyn Chan is part of PwC Australia’s Corporate Responsibility team and is here to provide you with the latest news from the 21st Century Minds program. Follow her on Twitter @kirstyn_c for updates.