BSC: Social Entrepreneurship—“You need a balance of talent and passion.”

Posted on Thu, March 13, 2014 by Carole Gaudet.

by Carole Gaudet

Social entrepreneurship, the practice of addressing social problems using innovations from the business and nonprofit realms, has taken hold in recent years, as an increasing number entrepreneurs are starting for-profit companies with explicit missions to create social impact. This year’s BSC offered a session with entrepreneurs whose businesses have identified market-based solutions to social problems.

One such entrepreneur is Paul Sellew, Founder and Chairman of the Board of Harvest Power, which uses anaerobic digestion – “we mimic what goes on inside a cow’s stomach” – and composting to produce renewable energy and soil enhancement products from discarded organic materials. The company manages more than 2 million tons of organic material through nearly 40 operating sites in North America, and has nearly 65,000 megawatt-hours per year of sustainably-generated heat and power capacity.

Paul never consciously approached his business as a social enterprise. His businesses evolved (to use a bad pun) organically, always aligned with his values. “Ideas are the starting point,” he says. “You need a balance of talent and passion. Neither one alone can take you far.”

What about competition in Harvest Power’s space? Paul relishes imitation by others, and believes it’s that which will ultimately change the world. “It validates what you’re trying to do.”

Professor Greg Fairbrothers, Professor of Business Administration and Founding Director of the Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network, moderated the discussion. One of my favorite moments of the session was when he asked Paul what was next for him, now that he’s build Harvest Power into a strong and successful company. Paul replied that he’s powerfully motivated by the idea of getting involved with something that has the ability to change the world.

“It gives me a sense of purpose. The Beatles said that money doesn’t buy you love – but money also doesn’t buy you happiness. Is there a sense of purpose in what you’re doing? To me, that’s fundamental.”