A chance meeting inspired a lifelong interest for Salah Boukadoum.
“Be really wide open to the person sitting next to you wherever you might happen to be because I know from my own experience that one conversation may plant a seed for you that maybe in three years, maybe in 10 years, turns out to form a whole area of impact that will be very important to you,” Boukadoum counseled young entrepreneurs Thursday at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Addison.
The sage advice roots from a discussion Boukadoum, a touring classical pianist at the time, had years ago with the director of the World Bank in Kenya about the challenges in humanitarian aid distribution.
Now, as founder of Soap Hope, he invests profits from his all-natural body care products to empower women out of poverty.
“One conversation may plant a seed for you that maybe in three years, maybe in 10 years turns out to form a whole area of impact that will be very important to you.”
He shared his vision of Dallas becoming a social impact hub with participants selected for the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative Professional Fellows Program.
The program, launched by President Barack Obama and implemented by Meridian International Center, brings together 248 business and social entrepreneurs ages 21-35 from Latin America and the Caribbean.
The YLAI fellows met first in the Dallas area this week before they head off to monthlong fellowships at companies and entrepreneurial organizations around the nation. The program will culminate with a summit in Washington, D.C.
“The overall objective is economic development and growth, so the ability for them to strengthen and advance their businesses will help their economies and help — from a non-governmental side — grow their communities,” YLAI Project Director Thea Richard said of the program.
During the three-day kickoff event wrapping up Friday, the YLAI fellows heard from local entrepreneurs and civic leaders as well as members of the U.S. Department of State and the White House National Security Council. Topics ranged from tips on business models and raising startup capital to how to prepare business pitches for the media.
“We want to show what have [local entrepreneurs] done, how have they gotten where they are today and use that as an example for these individuals to inspire and to share their leadership,” Richard said.
CULTIVATING SOCIAL GOOD
Boukadoum teamed with Suzanne Smith, Social Impact Architects founder, on a social good panel moderated by Catherine Cuellar, a communications professional and former director of Entrepreneurs For North Texas.
Smith, an adjunct professor at the University of North Texas, cautioned the young entrepreneurs as she does her students to focus on the problem rather than the solution.
“Fall in love with the problem because the solution is going to shift over time.”
Many people set out with good intentions to help their communities, but don’t ever ask those they are helping about their true needs and get them involved, Smith said.
“Fall in love with the problem because the solution is going to shift over time,” she said. “The needs of your community are going to shift over time, so pay attention to what the problem is, what the data is, and who you’re trying to serve.”
Boukadoum said it’s important for every city to cultivate a local ecosystem for social entrepreneurship, but select cities should stand out as worldwide models for best practices.
“We need a center for impact, not just at the local level, but also at the global level,” he said.
He believes Dallas is poised to become such a leader, which he’s written about previously as a voices columnist for Dallas Innovates.
“Just as Silicon Valley concentrated technical resources and talent, I believe we have the opportunity right here in Dallas-Fort Worth to concentrate impact resources and become a huge driver for the scale of impact solutions all around the world,” he said.
LAUNCHING BUSINESS VENTURES IN DALLAS
Another panel moderated by D CEO Managing Editor Danielle Abril, featured Kevin Vela, founding partner of law firm Vela Wood and founding member of Dallas Angel Network and Yasmeen Tadia, founder and CEO of Make Your Life Sweeter brands.
Vela and Tadia discussed the evolution of the startup climate in the Dallas area and what its like to launch a business here.
“It’s really about harvesting your relationships.”
Tadia said relationships have been key in growing her lines of gourmet cotton candy, popcorn, and other confections. She can trace each of her clients to a single person.
“It’s really about harvesting your relationships,” Tadia said.
Vela remembers six years ago when there were just a few key people driving the startup scene in Dallas. Now, there are accelerators, investors, sponsors, and other entities pushing new business growth.
“It’s a real, viable ecosystem. It’s not just a couple of people trying to put something together,” Vela said.
Dallas’ startup community is partly why YLAI decided to launch the program in the area, Richard said.
“Dallas is known as one of the best cities for startups to have support and be able to be successful.”
“We know [Dallas] has lots of ties with Latin America and the Caribbean already built in, but also, Dallas is known as one of the best cities for startups to have support and be able to be successful,” she said.
Couple that with the major corporations that call DFW home and Richard said the area offered a good fit for the budding entrepreneurs.
“We thought this would be the city that would really bring that all together,” she said.
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