Passion is necessary but insufficient

By Ray DePaul

Over the last 8 months, I've had the pleasure to work with a couple of young entrepreneurs, Ozzy Lang and Emily Bartlett. They started their journey full of passion about the massive amount of waste that coffee cups contributed to our landfill. They tried collecting cups on campus and even ran a campaign to raise awareness and received over 60,000 signatures on a petition emploring Tim Hortons to switch to compostable cups. Their passion took them pretty far, but it didn't result in the tangible change that they had hoped for.

Then they started looking at the problem as an entrepreneurial venture rather than a cause. Why do coffee vendors use non-compostable cups? They are cheaper. What if it was actually cheaper to use compostable cups? Interesting. How could they make this happen? (I love the Why, What if, How approach to finding opportunities - give it a try.)

Ozzy and Emily's company, Green Cup, was born… as an advertising company. They realized that if they sold advertising on the compostable cups, they could subsidize the price of the cups, and make a tidy little profit. They summoned their business development skills and built a relationship with a company that manages food and beverage services for 13 high schools in Calgary. The schools would love to use compostable cups if the price was right and they already had the infrastructure in place to compost. One side of Green Cup's business model was falling into place.

Now they had to find advertisers. After talking with the high schools about their desire for only positive advertising, they landed on their target market - colleges and universities looking to recruit students. They met with several post-secondary institutions and started to understand their needs. While colleges and universities enjoyed good brand recognition in their home city, they struggled to get attention in other cities.

I remember the day that Ozzy and Emily strutted into our Slate Innovation Lab and proclaimed, "We've signed our first advertiser!" Grant McEwan University in Edmonton would pay for advertising on compostable cups delivered to high schools in Calgary. Brilliant! Every entrepreneur knows how great that first sale feels and Ozzy and Emily were beaming with pride.

Passion started this journey and it was necessary to fuel everything that followed, but it wasn't enough. It wasn't until they viewed the problem as entrepreneurs - understanding the needs of the customer, talking with dozens of people, negotiating with suppliers, crunching the numbers, and closing a sale - that they actually achieved their original goal. Because of Ozzy and Emily's entrepreneurial approach, hundreds of thousands of coffee cups will be diverted from Calgary's landfill, and these young entrepreneurs will be financially rewarded for their innovative efforts.

It's great to start with passion, but don't fool yourself into thinking it can end there.