ANALYSIS March 14, 2024

One Mistake Impact Startups Make

This is a common mistake impact startups make: thinking their only currency is cash. In reality, an impact startup has a number of alternative currencies, some of which are also in limited supply.

Image: Jakub Żerdzicki / Unsplash

I wrote the following after another impact startup I was mentoring complained that they couldn’t afford good advice, or certain skilled people. This is a common mistake impact startups make, thinking their only currency is cash. In reality, an impact startup has a number of alternative currencies, some, but not all of which, are also in limited supply.


The most obvious currency is equity in the business. By giving away a fraction of a percent in the business you allow participation in your success.

Downside: Its important to be cautious with equity, as its easy to throw it around and end up with a lot of small shareholders, who may have contributed very little.

For More: Lessons Learned Building a Plastic Reycling Startup in Uganda

Meaningful experiences

Many people crave meaningful experiences in their life, they want to be part of doing something good, and the impact you are doing gives them a good story to tell themselves and their friends.

Downside: People with otherwise meaningless lives can be draining and take up a lot of time.


Just as a sponsor of a charity event gets recognition in return for cash, being involved with your project could bring tangible and intangible benefits to someone – for example being mentioned in your social media or their mentioning you..

Downside: Be careful of being used for greenwashing. Someone else’s bad reputation can reflect back on you.

Experience and career growth

It can be hard to get useful experience. By working with your business, in a voluntary (or poorly paid) capacity, recent graduates (for example) can often step up to a level they wouldn’t be trusted with in corporate life. This allows them to get both experience they can learn from, and something they can put on their resume.

Downside: There is a reason that recent graduates aren’t given responsible roles in corporations! Be careful who you trust with important roles; book learning is not the same as experience. Allow someone to grow into a role, so that you can eliminate those who don’t learn quickly from their mistakes.

For more: Five Questions for Abdigani Diriye: Somali Startup and African Innovation Advocate

Bootstrap while cash-strapped

Use each of these currencies carefully and you can bootstrap the impact startup to the point where you do have cash to pay people.

About the Author

Mitra Ardron builds and grows companies and organisations (his own and other people’s) working in sustainability and development, especially those developing new technologies. He founded Lumeter, the leading PAYGO technology supplier, built Australia’s fastest growing solar company; worked on green materials; sustainable consumer products and mentored innovators and entrepreneurs working in technology-for-good.

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