Incubator Blogs: Topi Manu — Social entrepreneurship is changing the way we think about business

The Senior TREMOR Mentor describes his original business approach, as well as his demanding yet satisfying path in the entrepreneurial world so far.

Hello, and welcome to another addition of our series of blog posts introducing the mentors behind our incubator programmes. This post was made to promote the 2nd call of our social impact incubator programme, TREMOR. Today, we're speaking with Topi Manu.

Topi Manu is a former co-founding partner of Fourkind, a board-sitting seed investor and currently working at one of the tech giants, Google, as an Account Executive and Business Development Manager. Driven by impact, Manu has a broad experience in tech consulting and growth entrepreneurship. We caught up with Manu to find out what entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship mean to him.

How to overcome challenges and what to learn from them

Prior to joining Google, Manu was a co-founding partner in Fourkind, a consultancy business combining machine learning and data science with strategy, design, and engineering. And while that chapter of Manu’s entrepreneurship story ended in 2021 when Fourkind was acquired by Thoughtworks, he still believes that despite all the challenges it entails, entrepreneurship remains a rewarding and fulfilling path for those with the drive and determination to succeed. Curious to know more, we asked Manu what was the key factor that led him to choose this career path:

“There’s never one main reason,” he explains. “However, in the consultancy job I held prior to becoming an entrepreneur, I felt greatly undervalued and disrespected. I felt that my talent wasn’t recognised, so in a way, entrepreneurship was a way for me to get back at them and show them and the world that there’s a lot more that I can do.”

Manu adds that in his mind, it’s also good to have been at a regular job prior to embarking into entrepreneurship, as the experience brings skills that are necessary for entrepreneurial success: “This could be an unpopular opinion, but I would like to think that it’s good to have experience from ‘normal’ work life before jumping into entrepreneurship. For example, if you have worked in recruitment, you will have a better eye when hiring people for your company.”

A lack of such experience, according to him, can be detrimental to your business. And while failure and overcoming hardships is something that entrepreneurs don’t like to think about, it’s an essential component of success. In fact, as is often said, many of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs have experienced multiple failures before achieving their breakthroughs. Manu continues, explaining that as he sees it, it’s those entrepreneurs who are willing to learn from their failures, adapt their strategies, and persevere through those tough times who are the ones most likely to succeed in the long run.

And it just so happens that Manu and his former team at Fourkind were exactly that kind of entrepreneurial team: even when faced with hardship, giving up was never an option. And while it’s not always easy, embracing tough times and failure as learning opportunities can ultimately lead to greater success and fulfilment in both business and life, as Manu describes:

“I have become hungrier, more effective, and more efficient. All my senses have improved when I have been under stress. I feel I am now very resilient, never giving up, and I am neither ashamed to ask anything from anybody, nor do I get scared of challenges.”

‘I’ve always greatly respected entrepreneurs. To me, that’s the highest level of achievement status.’

As we continue to discuss Manu’s own approach to entrepreneurship, the Senior Mentor shares his perspective on the hurdles of building a social enterprise:

“I’ve always greatly respected entrepreneurs. To me, that’s the highest level of achievement status. More specifically, you will have a certain aura when being a social entrepreneur, it’s like the most difficult job out there, it changes every day and there’s no one that can help you. You always face unique challenges and that is why it is motivating.”

Some of those unique challenges, in his view, are how social enterprises may struggle accessing different forms of capital due to their different ways of operating, measuring their impact on society and the environment, and generating awareness and interest among consumers.

Ultimately, becoming a social entrepreneur is a journey that requires creativity, vision, and perseverance, and starting a business with an idea can be an exciting and rewarding journey.

However, Manu finds it superficial to think that just having a brilliant idea is enough to build a successful business. To make real impact, careful planning and execution are necessary, and even if you have the most unique product or service, it is equally essential to have an understanding of the practical side of running a business:

“People underestimate that no matter how good of an idea you have or how visionary your team is, the company still needs to run according to certain standards. It needs to have accounting, financing, proper governance, cashflow forecasts, and so on,” Manu stresses. “A company needs to be run properly from an administration perspective, and many startups have disrespected that side of business.”

Social entrepreneurship can be a force for good

For Manu, those setting up social enterprises are people worthy of praise, as they are seeking to create positive societal impact, yet he recommends they stay away from vague promises: “It’s very naïve to think that you are ‘changing the world,’ and I would be very cautious about proclaiming something like this,” Manu says.

Manu also bemoans what he sees is a conversation around societal entrepreneurship that seeks to demonise those who seek to make money with their enterprises: “Most entrepreneurs I know are very ethical and multi-layered people with good moral standards. Yet the ethical discussion is somehow pitted against people making money. However, I believe that we can have a positive impact on society providing ethical products and services, as well as supporting our local communities, while still generating income.”

He continues, explaining that he believes that the overall societal impact of a business is determined by how well it is managed, how it treats its customers and employees, how it complies with laws and regulations, and how it interacts with the environment.

Social entrepreneurship is also changing the way we think about business and the role of the private sector in society. By prioritising social and environmental impact alongside profit, social enterprises are demonstrating that business can be a force for good, and that doing well and doing good are not mutually exclusive. As such, Manu believes that up-and-coming social entrepreneurs have a responsibility to take the lead in changing the culture and getting others to act in ways that create more positive change:

“We have nothing to complain about here in Finland, and the change needs to happen. If we lose our power and stamina and stop pushing for the change, then there’s no hope left for our future. We’re in such a position of privilege that we have a responsibility to carry the flag of a strong work ethic and push others to create positive social and environmental impact as well.”

As Manu is such a strong advocate for social entrepreneurs to step up and lead the charge of creating change, we ask him why those considering that path should apply for the second edition of TREMOR. The answer was simple – the Senior Mentor believes that TREMOR is the perfect programme for those shaking up the societal status quo.