Stumptown Startups Blog

When the bottom line isn't the only top priority

When the bottom line isn't the only top priority »Play Video

Making a profit and doing good for society: is it possible? Can companies find success when the bottom line is a top priority, but not the only one?

On Tuesday, nine local startups will compete in the Fast Pitch finals: Portland’s first investment competition focused on for-profit businesses also looking to have a positive social impact.

For-profit companies are hoping to receive one of two equity investments after receiving intensive coaching and mentoring during the past four months.

And no, making a few nice donations isn’t good enough to be part of this bunch; the competition’s website says companies must “ensure that the social mission is deeply embedded in, and a central component of, the business model.”

One finalist is Summer Kramer, who created SummerSkin, LLC. She went from pharmacist to fashion entrepreneur after a skin cancer diagnosis in 2007 left her searching for sun protective clothing she enjoyed wearing.

“I was shocked,” Kramer said. “All I could find were nylon or polyester based fabrics or things of styles that I didn't want to wear on an everyday basis.”

Her goal is to provide fashionable, protective clothing to more people while raising skin cancer awareness. She said a white cotton shirt has the equivalent of SPF 5 in sunscreen, while her clothing offers protection with the equivalent of SPF 50+.

Along with her mission, she’s focused on her business model.

“We're seeing right now epidemic levels of skin cancer, with over 3.5 million skin cancers diagnosed every year,” Kramer said. “If we're not profitable, our clothes go away.”

Carolynn Duncan, founding partner of Northwest Social Venture Fund, which put on the Fast Pitch competition, said it’s time more entrepreneurs and investors to start thinking about “impact investing.”

“Almost like a guilt trip that it’s not okay to do well financially but also be a good person,” Duncan said. “But we want to say impact investing is the vehicle to feel good about investments you want to make and put your money where your mouth is.”
    
Duncan feels nonprofits are important but that for-profit companies have potential to do good faster and with a wider reach.

“YouTube flipped from being two guys in a basement to a billion and a half company in two years,” Duncan said.

She hopes to encourage similar success in companies competing Tuesday, which include one making clean water systems, another creating indoor gardening capabilities for fresh food and one collaborating with women who can’t work outside the home to make handmade soaps.

“I think there are a lot of us out doing some really great things with really core missions that can really impact the world in a positive way,” Kramer said.

Do you think these companies can find financial success while also making a positive impact on society? What advice do you have for them?

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