Why SEVENmile Ltd is a Not-for-profit
There is one particular question that I get asked regularly during meetings with potential partners or even some long-term colleagues:
“Why are you a not-for-profit organization?”
Specifically, I hear that “you could easily be a private company and make more profit” and that there are many companies out there that are trying to do what we do. In this blogpost, I will share why I chose to be an NFP and registered charity and why we’ve continued being one into our second year of existence.
SEVENmile Ltd is NOT a privately-held company. We do not have investors that have provided us funding only to get a nice ROI (Return on Investment) sometime in the future. From day one, we were a not-for-profit organization and it has influenced our work plans and the partnerships we entered into. Also, I believe that to this day it is still relevant for us to be a non-profit. Let me explain why.
But before I do, I want to say this: I don’t think that other organizations that design and implement innovation activities need to be non-profit and I don’t think that our way of doing things is necessarily superior to those who are operating innovation labs for profit. At the same time, I think that — for us — there are plenty of great things that happened specifically because we have not been driven by profit but rather by our mission.
1. We Have Been Purpose-driven
Our ultimate goal is impact: we always wanted to support the development of innovation as the driver for economic and social change in our community of Sydney's northern beaches. In terms of choosing the right projects for us, we looked for industries and activities that still need an additional push in order to fulfill their potential.
That means that we have not taken all the projects that came our way — we picked those that were aligned with our mission and had the potential to impact the innovation capacity of our community.
2. We Have Shared Innovation Know-How
We learn from one another every day and get to interact with various types of organizations all in one, specific community. The northern beaches is an extraordinary sandbox for testing, learning, iterating and sharing.
I do not say that our community is more innovative than other places — it would not be true. I want to say that the northern beaches is uniquely positioned to experience various innovation practices very intensely. By being a part of this place and learning so much from others, we’ve believed that our mission could not be complete without making sure that we “export” these learnings through our project work and teaching others what we have learnt.
This is why we have always shared knowledge with our partners, so that — once they are ready — they would be able to conduct innovation programs without us.
3. We Have Loved Sharing Methodologies and Reports Online
By developing and publishing our lessons learned and ideas about innovation — in the blog and in form of comprehensive reports — we’ve reached various audiences that can learn about innovation and digital transformation free of charge.
This is why we’ve published best practices, use cases and research in the fields of innovation ecosystem building, corporate innovation, public-private innovation projects, and Smart City know-how and ways to build innovative capacity of people and organizations around the world.
Sharing knowledge is why we launched the Entrepreneurs Transform Podcast. Listen and learn from people on their entrepreneurial journey to transform our world. The Podcast where entrepreneurs openly explain their experiences, stories, successes, and failures.
Through these tools, we want to reach everyone interested in learning about innovation and startups without barriers. These tools are open to everyone and can be relevant for various communities. Sometimes, these communities get in touch with us and want to learn more — we are always happy to do that. This is yet another reason why being an NGO makes it possible to not only focus on our sustainability, but also on being helpful to others.
4. We Have Supported Startups Pro Bono
We’ve supported founders and startups as much as we can and of course always pro bono. We have never accepted any money from early-stage companies.
Whenever there have been projects that involved startup mapping and sourcing, supporting specific startup topics or creating opportunities for startups to grow, we’ve opened it broadly to all potential startups and try to help them out. Even if they did not get a specific contract, we still thought about the ways to help them in other ways or at least give them feedback and advice.
On top of that, each team member has been encouraged to develop their own goals that were related to these wider concepts. For instance, I love empowering women to invest in their professional development — something I’ve been lucky to continue doing while at SEVENmile Venture Lab. This is why I always take time to meet female professionals for coffee and share my experience and advice.
Another example is the Startup Teaser side project I developed. It is a learning tool for entrepreneurs and innovation managers: through the program, they get to know various approaches, case studies, methodologies and experiences in working with the people who are at the early stage of their entrepreneurial journey. The Startup Teaser goal is to enable a cohesive teaser or one-page summary that outlines the business opportunity for investors. Thinking laterally you could use Startup Teaser to explain any project that needs to be "sold" to a 3rd party. It's not just for startups.
All of these reasons have made it worthwhile for us to work as a non-profit. We have been a driven and professional organization with a boutique, tailored approach. We often competed for projects with for-profit companies. But, at the end of the day, we have a privilege in that we do not need to copy-paste methods and programs to cut our costs and make more profit — we could invest 100% in each program that we did because at the end of the day we worked for quality and impact — for our partners and for innovation environments they work in.
And there has been nothing better for me than coming to work every day and knowing that instead of maximizing profit, I can focus on doing the best job I can do to support the innovation economy on firstly a local basis, and then on a state, and national level.
Finally I wish to thank our wonderful Board of Directors who give their time generously to ensure that SEVENmile Ltd operates entirely in terms of the charity status awarded to us by the Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission.
I also thank our equally generous sponsors for their emotional support. SEVENmile Venture Lab could not operate without their ongoing assistance.
About the Author
Greg Twemlow is the Founder and CEO of SEVENmile Venture Lab. A globally experienced CEO with a passion for technology, people and market success. Technical depth + business savvy + creative flair is a powerful formula enabling Greg to genuinely move-the-needle.