Marcellien Breedveld, a Business Coach from the Netherlands, on how to Build a Successful Social Enterprise

“Out of ten start-ups, just one will succeed”, claims Marcellien Breedveld, a coach and independent consultant on lean start-ups, customer validation and business pitching. She came to Minsk from the Netherlands to take part in a training seminar within the framework of “Biz4all”, a social entrepreneurship program organized by ODB Brussels (Belgium) in partnership with the youth NGO "New Faces", helping prospective Belarusian social entrepreneurs increase their chances of success.

Marcellien Breedveld with a participant of the seminar.

Minsk, February 4, 2017.

The seminar provided the participants with ample opportunities to work on their lean canvases (editor’s note: a start-up is a customer-oriented business model designed to help someone start a business with minimum costs), a sheet which includes data about the customers’ problems that the social enterprise addresses, distribution channels, costs, etc. Under the guidance of the coach, the teams worked on their customer profile and tried to acquire new customers right there in the room. They sought to determine whether they were able to produce a minimum viable product which could benefit people and solve their customers’ problems.

Marcellien Breedveld

“A lean start-up is when you identify a customer problem worth solving and develop a product which they will definitely buy and is worth more than its production costs", said Marcellien Breedveld in an interview with ODB Brussels“It is a repetitive process: you perform research, measure your customers and build the product, then perform research again, and so on. The lean canvas is a tool for start-ups which helps design a business model and track emerging assumptions. One of ten start-ups is successful. We don’t want to produce goods no one would buy, and thus expect to increase our chances of success".

The number of entrepreneur who choose to start social businesses is growing in the Netherlands. Marcellien shared some examples of successful start-ups.

Photo from the official website of Granny`s finest


A start-up called Granny`s finest is a force for good in the world. The company established a brand of knitwear: young designers create patterns that are then hand-knitted by grannies. The mission of the social enterprise is to reduce isolation among the elderly and give young designers a chance to build their portfolio.

Photo from the official website of Fairphone


Another company in Holland produces a modular smartphone called Fairphone. The gadget is assembled from sustainable materials, and their Chinese factory workers have good working conditions. The smartphone’s modular design allows its owners to easily replace individual components: the display, the chipset, etc. Fairphone has about 112,000 customers all over the world and 150,000 community members who support the social company’s global goals. 

Dopper reusable water bottle was invented with the aim of curbing the spread of disposable plastic bottles. Since the bottles hit the market in 2010, the Dopper community has been growing rapidly globally. The Dutch chocolate-making company “Tony’s Chocolonely” refuses to employ West African workers who are often forced into almost-slave labour for measly money. The company has an even more ambitious mission: eradicating slave labour in all chocolate-making companies all over the world.

ODB: Marcellien, what do you think makes a social company successful?

M.B.: All these enterprises formulated a social problem that many people know about. For example, companies that produce smartphones do not have transparency in their dealings, do not really care for their employees and want their consumers to buy a new phone once every two years. So, they told the right story, built a community, increased customer awareness, did market research and created a product that their customers need: a tasty chocolate bar, a durable water bottle, hand-made scarves and hats, or a smartphone.

ODB: What are the challenges faced by social enterprises in the Netherlands?

M.B.: It is difficult to adhere to your social mission when it clashes with your business objectives. “Tony’s Chocolonely had a great start, but, come to think of it, do West African countries really use less slave labour in cocoa farming now because of their activism? Has the social enterprise fully realized its mission, or were they busy just setting up their company and telling their story?..

ODB: You have spent a day with participants of the training, some of whom already work as social entrepreneurs in Belarus and some are planning to do this in future. What is your opinion of Belarusian start-ups?

M.B.: We have had many different ideas with more or less potential. Those with the courage to go and spread the word about their projects among many customers and stakeholders have more chances to succeed. Some of them need to let go of their old businesses –non-governmental organizations – by transforming them into social start-ups. Some of them will not succeed in doing so, but I sincerely believe that in the process they will acquire more skills to manage an NGO. After all, NGOs are also businesses of certain value.

The participating teams are working on a range of projects: setting up a co-working space and a rehabilitation centre for people with mental health issues, planning to organize a marathon for disabled persons or sell socks knitted by grannies.

The participants worked on their unique value proposition and identified benefits for customers under the guidance of coach Aliaksandr Bulakh, an entrepreneur and founder of Start-up Technologies, LLC, who also manages the “Start-up School” project. Aliaksei Yarashenka, a web marketing expert who founded his own Digital Agency, helped the participants identify their product promotion channels.

Aliaksandr Bulakh

Aliaksei Yarashenka


Aksana Shauchenka

Aksana Shauchenka shared her experience in starting and managing a social enterprise in Belarus. Her company “Meteorite Plus” has produced educational toys and sports games for children with special needs since 2008.

“Look for a special purpose and mission for your business, and surround yourself with a team of like-minded people”, recommended Aksana Shauchenka to the social entrepreneurs. “Channel as many resources as possible into product promotion, and become visible to the public. Develop yourself and your product. And never forget to do sports and relax!"

Text: Tatsiana Tukhai

The material was prepared within the framework of the "Social Entrepreneurship Incubator", implemented by ODB Brussels in partnership with TNU Network University (Netherlands), Belarusian Youth Public Union "New Faces" and International Civil Association "Union of Belarusian of the world “Motherland", with support from the European Union.