How to Plan Your Startup’s Impact with Measurable SDG Metrics
Building a brighter future requires the collective efforts from organizations of all kinds and sizes - including for-profit startups. However for many early-stage entrepreneurs, lofty impact goals can seem unattainable, expensive, or best left to governments and large NGOs.
On Wednesday, April 14th, the Founder Institute hosted its first interactive online workshop focused on using our new free Progress Planner tool to identify impact metrics for any business that align with the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (“SDGs”), and are actionable and attainable for any size company.
At the end of this self-guided version of the workshop activity, you will have created a succinct 2-sentence impact thesis statement that includes measurable impact key performance indiciators ("iKPIs") tied to the SDGs, and you will be close or ready to submit your 1-minute impact pitch video entry to the Pitch For Progress competition.
When we talk about ‘impact’ in the context of startups, that impact can either be direct or indirect. “Direct” impact comes from companies that are inherently focused on ESG goals, whose core value proposition may be identical to their impact problem/solution framework. But most ‘For Progress’ businesses are instead creating “indirect” impact, where an impact thesis is centered within their larger business model, but separate from their core value proposition which itself is not inherently impact-related - these two solutions frameworks simply scale together with company growth.
Self-Guided Workshop Activity: Building Your Startup 'Impact Thesis' Statement:
Step 1: State the impact Problem, and its aligned SDG
We will use the Progress Planner tool https://fi.co/progress to quickly sort through the SDG’s 200+ sub-Goals, and work to craft a succinct Impact Theses with trackable metrics.
Formula to state your impact problem:
I believe that [a specific problem exists] which is aligned with [UN SDG sub-goal].
In terms of difficulty of critical thinking in this activity, this is the part is the easiest - you are likely to already be able to to immediately articulate the first fill-in-the-blank - that is, define: what is the social/environmental problem you see in the world and that you want to help solve? Then, the next step is to simply browse the Progress Planner to map which SDG sub-goal most closely aligns with your chosen impact problem. (Note: If you are feeling stuck, try searching the Progress Planner by Keyword instead!)
Example 1: “I believe that a substantial number of people in the local community do not have adequate access to toilet facilities at our textile manufacturer location, which is a problem aligned with SDG 6 (Clean Water & Sanitation) and more specifically, sub-goal 6.2 to Achieve Access to Adequate and Equitable Sanitation and Hygiene for All and End Open Defecation.”
Example 2: “I believe that children in my community experiencing housing instability do have sufficient access to meals outside of school/during COVID-19, which is a problem aligned with United Nations SDG sub-goal 2.2 to End All Forms of Malnutrition.”
Step 2: Propose your impact Solution and measurable Metric(s)
Formula to state your proposed solution and metrics:
My company can help [how you create impact] tracked by [your iKPI metric].
This is really the most creative and critical thinking portion of the exercise: where you devise a solution that you can 1) implement and 2) measure the results. In the Progress Planner, look at the example iKPI(s) on your chosen SDG sub-goal - likely, it won’t match exactly what your Solution intends to measure, but it should push you in the right direction.
Note: If an iKPI cannot be measured directly, and instead needs to be inferred or otherwise calculated, it should still correlate or track with some measurable indicator tied to, or influenced by, your core business activities. Remember, your iKPI is a quantitative metric - so consider: how you could easily calculate a proposed iKPI through regular data sets, especially if you cannot directly measure your unique contribution towards an overall impact (e.g. if there are external variables), or you need to calculate a metric indirectly.
Example 1: “My company will donate 5% of net profits to locally build and maintain public toilet facilities, tracked by the number of community facilities constructed.”
If you wanted to make this iKPI more granular, you could perhaps quantify your public toilets’ usage by installing a turnstile;
Or even more directly perhaps, approximate even the number of individuals helped by having them register first at a machine out front, to receive a free/reusable swipe-ID entry cards to open the facilities’ door.
Example 2: “My company can help donate 1% Net Revenue and/or continually raise money for our local food pantries - by providing ‘free’ value on Friday mornings via Python and database issue troubleshooting livestreams, helping solve backend problems for our business community, and using 1-click-to-donate buttons in the livestream to direct community appreciation towards our local food charity partners, tracked by clickable referral codes, and aggregating food pantries’ own recipient data on total families with children served versus turned away.”
Step 3: Putting together your Impact Thesis
The last step is to integrate parts 1 and 2, combining your UN SDG-aligned Problem statement, with your proposed Solution framework and iKPI metric to measure your progress.
If you’re not quite there yet, that’s okay! We built the Progress Planner tool so founders can tinker, experiment, and ‘try on’ different impact frameworks that might work for their business, while always remaining crystal clear what the impact hypothesis is that you are actively testing now.
If you’re in the phase of trying out different impact theses, you might try a thought exercise to consider what other broader or indirect opportunities for potential positive impact you could influence, beyond your core solution/product. For example, how might your impact initiative(s) affect your:
Community, Local Organization(s), Nonprofits
Or if you’re a direct impact-oriented venture, a different thought exercise would be to suspend all financial dimensions of your business, and simply imagine a scenario in which your product is FREE to use, OPENLY accessible. Everyone on Earth possesses the knowledge and means to utilize it. In this scenario...
Who else is avidly using your product, that is not readily able to do so in your real world, go-to-market reality?
Who has your product been built to service? (And are they the only customer persona or user who actually needs your solution?)
If you’ve completed this workshop exercise, congratulations! You now have a succinct Impact Thesis statement, and you’re already on track to submit an entry into our Pitch for Progress competition at PitchForProgress.com!
Pitch For Progress aims to elevate impact entrepreneurs building startups that make progress on the UN Sustainable Development Goals. In this free and open pitch competition, any entrepreneur or team building an impact driven business (with less than $1M USD in funding) can submit a 60-second pitch video for a chance to be invited to present live in the Online Demo Day judged by top venture capitalists and broadcast to thousands of global attendees! (*No added production value or fancy video editing required - just a simple 1-minute impact pitch!) Finalists will win prizes, and the top-ranked pitch from the Online Demo Day will be declared the Pitch For Progress Champion - full contest details at PitchForProgress.com
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The Founder Institute believes we cannot rely solely on governments and big organizations to fix the world's problems - the time is now for entrepreneurs to also do their part.
Use our free For Progress planner to search iKPIs (Impact Key Performance Indicators) by keyword, or browse iKPIs by the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals. Don't be intimidated by seemingly impossible impact metrics - instead, find specific SDGs that your business can positively influence.
Try the Progress Planner tool at FI.co/Progress, or learn more startup impact initiatives across the FI global network at FI.co/Impact.