Social Impact Compass Founder Sarah Eisele-Dyrli describes herself as “the least likely entrepreneur.” After a job elimination, a friend encouraged her to do some consulting with a local foundation.
“At the time, I hadn’t even considered consulting, although I knew it was something I was going to do at some point,” admits Sarah.
“I’ve been very invested in the nonprofit sector and I always thought I’d eventually start or lead a nonprofit to address some of the problems I care about,” she says. “I didn’t realize I could use the skills I had homed in the nonprofit sector to build a for-profit business that addresses the problems I care about.”
The consulting work Sarah started doing helped encourage an entrepreneurial mindset. Coming from the nonprofit sector, Sarah said the consulting work was “new, exciting, and very empowering.”
“As I was working in that role, I realized I really loved it,” she says. “I was learning about entrepreneurship and how to identify a need and figure out how to help meet that need through a business.”
Sarah quickly realized the skills she’d used in the nonprofit sector were applicable in the for-profit sector among businesses that wanted to have a positive impact on the world. Through that personal exploration she became excited about starting her own business to meet this need. Sarah officially launched her startup in January 2017.
HELPING BUSINESSES IN CONNECTICUT
“Other businesses or consultants help to address social impact issues, but there is room in the market, particularly in Connecticut,” says Sarah.
“I’ve been interested in helping businesses in Connecticut that are either social enterprises or want to have a positive social impact. It’s not common here in Connecticut just yet,” she notes. “I’m hoping to raise awareness and help people see the possibilities, because businesses solve many kinds of problems and they have the tools to solve problems we’re all really concerned about. Social entrepreneurship offers a different way to for business to solve important societal problems.”
TAPPING INTO ENTREPRENEURIAL RESOURCES IN CONNECTICUT
Starting out, Sarah quickly realized she needed help gaining her entrepreneurial footing. She needed to make connections and she needed guidance.
“I was definitely hungry to find other entrepreneurs who could identify with the ups and downs and who I could talk to about questions and struggles I had,” Sarah says.
“When you’re an entrepreneur, you need to find out who your market is, and you need to go where they are. That’s been a little tricky as far as finding social entrepreneurs, because businesses don’t always identify that way, and they don’t always conglomerate in a group. I thought joining the MetroHartford Alliance would help me connect with other businesses,” she explains.
“I initially joined the Alliance to find these businesses. Instead, I became more involved with Hartford entrepreneurs and more connected to the Hartford business landscape—that wasn’t my intention,” Sarah notes.
“It seemed like a luxury to spend time and money on finding people and becoming connected to a community of people, especially at this point in my business when I have so much to do,” she says. “But I’ve really started to appreciate the connections I’m making and the relationships I’m developing in Hartford.”
Sarah adds, “I’m a social worker and that’s kind of what we do. You help people. You share resources and you share connections and you share advice with people. You’re building roots and it’s strengthening the entrepreneurial economic health in Hartford, which is something I also care about.”
reSET has become another helpful resource for Sarah. She says she initially became a member to be near other entrepreneurs.
“With my client work and family life I wasn’t able to access the space due to time constraints,” she says. “But I did stay connected.”
Sarah developed a beneficial business relationship with reSET Managing Director Ojala Naeem.
ENCOURAGING SOCIAL IMPACT ENTREPRENEURSHIP
“Ojala knew my focus on social entrepreneurship and invited me to mentor. I got to meet all the 2018 Impact Accelerator cohort. I connected with three businesses from the cohort that are looking for support with social impact messaging in different ways—communicating the positive impact they hope to make to potential clients through their website and online marketing materials,” says Sarah.
“A lot of social entrepreneurs struggle with social impact messaging and how to get across the impact they’re trying to make. I’m helping them develop clear messaging. Because it’s important to have a positive benefit on the community and the environment. People want to buy from businesses that are doing good,” she emphasizes.
“Social enterprises must be able to communicate clearly. Some businesses that are doing good aren’t talking about it, so they’re missing out on the benefits of something they are already doing,” she adds.
“The businesses I’m working with at reSET don’t identify as social entrepreneurs, they just have the social good component,” Sarah notes. “I see more seasoned entrepreneurs starting to become aware about the importance of sustainability or volunteering. But it’s not built into their DNA like it is for some of the newer entrepreneurs.”
Aside from funding, every startup faces its specific challenges. Sarah says she still struggles with determining how to immediately meet potential clients’ needs.
“I’ve really struggled with understanding local businesses’ pain points related to my skills, ” Sarah admits. “Also, sometimes businesses feel they don’t have the luxury to invest in the kinds of problems I can help them solve. They feel like it’s a luxury to try to spend time and resources on improving the solutions they have developed.”
Sarah’s business is slowly building. “Social impact messaging has been one of those points where people are starting to come to me for advice,” she says.
AN INNOVATIVE APPROACH
What sets Sarah’s services apart and makes them innovative?
“I kind of came into this as an evaluator, someone who systematically collects and analyzes data to help people make better decisions,” she explains. “My focus is more on the actual strategy piece versus implementing an evaluation or a data collection plan.”
“I also have a background in deliberative democracy, which is the idea that people should have a say in the systems that affect them. And I very much bring that into a business,” she adds.
“Businesses and social enterprises that want to have a positive impact on a group of people must be connected to that group of people or else they can cause harm,” she underscores. “They can actually make the problem worse by solving the wrong problem. All sorts of things can go wrong if a business isn’t connected to the people who need support to change their lives.”
Sarah hopes her startup will ultimately become a social enterprise. “At this point, I’m still making my way into how exactly I’m going to help meet peoples’ needs related to businesses doing good,” she says.
“I am actually a trainer and a facilitator, which I really I enjoy. I hope within a year that I’m coaching not just one-on-one, but I’d also like to I have a robust coaching program. I’ve experienced a lot of power in learning in groups. I learn a lot that way and I think it’s an effective and efficient way to learn. There’s a lot of encouragement in that,” she adds.
Sarah is also focused on content development and hopes to provide articles or possibly a podcast for people who are doing social enterprise work.
Another long-term goal for Sarah involves economic development.
“I want to use my business to help contribute to opportunities in economic development for people who haven’t always had that in Hartford,” she explains. “People who live in Hartford and are from Hartford can’t always access some of the resources available. I would like to be able to help more people from Hartford benefit from entrepreneurship in the same way I have. I want to contribute to the economic health of Hartford by helping people in Hartford be empowered to start their own businesses.”
ADVICE FOR OTHER ENTREPRENEURS
“As an entrepreneur, you have to trust your gut. Entrepreneurship is hard. There are books and online articles, but they don’t always help you make good decisions. Working with somebody real-time, whether it’s individual or group coaching, makes a big difference,” encourages Sarah.
“Spending money on a coach felt like a big investment, but it’s definitely the best investment I’ve made in my business. I would say that’s the sole reason I’m still pursuing my business today,” Sarah acknowledges. “I would encourage other entrepreneurs who really believe in what they’re doing to be willing to make that type of investment. It’s important if you want your businesses to thrive.”
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