I just returned from an engaging panel discussion on social entrepreneurship, at Darden’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation Research Conference. We were asked to speak on social entrepreneurship—a new field of venturing and venture investing, and a new and rapidly emerging curriculum in business schools across the country. I had to pose the question: If at this moment we are talking about entrepreneurship for the social good, what are we talking about, and teaching, when it’s just entrepreneurship?
I recalled a wonderful quote by David Packard on the soul of HP, which he wrote in 1947:
Many assume, wrongly, that a company exists to make money… the real reason HP exists is to make a contribution… to improve the welfare of humanity… to advance the frontiers of science… Profit is not the proper end and aim of management—it is what makes all of the proper ends and aims possible.
Would that qualify HP today as a social venture? More importantly, would it disqualify HP as a non-social venture? I touched on this topic briefly in my last post on the dangers of pivoting in pursuit of a buck and without guiding principles. When we segregate ventures that are pursued “for the social good” from others, are we legitimizing the sole pursuit of profit in all of those other ventures? That’s certainly not something I want to teach.