Some think of entrepreneurial behavior as being tied to profit making, but that’s not necessarily the case, as I was reminded by Liz Norton, founder of Stone Soup Films.
Norton grew up in Washington, D.C. and went to New York to build her career in media. She fell into the rhythm of New York life and says she adopted the myopic view many New Yorkers have about other places. Living in the Big Apple doesn’t leave much room for the second banana of your home town.
When she moved back to the nation’s capital in 2005, she says she was unsure whether she would be able to apply her honed skills in media and policy here. She wondered if there was room for her in a place where there wasn’t “a decent deli or children’s shoe store.”
What she found surprised her. The first thing she recognized was the large number of not-for-profit organizations and social ventures operating in the greater Washington region. As she met with them, she saw an interesting commonalty: a communications disaster. Time and again, the high cost of the videos that organizations were using on the websites or at fundraisers to spread their message, describe their work and share their mission would leave her “dismayed.”
That’s when Norton found an entrepreneurial way to solve a big problem. “I just made the decision to stop criticizing that work and figure out a way to do it better,” she told me as we prepared for her upcoming interview on my podcast What’s Working in Washington.
The challenge for Norton was coming up with a way to provide professional quality videos to groups who had fabulous stories to tell about how they were helping the community, and desperately needed to spread awareness but couldn’t afford the cost of production.
With her business instincts, she looked for volunteers with experience in media and production. Did these people exist in D.C.? Maybe Los Angeles, but in our nation’s capital?
Norton admits to initially having low expectations herself, “I was hoping for 15 to 20 when I started the organization.” She now has more than 700 volunteers – producers, graphic designers, technicians, videographers, editors — all skilled in media creation, providing their time to Stone Soup’s projects. Why were there so many more people with the right skills available? It turns out that big customers in the greater Washington region such as the federal government produce a lot of video with local companies.
So, in this way, proximity to the federal government provided an unexpected resource for a new entrepreneurial model. Stone Soup Films is an enterprise solving a large problem and helping organizations who are the lifeblood of what makes this region tick.
Norton says getting experts in their field to contribute their hard work without compensation is easy, because people enjoy the satisfaction that comes from helping others. For her volunteers, engagement and meaning are more important than money. She says this doesn’t surprise her, because people are good at their core.
Stone Soup Films brings out the best in our community to help our region’s not-for-profit community tell their success stories and find new resources.
It also shows how our region is innovative and entrepreneurial in all sorts of ways.
Jonathan Aberman is a business owner, entrepreneur and founder of Tandem NSI, a national community that connects innovators to government agencies. He is host of “What’s Working in Washington” on WFED, a program that highlights business and innovation, and he lectures at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.