The startup world is filled with many new types of businesses. Some are technology businesses, others focus on manufacturing, and some focus on social impact. Social enterprises are the hot new thing in startup land. Emerging in the 1970s, these businesses focus on the societal impact their startups can have. But these aren’t your traditional non-profits that we grew up knowing that use donations to help those in need. Social enterprises use commercial activities and have business goals and societal goals. As a result, the social side of the business is embedded in their business activities and they are tackling some big issues. From inequality to plastic waste, they are the ninjas of the business world, stealthily helping others while you shop. Social enterprises range in what they do from providing you with cute moccasins (TOMS) and coffee cups (KeepCup) to helping collect plastic waste.
theotherstraw is a startup that is part of the SPARK Deakin Accelerator and the ING Dreamstarter program. They are a social enterprise tackling plastic waste by selling reusable bamboo straws. Jamie and Lennart started theotherstraw 8 months ago. It started like all good businesses do by trying to solve a problem. But their start journey was far from normal, as Lennart says, “The business started on a holiday. It was a whirlwind on the spot process and had a steep learning curve that was complex.”
Jamie and Lennart are passionate about the environment. In recent years they became more concerned with their own impact, Lennart emphasising that, “It is ingrained in our values. In all aspects of life, we have had a passion to care for the world and others.” Jamie and Lennart started immediately trying to see what they could do and while on their holiday they started looking for suppliers who could help them. They met many but it was not until they found one that shared the same values as they did that, they knew they could proceed. They ended up working with the Hmong minority group in Vietnam to provide sustainable jobs in the community. You see, Jamie and Lennart don’t just care about how cheap their straws are and profit margins. As a social enterprise, they value the whole production process and knew it was their duty as founders to make sure all their stakeholders were protected. Their values truly seem to be ingrained in every part of the business.
Image provided by: theotherstraw
When I first learned about theotherstraw I was sceptical. My immediate thought was “why straws?” and “how can a straw makes an impact?” I’m a creature of habit and I don’t like to change my routine. But as Jamie so brilliantly puts it, theotherstraw is “a simple solution that helps businesses and people make a simple change.” It really involved no effort, and just like the gym, we all have to start somewhere. theotherstraw’s appeal seems obvious. It’s a gateway drug of sustainability, you start with a straw and pretty soon you are integrating sustainable solutions in all aspects of your life. But it goes even further than that. Every time you use it you feel good, especially when you consider just how many plastic straws we use. In Australia, people use almost 10,000,000 straws a day. Yes – that’s one million plastic straws every single day. These fill our oceans and never break down. But on a more positive note, theotherstraw’s sustainable bamboo straw looks great too (perfect for any Instagram posts).
But running a business is very hard, as Lennart puts, “It is an emotional roller-coaster with heaps of ups and downs. We always wanted to set up and run our own business. Before this, we had not been in the entrepreneurial space. We did have some stints of running a business and organisations, but this is the first full-fledged enterprise.”
This is especially true when you are young and don’t have the capital or connections behind you. This is a problem them almost all young founders face at one point or another. But this didn’t stop the social enterprise power couple with theotherstraw hitting 20,000 units sold, and with 80 stockists and 27% month-on-month growth, there is no stopping them. But what is even cooler than these stats is the impact it has had on society. It is estimated that through the use of their bamboo straws they have prevented 2 million or more plastic straws from being used. That is a lot of turtles that have been saved and shows just how big of an impact a social enterprise can have.
Image provided by: theotherstraw
If you have ever thought of running a business, social enterprises are an awesome way to incorporate social issues into your company. But even beyond the social enterprise model, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) can be incorporated into all businesses. From being aware of stakeholder needs and knowing your responsibilities, to reducing the environmental impact of your business, I think it is the responsibility of all young entrepreneurs to think about how their business fits into society and what they can do for others.