Entrepreneurship, Startups, Social Enterprise
Do you have what it takes to become the next Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, or Sara Blakely? According to Gates, having “good advice and good ideas and lots of enthusiasm” were keys to his initial success along with having “partnerships from the very beginning.” A strong sense of ownership and proprietary values can be applied to any situation, whether you are the ultimate decision-maker operating an independent business or an “intrapreneur” running a venture within an organization. Regardless of the terminology, the decision to become your own boss carries some risk and is not to be taken lightly.
Social enterprises are businesses that have two goals: to generate income by selling a product or service, and creating a social, environmental, or cultural impact. These organizations are driven by both profit and purpose. Nonprofits and charities do this on a regular basis. Careers in social enterprises may include being part of a nonprofit or philanthropic organization, government or nongovernmental organizations, for-profit and nonprofit social ventures, and social venture capital firms. Some may also start their own business that has both financial and social purpose.
As a budding entrepreneur, you can use your summers (or term time) to explore what it would be like to own and run a business or join a startup. Be proactive; see if you can create your own experience. Reach out to Harvard alumni and ask those who have launched their own organizations if they've ever considered hiring interns. Familiarize yourself with the startup community. Attend local startup meetings and meet-ups, review resources, and join entrepreneurship challenges.
Since social enterprise combines business and social purpose, gaining experience in either or both sectors would be helpful. Use summers to explore internships in nonprofit or philanthropic organizations. Consider interning or volunteering at a startup or business to help you acquire the necessary business skills. Join a student group on campus or intern at a nonprofit organization.
Is working for a startup or as an entrepreneur right for you?
- Do you like working in teams?
- Are you ok with working extra hours/nights and weekends?
- Is job security important to you? To help you assess this, visit The Startup Interrogation Room.
- Do you want to start your own venture, or join an existing startup?
Remember the following:
- There is no timeline or typical job search for entrepreneurs. The best way to learn whether startups are for you is to talk to a successful entrepreneur or get on-the-job training. Reach out to Harvard alumni through Alumni Directory or LinkedIn alumni dashboard.
- Joining a Harvard Career Club can help you learn about career fields, enhance key job skills, and develop industry contacts.
The central idea of being an entrepreneur is being your own boss rather than “applying” to work for someone else. That being said, many employers often seek candidates with an “entrepreneurial style” who are self-directed and need little supervision, or who have a strong sense of proprietary values about their work. Opportunities in some areas of marketing, for example, often require these qualities. So, if you’re not ready to start your own business, look for options where you can take on equivalent responsibilities.
Likewise, with high competition and limited jobs in social enterprise, the best way to obtain experience is often through networking. Reach out to Harvard alumni through Alumni Directory or LinkedIn alumni dashboard. Go to networking meetings and consider joining a social enterprise professional association. “The way people get jobs in this sector is they know people,” says Kyle Westaway, a social enterprise attorney. “You have to already be deeply connected in this sector and understand what’s going on there…before you have a hope of getting that email in your inbox.”
There are several ways to think about funding for your startup venture:
- Joining a challenge at Harvard or an external challenge.
- Joining an accelerator or incubator.
- Researching and finding venture capital and private equity opportunities.