An example of Social Entrepreneurship from NBC’s Shark Tank
by Peter Smith
February 2, 2012
Ever wonder what it means to be a social entrepreneur? Well, I found some great video to demonstrate what it means.
This link will take you to an episode of ABC’s hit show “Shark Tank.” In this episode, Donny McCall makes a pitch for his product and company called Invis-a-Rack (after the commercial, jump to the second to the last segment on the full episode scroll bar). Donny’s pitch is a vivid example of the courage it takes to be a social entrepreneur. Not only is the Invis-a-rack a great product, it won a “most interesting new product” pick from Popular Mechanics”, but Invis-a-rack is also committed to making all of its products here in America. Donny has instilled his business with a social mission to create and maintain American manufacturing jobs; he prioritizes the business decision to be “made in America” above pure profit making. Thus, Invis-a-rack fits a broad definition of a “social enterprise”: a business that focuses on making a social impact in addition to making a profit.
Donny’s pitch to the Sharks is riveting television (it certainly is TV worth watching as David Scillia’s article on the episode suggests). I was absolutely glued to my seat throughout. Would the Sharks invest in a company whose founder has professed a commitment to manufacturing in America despite a cheaper overseas route? How much would it take to shake his commitment to “made in America”? The Sharks put Donny through the ringer to test his commitment to his mission. Through it all, including what seems like a chance to manufacture his product overseas in exchange for $100,000 in venture capital, Donny holds strong to his social mission.
What struck me was how Donny’s pitch and courage clearly affected venture capitalist Robert Herjavec. Robert’s bottom lip quivers as he talks about his immigrant father’s first factory job here in America—you can tell that Robert feels and understands the social impact that Donny is trying to make. The other Sharks are visible moved as well; they clearly want to invest in this idea. Do they?
Again, this is truly is compelling video (which you know because you watched, right? You didn’t!? You really should. Here’s the link in full: http://abc.go.com/watch/shark-tank/SH559076/VD55166462/week-2 I’ll wait . . .)
If you’re a social entrepreneur or have a business with a social mission, I ask you: Are you as committed to your mission as Donny in the above video? How much money would it take to put profit over the other considerations for your business? Would a slight deviation to mission matter? Can you put off making a difference with your idea until after you’ve “made it”—following the track to social impact that Daymond John describes in the video as “make it first, master it, then matter”?
When I tell my friends and family that I want to focus my law practice on the legal issues facing social enterprises, or businesses that make a social impact, I am typically met with a vacant stare. And I can understand where they’re coming from. What is a “social business” or “social enterprise”? How do you define a “social impact”? There is a lot of debate and nuance of swirling around defining a “social business” (that’s another blog post for another day). For now, let’s just say that a social business is a business whose management focuses on more than merely making a profit because they want to impact the world in a different way and do something for the greater good of society, however a founder might define that. Invis-a-rack is a social business, and Donny McCall is a social entrepreneur because he is using his business and the power of the market as a tool to make an impact on his community. Together, they have given me a powerful way to demonstrate social entrepreneurship.
Thank you, Donny.
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