Well, effectively you’ve got two kinds of organizations trying to create value from products and services, and all organizations sit somewhere on the spectrum between those. On one end you’ve got companies driven by profit. On the other end, you’ve got Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) driven by their social mandates.
On the capitalism side of the spectrum, you’ve got businesses that are only focused on making a profit, regardless of the impact on both society and the environment. One step in from that is the CSR model, or Corporate Social Responsibility model. This is the concept that businesses have the responsibility to do good - they’re trying to be a responsible member of society.
On the other end of the spectrum are your NGO’s and your not-for-profits. These are often charity driven, with their primary goal being social value. In a not-for-profit business model, you’re trying to get as close to breaking even as possible, but any profit you make goes back into the organisation.
In between that is where you get impact ventures and social enterprises. A social enterprise is definitely trying to make money, but that’s not their sole purpose. The reason they exist is to solve a key issue in the community through their business, whether they’re making goods or providing services. Off-Piste Provisions is an Impact Venture, a more modern term for Social Enterprise as it also brings in the notion of environmental impact instead of just social.
2. So tell us a bit about you, Jade. What’s your background on all this?
My first venture back in 2000 was a fitness centre, or what was referred to as a ‘responsible business’. Here, we started tracking our water usage, electrical usage, and other key energy resources. This was really the start of the journey, trying to mitigate our usage and use less where possible. In 2003, I founded Blue Panda, a restaurant group based in Beijing, China. This was even more so a social enterprise, with social programs at play within the business.
My last venture, Gung Ho Pizza in China, ran from 2010-2019. This leaned more into a social model, and was B-Corp Certified - the third accreditation ever given in China. This went from being a responsible business to a fully fledged social enterprise. From here, I was asked to speak as a guest lecturer on social enterprises at two top universities in China, which was a great opportunity to share our efforts and hopefully influence the younger up-and-coming generation in China.
3. How does starting a Impact Venture differ to a ‘typical’ business or start-up?
This is quite a nuanced answer, though the biggest difference would be that it’s arguably more work. With an impact venture, you need to be a lot more aware about the specifics of how you run your business. It takes more time, energy, and resources at the start of the business, which is a big challenge.
The flip side of that is that it’s incredibly rewarding, and high rewards help make you highly motivated and highly driven. When you believe in your mission and believe it’s bigger than yourself, it makes it easier, despite being ‘harder’ in terms of challenges.
4. Let’s dig into that a little more. In what ways is it more challenging?
Well, you’ve got to be super aware of everything going on in the business. Every move needs to be checked and re-checked to make sure it’s in line with our social values and environmental mandates. When we buy packaging, who are we buying it from? What do they stand for? Who are our vendors, and do they align with our values? What is the impact of every decision? This goes across the whole business, meaning seemingly ‘small’ decisions can take a lot more time, research, and resources.
You need to measure every decision that little bit more than a normal business. Resource use, suppliers, the likes. You’re constantly having to audit your stakeholders and suppliers - you need to understand their certifications and how each supplier operates. Are your suppliers carbon conscious? Ethical? Sustainable? Often they’re not, and when their values don’t align with ours, this cancels out a lot of suppliers.
Many businesses aren’t as aware of their own impact or don’t have a lot of resources to track this. While some businesses are cooperative and try to monitor themselves, for many it’s simply too big and hard of a task. This can make it quite challenging to find partners - whether it’s your bank, your landlord, your suppliers - it narrows the pool a lot.
That being said, while it can be quite tough to find enough options that suit your impact venture, when you do find a partner, they’re usually really good. If their values align, they’ve come a long way on their own and have put a lot more work in too. They’re a lot more durable - they’re there for the long run and are also working towards a bigger picture.
5. What about costs? Would they stay pretty consistent as a ‘typical’ business or a social enterprise?
Unfortunately, starting an impact venture can also cost a little more. Extra time dedicated towards each piece of research, also equals more costs. Partners that reach your specifications and align with your venture also tend to cost more, which can be challenging in the early days with tight budgets.
One thing I’ve learned is that you can’t be too nitpicky in those early days - a bankrupt social enterprise is no help. You need to take baby steps. By all means, have a massive dream. But it doesn’t mean your first step needs to be at that standard. You need to be realistic on your journey and appreciate it’s a long game.
Other costs include third party accreditations. There’s so much greenwash in the world that third-party accreditation is becoming more and more important to prove you’re walking the talk. This also differentiates you from others that make big claims and don’t have the creds to back themselves up. However, accreditations also cost money. They try not to be unreasonable, but as with anything, it all stacks up.
Our process? We ticked these off slowly. Start with the ones most important to you and your customer, and work up from there.
6. How did you navigate finding investors that align with your mission?
Starting a social enterprise as opposed to a traditional business model also changes the type of investor you need for outside capital, given that you’re not aiming solely for profit. You have to be very careful here, because if your values don’t align then you can end up in a difficult place.
There’s an old Chinese proverb that roughly translates to ‘sleeping in the same bed with different dreams.’ When it comes to finding the right investors, you need to be really up front about what you’re wanting to do and achieve. It’s not that you don’t want to make a profit - you do. But when it comes to making decisions, there’s other causes at play rather than being only money focused. This means up to 80% of investors aren’t interested right off the bat.
That being said, this is a changing field. Due to the rising demand from conscious consumers wanting to support brands that align with their values, this is becoming a really strong point of difference and arguably a way to make more money. The sentiment is changing among outside investors.
A strong argument here is that you’re future-proofing your business. Many of these ‘extra’ steps will likely be enforced by government regulations in future years, but this way you’ve already got a business making money within that structure. For example, farmers right now are struggling to adapt because many didn’t move fast enough themselves in the early stages - you’re countering that. This makes you a more resilient business, which is good for investor profits.
7. What are some of the good parts about starting a social enterprise?
The biggest one by far is the passion and drive it gives the founding team. This is a huge advantage - the more passionate your team is, the more you’ll succeed. This also gives you a real advantage in terms of sourcing and attracting new talent to bring into the business, because you’ve got a highly talented recruitment pool. The next generation is becoming more purpose-driven in their careers, and are super driven by those value-based needs. They want to do work that satisfies them.
For example, looking at food technology and manufacturing, we’re more likely to attract a higher-quality crowd than our competitors, because that higher talent pool can pick and choose. And a lot of people with that choice are choosing to support more impact driven ventures, which gives us an edge.
The retention is also a lot higher, especially with Certified B-Corporations. The security is high, and the people you’re working for genuinely care about you. If they take this much care with every part of their business, they’ll definitely be taking care of you. This a common trait with B-Corporations - retention is consistently higher.
[The first official roadie in the Off-Piste Camper]
Yes and no. Being accredited may prove you’re a company worth following, but don’t fall for the false sense of security that because you’re certified you’ll draw a lot of customers. It won’t necessarily bring the people flooding in, but it may bring someone who’s on the fence between you and a competitor.
People still want quality, price, and convenience. And when it comes down to it, if you’re accredited but your product doesn’t stack up to the others on the market, it won’t matter. However, if you’ve got a product that is equal to your peers, having that edge of accreditation will swing many consumers in your favour.
9. How does being an impact venture stack up in terms of marketing?
Being an impact venture opens up a lot of really cool collaborations. We’re part of a really tight-knit community that is all working towards the same goal, so we love collaborating with each other and pushing each others brands forward. It’s all about the bigger picture.
We’re working with our heroes - you aspire to what they’re doing and share the same values, so you can cut through to some much bigger brands that usually wouldn’t give you the time of day. If you’re on the same journey and have the creds to back it up, the big brands often will support you. You get a great cut through from your reputation, even when you don’t have the funds.
The bigger picture for us was looking at NZ’s climate change challenge. About 48% of NZ’s Greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) come from agriculture, and within this, the two biggest emitters are the dairy and meat industries. A key part of this is the methane produced by ruminants (sheep and cattle/livestock).
My partner and I came back from China passionate about impact, and we wanted to tackle one of the biggest environmental impacts in NZ. When we looked at the data, we figured if we didn’t tackle livestock GHG emissions, we were never going to move the dial in NZ.
We’d gone on a plant-based journey ourselves and weren’t eating a lot of meat, so we decided to start focusing on plant-based meats that were nutritious, healthy, and meant an easy transition for meat-eaters into the plant-based journey. The way we saw it, with over 50% of exports coming from animal products, New Zealand could either get disrupted in the same way the wool industry did through the advent of man made fibers, or we could go on a journey of transition and face that new reality of alternative proteins before it became an issue for the wider New Zealand economy.
In short, that’s what drives us. How do we realign New Zealand’s agricultural sector, a key part of our economy, to get prepared for the wave of new proteins, while also reducing our GHG emissions?
We’ve got plant-based jerky on the table right now, but we’re not stopping there. We’re a plant-based meat company with a wide range of products in the pipeline, and jerky is just the beginning.