Over the past few weeks there's been a fly buzzing around my head — not a literal fly, although there are some of those too — but rather the pesky question of why most of the ventures that come through PresenTense are fundamentally limited in terms of their financial scalability. Over the course of our entrepreneurship training fellowship program we try to develop additional angles to the ventures, and help grow the earned-income side of the operations. But for the most part the primary challenge of our ventures are that they are originally conceived as traditional nonprofits in so far as they expect donors to pay for the benefit of a third-party participant.
And then I come across a blog post like this one, on how Cows on Treadmills Could Produce Six Percent of World's Power. What a brilliant idea: take a resource that is currently under-utilized, frame it in a new way, and address two pressing challenges at once: energy-production and raising healthy cattle. Notice, the value proposition at this point has nothing to do with the positive externality (reduction of green house gas) and also notice that the second-order benefit of collecting cattle dung for additional energy and heating benefit isn't mentioned.
This might seem like a far-off analogy to the work social entrepreneurs in the Jewish Community could be doing, but I think it's more than proper. We have a small but powerful community, which is used to doing one thing at a time (either producing energy or raising cattle, for example). Bringing some of those things together in interesting ways can not only save in operations cost, but also create additional positive externalities. And this is all under the frame of a business, for-profit, with strong internal incentives for success.
In other words, while we have some brilliant fellows who are doing some world changing things (and who are getting recognized for doing so, as Eli Winkelman recently did by Joshua Venture), I'd like to see more social businesses come through PresenTense which recognize currently underutilized resources within our community, combine them with profit-making impulse, and produce social good. Anyone out there with ideas of how to attract these folks to a program rooted and devoted to the Jewish community?