Do socially motivated, sustainable businesses by definition have an advantage over other businesses? Are green businesses the future of entrepreneurship? What makes a business a social business compared with a normal business?

I missed posting last Thursday and Friday because I was at the University of Notre Dame with seven other people reviewing more than 60 executive summaries submitted to the two Notre Dame venture competitions – the McCloskey Business Plan Competition and the newer Sustainable Social Venture Competition. Two thirds of these proposed new businesses entered in the straight business plan contest; a third of them entered the Sustainable Social Venture contest.

I came out of this two-day effort with several thoughts relevant to getting up and running.

  1. This is a reminder: If you can, enter a business plan or venture contest. There are more of them every year. I’ve been personally involved with several, including University of Oregon, University of Texas and University of San Francisco, as well as these two at the University of Notre Dame. Contests are cropping up in lots of new places, developed by business schools, business groups, chambers of commerce and businesses. Many of them have cash prizes. Most have good feedback from judges, most get investors involved, and if you’re working on a startup, this is something you should consider.
  2. Think about the words “social” and “sustainable” as applied by the contest. Borders are fading. As we reviewed the summaries, we found many of these plans could cross borders from one side to another. Food service businesses are going green with healthier foods, organic foods and new markets, such as two-working-parent families. Product businesses are looking for new kinds of environmentally friendly products, and socially friendly products coming out of microbusinesses and disadvantaged regions. Real estate is looking at green construction and new developing neighborhoods. Fitness and health services are looking at older populations with greater social needs. It’s a brave new world.
  3. If you want to communicate a new idea, tell a story. Start with a person and a problem, and explain how you solve that problem. That’s the best way to communicate a market, marketing strategy and business. I just did a full post on that, Always Lead With Your Story, on my Planning Startups Stories blog.
  4. I’m biased, because I’m a graduate of Notre Dame (though in literature, not business), but I want to say first that I’m really impressed with these two contests and the Gigot Center for Entrepreneurship that runs them. Notre DameThe McCloskey contest is in its seventh or eighth year now. It’s had some great entries that went on to be successful businesses. The social and sustainable contest is in its fourth year. Both contests get a lot of help from Irish Angels, a very active group of alums who are real investors and make real contributions (judges, screeners and  mentors) to the program. I was pleased to participate as a judge of the first three McCloskey events, and I was glad to be back this year for a couple of days doing preliminaries. From what I’ve seen, this program has done an excellent job recruiting new people and holding on to good people once they’re there.
Tim BerryTim Berry

Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software and Follow him on Twitter @Timberry.