Written by Morgan Snyder, Computer Scientist, Artist, and Social Activist at the University of Pennsylvania and Co-founder at Sweet Bites Gum
When I was a counselor for the 2013 TechGirlz Entrepreneur Camp, I quickly saw that every girl had great ideas for new products and new businesses. During the two week Camp, some of these ideas get to be planned, prototyped, and pitched. But campers should know that they don’t need to stop there! No matter what age you are, you can make your dream business idea a reality using tools and technologies that are inexpensive and readily available. I learned this firsthand.
This summer, I had the opportunity to start a social enterprise called Sweet Bites with four classmates from the University of Pennsylvania. Sweet Bites uses cavity-fighting chewing gum as a simple solution to treat chronic tooth decay in urban slums worldwide. Last March, our business idea for Sweet Bites won us a position as finalists in the largest international student social entrepreneurship competition, the Hult Prize. The prize awards $1 million of seed capital to one of the six finalists in September. Sweet Bites didn’t win, but participating in the prize pushed us to build a social enterprise. Without the prize, I don’t know if any of us would have taken the risk before. Now however, I think the five of us could agree that we would, because the process of starting Sweet Bites was smoother than we imagined, thanks to several tech tools.
Three Indispensable Tech Tools Our Team Used
- Squarespace – We used SquareSpace (a website building platform and hosting service) to launch the Sweet Bites website. It’s ideal for businesses who need to get a website up quickly, and, at $10 per month, it didn’t bust our budget. We knew that the sooner a Sweet Bites website was up, the better. In order to be relevant as a business, you must have a Google-able website. We built ours on Squarespace in just three days! But beyond validating our business and product to potential customers, the Sweet Bites website acts as a crucial channel of communication for other social organizations to get in touch. It has helped us partner with organizations in 12 different countries, who delivered 50,000 pieces of gum to children in areas with a high prevalence of tooth decay. Many platforms exist that can help you build and host a business website, but as my teammate Josh said, “Squarespace stood apart from the other options largely because it automatically gave the site a beautiful look.” Check our site out for yourself: www.sweetbitesgum.com.
- Hello Intern and Letsintern – We used these two sites, to search for candidates who could work with us for our summer pilot in Bangalore, India. Dozens of qualified candidates responded to our job listing, titled “Sweet Bites Social Entrepreneur.” Many were recent graduates (like the majority of our team), and a few of them had a great passion for helping people in need (exactly who we were looking for). Both Hello Intern and Letsintern allowed us to filter out applicants based on their resume, then email the candidate to set up an interview. Thanks to the listings on these two sites, we found three invaluable interns. They worked with us throughout the Bangalore pilot and after to conduct market research, solidify business partnerships, and give us the lay of the land in India. All three of them, Abhishek, Abdul, and Tansha, remain an integral part of the Sweet Bites team. Though Hello Intern and Letsintern are primarily used by Indian job applicants, there are many similar sites to serve the human resources needs of a startup based in another country. Idealist.org is one of my favorite platforms for connecting businesses with socially-minded people who can serve them.
- Indiegogo – We used Indiegogo to create a crowdfunding campaign for Sweet Bites. Similar to Kickstarter and Start Some Good, Indiegogo allows individuals or organizations to post a fundraising campaign page on their website. There, anyone can watch the campaign’s video, read more about the project, and decide whether or not to put money towards it. The power of crowdfunding lies in the fact that everyone who visits the site has the ability to fund the project! The more traffic your campaign page creates, the more funders you are likely to have. The Sweet Bites team chose Indiegogo for their strong community, fair fee structure, and the third-party partnerships they offered. Our choice paid off! Over 200 funders pushed Sweet Bites almost $2,000 past our $15,000 funding goal. We were able to keep most of the money raised from the crowd, and we raised even more money through our campaign partnership with Philips, who chose Sweet Bites as a finalist for the Philips Innovation Fellows Competition. It’s important to do your research and be prepared with content before you launch a crowdfunding page; it can be costly for a campaign flop. The Sweet Bites team spoke with staff at Indiegogo to understand what makes a solid campaign, and we spoke to people with past successful campaigns to learn the tricks of the trade.
These technologies open the door to unconventional types of businesses surviving past their first year. Social enterprises are businesses whose operations achieve social impact while also making a profit. Since their profit cut is often much smaller than that of a typical enterprise, there is usually greater risk involved with starting them. Slower to go net-positive, the social startup will take longer to recover from early stage expenses. But early stage steps such as building a website, developing a product, generating trial, raising funds, and even hiring new team members no longer needs to be expensive or time intensive! You just have to learn what’s in the startup founder’s new tech toolbox.
Regardless of what your business will do, there’s a technology out there within your budget that will help you operate more efficiently. It could be as simple as a file-sharing platform like Google docs or as complex as a sales pipeline data management system like ZohoCRM. From my experience with Sweet Bites, I know these tools are valuable. And there are many, many more besides the ones mentioned here. If you know how to make use of them, you put yourself in a position to start a business with less people, time, money, and expertise than ever before. You may even put yourself in a position to change the world.