How to do good with your startup: Grace & Green
Frances Lucraft is the founder of Grace & Green, a social enterprise that tackles both the environmental impact of traditional sanitary products and addresses the problems faced by menstruating women in developing countries. We recently sent Frances to a global social entrepreneurship summit in Chicago where she could showcase her concept and learn from keynote speakers how to combine profit and social enterprise - here's what she learned.
I have long been passionate about building a profitable business that does ‘good’ in the world, so winning the opportunity of attending the 1st Start-Up summit in Chicago - dedicated to creating business opportunities for changing a better world - was a huge opportunity in highlighting what is a very important issue to me. I launched Eco Hygiene Care (trademark Grace & Green) to develop a conscientious corporate model which is purpose-driven to make a positive change.
As a new start-up operating in the modern business world, I learnt very early on that providing a great product and shopping ‘experience’ would only get me so far. I realised a traditional business was not necessarily just about the product, but the impact you could have on people’s lives.
This is something that rang through in the Chicago summit's first presentation by Gayle Northrop, President at Northrop Consulting, who emphasised ‘Why it’s good business to be a good business’. “I chose to work here because we want to do good. But why worry about social good?” she asked. “I’ll tell you why… 43% of customers will pay 10% more for ethically sourced goods”.
“Have a reason for being,” says Wendy Abrams, founder of Cool Globes and an environmental activist (amongst many other talents). Wendy practices what she preaches: ”If you are the CEO you work harder than everyone else, and you ask for less than you give”.
Andrew Hunt, co-founder of Aduna, also provided a fine example of combining both meaningful work with a purpose. Luckily for Andrew, the opportunity of a lifetime to volunteer in The Gambia gave him a completely new lease on life, an all-consuming passion for Africa, and the inspiration to create his social enterprise business. In personal terms, his inspiring story is entwined in the very mission and core values of his business - to create a virtuous circle that feeds positive impacts back to the source through the African ingredient of the baobab, ‘The Feel Good Fruit’, which has the potential to bring health and vitality to customers all over the world. In doing so, it provides sustainable incomes to 8-10 million rural households. It’s a vision that is truly inspiring.
Listening to stories like Andrew’s provided inspiration for how to find and combine meaningful impact whilst making profit - but it also emphasised to me how impact and profit can be nicely aligned with your passions. This was something echoed by the Summit keynote, Mats Lederhausen, Founder and CEO of BE-CUASE, who added: “Entrepreneurs need to solve persistent problems in new, innovative ways.”
The idea of seeing problems as opportunites has always really excited me. I have always been personally fascinated by the stories of social entrepreneurs - they are not only compassionate and beneficial to others, but are also smart in business.
And we all can do this through the problems we encounter of a day-to-day basis. Grace and Green came to me whilst on a career break. I’d decided to take a year out after working in a high-pressured environment and travelling quite extensively. I was brunt out and largely dissatisfied and frustrated by the amount of effort it took to make any significant impact in achieving true sustainable poverty reduction.
Menstrual hygiene was becoming more and more of an issue to me, purely because of the places I was travelling to. I believe my interest was truly captured by the direct stories of individual girls who were doing their best to continue with a normal life whilst menstruating but were forced to stay at home without any sanitary protection. It seemed to me such a stark example of the gender inequity that exists worldwide, but rather than horrific, unmissable examples such as gender-based violence, this insidious culture could so easily let this go unchecked, and in turn, continue the gender gap for millions of girls.
Whilst I am knowledgeable in my subject area, I had very little business understanding and knowledge. Having only worked in the NGO sector, the biggest hurdle for me was getting my mindset around the significance of profit, and realising that making money would actually be a good thing! Virgin StartUp was hugely important in making me realise this. I now see it as a necessity, in order to expand the reach of positive impact.
This was something that was also reiterated at the Chicago Summit - yes, profit may be core to business success, because of what can be achieved with it, if used in a positive way. My belief is now that its possible for people, planet and profit to be interlinked and instilled into everything we do.
To anyone with a business idea stored away in the back of their minds, my advise is to really visualise it, write it down, or sketch it out. Talk about it. Make it feel real. You have to believe in it for it become a reality. Remember that some of the best ideas come from solving a problem and finding a solution; a new lesson that shifts your perspective which gives you the courage to make a change in your life. Anything is really possible. Being resourceful without a lot of resources on-hand. Yes - you will make lots of sacrifices, but what that does is constantly challenge the way you think, and in my case, will probably make you want it all the more. Do things that really inspire you, because ultimately that’s where you’re going to have the greatest impact.
I've received such wonderful support from Virgin StartUp, but but the advice and networking with other fellow entrepreneurs in Chicago was invaluable and motivational. I’m excited to combine the new enthused energy and knowledge I’ve gained as I embark on the next phase of my business, in seeking and securing investment, as I move closer to launching later this year. I wish to say a huge congratulations and thanks to Virgin Start-up and Virgin Unite for their incredible support and hope they continue to organise such a wonderful but invaluable events.
Frances's top tips for social enterprises
- Surround yourself by a close network of people who are both supported and challenge you.
- Tap into a network of likeminded people. Virgin StartUp were hugely significant in my startup journey too - providing practical support, access to fantastic business coaches and mentors, as well as resources such as funding. Brands like Virgin are pretty inspiring. The willingness from others to share knowledge and networks within these communities is not only hugely beneficial, it helps pep you up on those days when you feel slightly put out and disillusioned.
- Never give up on something you are deeply passionate about. Try not to let others drown out your inner voice with negativity. Ultimately, you need to have the courage to follow your intuition. There will always be people who will doubt your ideas. Turn that into determination to prove them wrong.
- Try to attach meaning to everything you do. Grace & Green is built on the philosophy of educating and empowering women with positive messages, rather than subjecting them with negativity to force them to buy my products. We want to created a word-of-mouth following, with women becoming advocates of what we do and believe in, buying exceptional products that are both good to them and the environment, but in doing so, do good for others. Inspiring women to make conscious choices when it comes to buying products and not compromise on their health and the environment is a wonderful thing to be a part of.
- Keep your integrity and always act with honesty and sincerity. It is much easier and much nicer doing business with people who are authentic and honest.
Frances’s commercial arm of her business Grace & Green is due to launch at the end of the year. Readers can received a 10% discount of products if they pre-order before September 30th with the discount code Change the world. Period.