Social Entrepreneur Startup Toolkit

The tools to shape your idea into a sustainable solution for a #BetterWorld

// Startup Toolkit

Impact Business Canvas

About the Impact Business Lean Canvas

Impact and social enterprises can take a market-based approach to achieve their mission to make a difference in their world. They strive for a world better for all. Sustainable impact and change requires a sustainable business model with sustainable operations. 


The Impact Business Lean Canvas provides a visual tool to align your business model design, serving as a concise way to organize and articulate your innovation to early investors, recruits, customers, product developers and other interested parties.



The canvas articulates your Who (ie paying customers, their job-to-be-done and/or challenges), the value of your innovation to your customers, and how to reach them – all on a foundation of a sustainable business model design. 




How to Use the Canvas

The canvas is the perfect tool to capture and align the key components of your innovation. Use solo or in conjunction with other canvases like an empathy maps.



Upload the PDF version to a virtual remote whiteboard like Miro or for a remote design thinking session. 


Start by focusing on three foundational areas: Your purpose/mission, who you plan to serve (together with problem you will solve) and your value exchange. Don’t rush through these components and visit when needed.



Many start-ups fail because they simply fall in love with their innovation/solution/idea and don’t spend enough time understanding “the Problem” or “the jobs-to-be-done”.



Get clear on how you customer’s think and decide, their views of their world and what they see as valuable (ie. value). This will aid in your ability to land your initial customers and put you on the path towards sustainability. When you have alignment across the canvas, everything will feel like it’s falling into place.



As you advance through the canvas, carefully consider the questions contained within the Additional Guidance section.


Challenge your assumptions. What evidence or data do you have to support your innovation? Are you confident in the accuracy and relevancy of the information?



Once complete, review your initial draft. Is each section aligned? Does the business model feel plausible and obtainable? Can the revenue streams support sustainable impact?



Test your riskiest assumptions as early as possible. Update as new information is discovered and experienced. Don’t be afraid to pivot when your assumptions prove to be incorrect. Growth will stall when the value is misaligned.


Additional Guidance

Mission / Purpose

All impact enterprises have a strong mission anchored in making the world a better place. What changes do you want to see in the world? What big, broad problems do you want to see eliminated?

Start by exploring and defining your mission. An aligned mission will give you the fuel to preserve through challenges and towards sustainability.



Customer Segments

A Customer Segment is a tightly defined group of people, based on demographics and psychographics. Startups typically fail by trying to serve ‘everyone’, so the tighter the niche, the better the odds for repeatable success.

Start with the most valuable (to you) customer segment, as this will sharpen your focus on who to serve and whom to ignore.

Question to ask about each group:

  1. What are your customer(s) struggling with? What problems do they have ? What challenges are they facing? What is holding them back?
  2. What are their common values? Interests? View of their place in society? Lifestyle choices?
  3. What do they aspire to be ? What is their goal or purpose in life?
  4. What do they look like? What are the common traits like age, race, religion, gender, ethnicity, occupation, social class, educational level?

Lastly, customers should be your primary source of revenue. Don’t confuse with a Beneficiary, the segment(s) who receives the benefits of your innovation’s impact.




The process to define your beneficiary(s) is similar to the customer segment above. Beneficiaries are most relevant to innovations that have ‘users’ or ‘participants’.

For example, social media apps, the beneficiary or user is the one that shares the photos, messages, etc and the customer is the advertiser, as they are the source of revenue.

In some cases, you may find the concept of a beneficiary as not applicable, and better considered in the Partners and Stakeholders section.



Social Innovation

Describe your idea and innovation. Outline how you enhance products, services, idea, processes and/or customer experiences to bring more value to your customers. Think through what makes your idea better than what is available today.

Questions to ask yourself

  1. What make my idea at least 2x better than anything else offered before it?
  2. How do I make my customer’s life better? Is the benefit to beneficiary significant, impactful on their lives?
  3. What alternatives will I displace?



Value Exchange

You must deliver meaningful value for customers and in some cases, beneficiaries. Value exchange is simply the trading of something of value in exchange for something the originating party finds valuable. 

Typically this comes in the form of goods, services, apps, money, barter, or time/attention. The most common value exchange for consumer apps is providing the app for free in exchange for allowing the app to monetize your attention/time through targeted digital advertising. 


Start by exploring the value exchange between your customers and you, then proceed to beneficiaries (if applicable). In the scenarios where value is exchanged between customers and beneficiaries, note this exchange of value. Your notes from defining your customer and beneficiary segments should be used to identify the most important value currencies.



Partners and Stakeholders

All impact startups operate in some form of ecosystem, which means it’s unlikely success can be achieved by going alone.

Your ecosystem compromises of the partners, suppliers, government agencies, funders and others that will influence your chances of success (or failure). Consider who will be impacted, directly or indirectly as well as positively or negatively. Explore  the possible unintended consequences that may occur in pursuing good intentions.




All businesses rely on resources, whether human, technical, financial and/or physical. Identify those resources most critical to your early success.

Questions to ask yourself:

  1. What resources are most important to start? To scale?
  2. How do you plan to secure any resources that you don’t have access to or own?
  3. Should you acquire, bring-in house, build/develop or outsource



Key Activities

Outline the mission-critical actions you must execute successfully to develop/produce, deliver and exchange value with your primary customer and beneficiary groups. 

Key activities may include pricing, marketing/sales, customer research, validating assumptions, product development, offering management, secure funding, recruit early founders or employees and/or finding early adopters.


Simply building a great product or solution is not enough. it must be put into the hands of your customers and beneficiaries.

Think of the various communication, distribution, affiliate and/or sales channels available to you to reach your audience.

Focus your efforts on those channels your customers or beneficiaries are most likely to use to find, learn about and/or purchase your innovation.

Also consider distribution: How will your customers or beneficiaries consume your innovation.


Executing your key activities will cost money. Sometimes much more than anticipated.

Outline the core cost structure to develop, deliver and exchange value. 

Questions to consider:

Which resources and activities are most expensive? 

Which ones carry risk? 

How will you control your costs?

Can economies of scale be realized?


Your primary revenues must come from paying customers. Otherwise, you could simply be a non-profit that relies on donations and grants. Doing so exposes you disproportionally to a change in political environment (a significant risk).

Making paying customers your primary revenue stream puts you on a financial sustainable path.

Outline your offerings mix, along with potential other streams like grants, sponsorships, price premiums and donations.

Risk and Assumptions

Every iteration of the canvas will contain a) first-hand tested, validated information b) relevant 3rd party facts and data from trustworthy sources and c) to-be-tested assumptions.

Early on, don’t be surprised to see that most of your model is based on assumptions. As you converse with customers and pilot your innovation, the assumptions will either be validated or need to be revisited. If several assumptions are proven invalid or false, you may need to pivot or seek other customer segments. Better early on before an incorrect assumption could cause you to fail.

Test your riskiest assumptions and/or most material risks early. These are the ones that, if not found to be true, would cause you to pivot or rethink the components of your business model.

Responsible Performance Indicators (RPIs) and SDG Alignment

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a collection of the 17 interlinked global goals designed to be a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for all people and the planet, now and for the future. Ensure you start-up positively impacts multiple SDGs.


If you have any ‘unintended consequences’, note those too. and think through how they will be handled. Doing so will help build your credibility.