Idea to Action: The Impact Incubator

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Last week we heard from Robert about his experience as a consultant with CGS. This week we’re shifting focus to one of our business developers, Lauren Sears, and hearing her step-by-step breakdown of our crucial service for budding social entrepreneurs, presented in partnership with the Social Enterprise Network of Nova Scotia: the Impact Incubator.

Lauren, who’s been working with CGS as a developer since last year, told me that it all starts with an idea and initial meeting.

Step 1: “We meet with clients and try to understand the impact they’re really trying to create. Some new social entrepreneurs might not have an idea of what an enterprising solution to their issue looks like, right out of the gate.” Nonetheless, the clients bring the energy from the get-go. “They’re very inspired to fix an issue.”

Step 2: Because an idea is where every good enterprise starts, the next step is to sit down and really distill that idea into a core statement; something that will inform all of the work that will then develop. This distillation happens through the first part of the unique set of tools we call the “front end”: the Social Impact Canvas, or SIC. Lauren explained that the SIC works as a grounding mechanism:

“We do this part first so the entrepreneur understands that their idea needs to be core to what we’re doing, and it’s a way to stay focused. When you’re starting a new business often there can be distractions and opportunities that may pull you away from your intended impact. And that can be exciting--but we need to stay grounded and focused on what we’re trying to achieve.” As a longtime volleyball coach, Lauren knows the importance of focus for overall success. But that’s not to say that the SIC can’t change at all, she continued, as the potential for flexibility is a key factor of the Incubator process. “If there’s an opportunity that we need to pursue and it’s not on our canvas then we can always pivot, we can reorganize.”

With the core idea established,

Step 3 generates a Social Business Model Canvas, which is a clear and accessible frame of reference. “We capture, on one page, all of the critical elements of the business. Who are our key partners? Where’s our revenue coming from, what are our costs? What are we delivering, what are our channels?” Lauren’s questions came rapid-fire.

When asking the right questions, some of the answers may then identify bridges to be crossed. “From there,” Lauren continued, “we use [the Social Impact Canvas and the Social Business Model Canvas] to do what we call a Gap Analysis. We figure out what resources we already have, where we can find the ones we don’t, how much of something we need--and if we don’t have those answers, then those are some of the gaps.”

Step 4 formulates a timeline that will lead you to launch. Once a firm (but flexible!) course of action is established between developer and client, their level of collaboration is entirely up to them. Lauren illustrated by comparing it to a relationship you might have with your doctor: “You go in when you have an ailment, and they’ll make a recommendation to you based on the information that you’re giving them.”

So, what happens when it’s time to launch?

“After we do those front-end pieces, we support the client through the launch and help promote the material. Depending on when the launch happens [within the five year plan], that will dictate how much after-care you have with CGS.” But the support will always be there: “we can still come to the table with not only our massive network, but also recommendations on funding, on potential export, on research--we keep entrepreneurs tied in.”

Overall, of course, the aim is for the entrepreneur to become independent--but growth is more like a sliding scale than an immovable end-goal, and Lauren recognizes the need for support at every step of the way. “As they scale their business, we’re still here to be leaned on for support. While we’re not part of your full-time team, you still have expertise that you can leverage when you need it.”

Ready to take your idea to launch, and beyond? Contact us here.

The Impact Incubator began in November of 2016, and has seen 24 clients in the last 10 months, 6 of which have launched their businesses.


Written by: Sam Krueger

Sam Krueger is from Toronto and lives and writes in Halifax. He has spent the summer conducting research at Common Good Solutions HQ for the Social Enterprise Network of Nova Scotia, and is excited to bring a voice to the office, its people, and Nova Scotia’s social enterprise community.