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Passionate Business for Change

RBC white paper describes how social entrepreneurs combine passion with business acumen for triple-bottom line success

Tom Heintzman, Bullfrog Power

Tom Heintzman, Bullfrog Power

We all know entrepreneurs have to have passion and drive to bring their ideas to life. But what makes social entrepreneurs different? How do they successfully balance their social and business goals.

To find out, the RBC Social Finance Initiative, the first of its kind launched by a Canadian financial institution, commissioned a study to understand how social entrepreneurs achieve double or triple bottom line success. The resulting white paper, Meaningful Business - Understanding Social Entrepreneurs discovered that outstanding passion drives social entrepreneurs. In fact, 96% are passionate about the work they do. To put that in perspective, that's nearly 20% higher than traditional entrepreneurs.

As part of Meaningful Business, RBC spoke to a number of successful social entrepreneurs, including Tom Heintzman, co-founder of the now ubiquitous Bullfrog Power, to gain some insights into the motivations of social entrepreneurs.

"From a very early age, I've tried to combine business with the environment. I see how unsustainably we live, and understand the business case for treating our environment properly," says Heintzman. "I believe that sort of drive needs to run deep in a social entrepreneur's DNA."

Building Bullfrog from the ground up gave Heintzman the opportunity to combine his passion for the environment with his passion for business. He explains that he wanted to give consumers a choice about their energy mix, in the same way you can choose fair trade coffee, or a hybrid car.

"Social entrepreneurs usually have strong business influences growing up, have been active in social pursuits, and are looking for a way to combine them," says Heintzman. "It flips the idea that you can't combine business and environment on its head. In my view, that's a false dichotomy."

Meaningful Business also points out that 89% of social entrepreneurs love what they do and enjoy going to work. That may seem obvious, but consider that that's 10% higher than traditional entrepreneurs.

"Even when social entrepreneurs have passion and good business acumen, they need support and guidance to help develop their business," says Sandra Odendahl, head of the RBC Social Finance Initiative. "That's why the RBC Social Finance Initiative is a strong supporter of accelerator and incubator programs. These programs provide access to a wide network of professionals, investors, experienced entrepreneurs and top executives, and sometimes even seed funding."

Ingredients for social entrepreneur success
Heintzman says there are two key ingredients to be a successful social entrepreneur. The first, and most obvious, is passion. "You have to have a strong belief as to where the world could or should go. I'm always looking down the road to see where things are progressing."

The second is a strong rooting in an economic reality. "If you're trying to defy economics, it's going to be very difficult," explains Heintzman. "You can't be too much of an idealist. You need to understand finance, how to make the numbers work and what the economics of the market are."

Sometimes the successful combination of these two factors comes in the form of two people, or a team. Heintzman explains that he and Greg Kiessling, the other co-founder of Bullfrog, were able to successfully balance each other's strengths and weaknesses to make Bullfrog a success. And balancing good business and vision can be a challenge. Meaningful Business found that 72% of social entrepreneurs get more satisfaction out of building their business than making money in the short term. In Heintzman's words, "it takes courage and craziness."

Heintzman now enjoys a career with JCM Capital, a company developing large scale wind power projects in Africa and Latin America.

"There's relatively little room for solar to grow in Canada, so the future of renewable power will be built in economies where they're starting with little or nothing. It's a much bigger canvas on which to paint, and I know that as these economies grow, they will require energy to meet their needs."

Heintzman sums up his departure from Bullfrog with the sentiments of a true social entrepreneur.

"It was hard to leave Bullfrog. Canada is a great country, and a great place to do business. But when I stood back and looked at what's going on in Africa and Latin America, it's truly transformational. I knew there was so much more I could leverage within myself, it's such a great opportunity."

As the first Canadian financial institution to launch an initiative to support and invest in for-profit social enterprises, RBC recognizes the importance of catalyzing the growth social finance in Canada through strategic partnerships that help social entrepreneurs succeed. For more information on what makes social entrepreneurs tick, read Meaningful Business, RBC's latest social finance white paper that examines how businesses are going beyond financial returns to pursue social goals.

In 2012, RBC launched its Social Finance Initiative, which is designed to ignite the growth of social finance in Canada. This commitment includes the $10-million RBC Generator, a pool of capital dedicated to financing enterprises addressing social and environmental challenges; a significant investment of RBC Foundation assets into socially responsible investments; and strategic partnerships to catalyze the growth of social finance in Canada. For more information, visit