Sarika Gupta on the Challenges of Being a Social Entrepreneur

Shannon Beeman
April 1, 2013

In a recent USA Today article, Collegiate Correspondent Caitlyn Finnegan discusses the realities of incorporating social responsibility into business. Finnegan cites Sarika Gupta, Student Program Manager at the Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies, on some of the challenges that social entrepreneurs run into, like making enough money to sustain a business.

Check out the article below to learn more.

Young entrepreneurs mix business, social responsibility

As more Millennials enter college and start businesses, finding ways to satisfy both economic and social bottom lines has captured the attention of business programs across the country.
Vincent Ko, Luke Lagera and Michael Mills wanted to help change the world.

The three friends and recent Georgetown University graduates were inspired to create an alternative to plastic and metal sunglasses, but wanted their company to have a significant social impact at the same time. Finally an idea struck: Panda Sunglasses, a collection of sustainable, handcrafted sunglasses made out of bamboo.

The trio partnered with the Tribal Medical Outreach Association (TOMA) — an organization that provides free eye examinations and other health services for tribal communities — and took their idea to Kickstarter in 2011, raising $20,000 in just three days.

A following of socially conscious consumers and support from boutiques and retailers like Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie soon followed.

Just over a year later, the company has helped fund more than 1,000 eye examinations and free eyeglasses through the TOMA Foundation.

“We want Panda to be a recognizable brand for social change,” Ko said. “So when someone sees Panda, they know that for everything that is purchased through the company, an individual in need or a charitable organization will benefit.”

The founders don’t hide the influence that successful social brands like TOMS — a company that donates one pair of shoes for each pair purchased — had on germinating the idea for their company.
“We figured if we could make a fraction of the impact that (TOMS founder) Blake Mycoskie made with a different item, we’d be doing a good job,” Ko said.

The importance of combining profit with social impact has been embraced by businesses big and small over the past few years. Industry titans like Starbucks and Nordstrom have made social responsibility an integral part of their marketing plans, but in the world of young start-ups, entrepreneurs are still figuring out how to keep the model as authentic and transparent as possible.

“It’s difficult to be a social entrepreneur because you have two goals you want to achieve; you have a cause you are promoting, but still want to make money,” said Sarika Gupta, the student program manager at the University of Michigan’s Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies.

To read the complete article, visit the USA Today website.