Column: How to Start a Corporate Social Responsibility Program at Your Startup — and Why

Elizabeth Melton
Liz is a problem solver who takes great pleasure in finding new ways to drive business value. Her background in consulting, product management and strategy has helped her cultivate relationships with partners including Target, Madison Reed, Nestle, Experian and Databricks.
Column: How to Start a Corporate Social Responsibility Program at Your Startup — and Why

Not long ago, corporate social responsibility (CSR), was thought to be the province of massive companies that had the luxury to invest in goodwill programs, or had the need to soften their image as heartless monoliths.

No more.

The tenets behind CSR have become more important over the past few years as social and environmental concerns have come front and center for consumers, employees and even investors.


At its core, CSR is a business model in which organizations pledge to hold themselves accountable to shareholders as well as the public for the impact they have on society.

These companies differ from others in that they adopt a "triple bottom line" approach. They make decisions according to how their actions will impact people, the planet and their own profit, and quantify their approach in public-facing company reports, measuring their impact over time.

But they're not always doing this for purely altruistic reasons. CSR can reap big returns in public good will. It can also be a form of "tax-exempt lobbying," swaying governments and consumers to favor the business.

You might think that startups don't have the time or budget for CSR activities, but being socially responsible doesn't have to be all-consuming, and ignoring social responsibility can backfire in big ways. Below, we'll explore ways for even the smallest startups to incorporate CSR into their DNA, benefit the community and even see bigger returns in the process.

How Being Socially Responsible Can Give Your Startup a Leg Up

It's tough to make a name for yourself as a startup. Having the goodwill of potential customers, investors and — perhaps most importantly — your employees, can not only differentiate you among competitors, it can make the difference in what talent you're able to bring on.

In some cases, being able to tout a socially responsible approach can set you apart from competitors and impress investors. CSR-focused companies tend to get more press coverage in local news and more engagement on social media. That extra media presence can pay dividends and allow startups to show off their approach on social media. Some VCs are laser-focused on environmental and social causes, and even those who aren't might view corporate responsibility as a sub-component of their thesis.

"For Entidad, CSR is both foundational and a strategic differentiator," says Entidad CEO Jesus Torres. His company is focused on developing digital solutions that improve farmworkers' quality of life, creating smartphone apps that are built atop blockchain technology. (Note: I'm currently consulting for the startup.)

"The organizations we work with have built trusted brands by holding themselves to the highest standards of social responsibility. We knew from the beginning that to effectively operate in their respective worlds, we needed to do the same."

Corporate social responsibility does wonders for talent, especially right now. The pandemic, racial injustices and political upheaval are on the minds of many, and employees are looking for jobs that contribute to the greater good. In fact, 75% of millennials would take a pay cut to work for a socially responsible company. Research shows that putting money toward improving society rather than padding employee paychecks actually lowers employee wage demands while increasing productivity and retention.

Socially and environmentally responsible companies are particularly hot on public markets. By July 2020, environmental, social and governance (ESG)-themed funds pulled in $38 billion, reaching $100 billion in total assets for the first time. The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment reported U.S. sustainable investing assets at $17.1 trillion in 2020, 42% higher than in 2018.

These trends carry over into everyday consumer behavior. A survey by Aflac found that 49% of consumers believe it's more important for a company to "make the world a better place" than "make money for its shareholders." Other studies have found that 46% of consumers pay close attention to a brand's social responsibility efforts when buying a product. And perhaps most importantly, 66% of customers are willing to pay more for products from socially responsible businesses. Higher margins give socially responsible startups a financial leg up while they are doing good.

L.A.-based swimwear brand KINDKINIS was built around such an approach.

"Empathy isn't just good moral practice, it's also a good business practice," founder Merilyn Lopez says. With every sale, her startup donates to Generosity.org, a nonprofit that builds wells in developing countries.

KINDKINIS also uses a cruelty-free, vegan fabric called rPET and just became PETA approved. The company has recently partnered with Wearable Collections as well, allowing customers to donate old swimsuits that Wearable converts into new yarn or fiber products.

"Our business strategy on sustainability came from knowing that the future is dependent on our collective attempts to cut back on waste," Lopez adds. This is one of the pillars that drives our desire to succeed."

How To Start

Your startup doesn't need to be built around social responsibility to make a difference and elevate your work. The first step can be as simple as donating a minor portion of your proceeds to a nonprofit that matches your mission.

"CSR is front and center and driving everything we do at Gray Whale gin. It is our why," says Gray Whale Gin co-founder Marsh Mokhtari. His company donates 1% of its sales to ocean-restoration nonprofit Oceana and environmental organization 1% For the Planet.

The key to CSR adoption is to start small. One way to approach this is to list all the activities your startup already does, then ask yourself how to convert them into more environmentally or socially responsible ones.

For instance, Gray Whale needed to source ingredients to make their gin, so opted to support small, local California farms that grew organic limes, sea kelp, and juniper berries. This choice led to other small changes, like decorating Gray Whale bottles with sustainable paint and using a 100% biodegradable cork. Co-founder Jan Mokhtari explains: "Our target market is the millennial gin drinker, and they want to make an impact with their purchases. They'll make a decision based on whether or not a product is doing good in the world."

Here a few questions to can jumpstart your thinking:

  • How can we alter our benefits structure to be more socially responsible?
  • What is our environmental footprint, and how can we decrease it?
  • Can our product or people educate, feed, or counsel the L.A. community?
  • Are there nonprofits we can partner with in a simple, equitable way?

Think about the answers to these questions with the greater good in mind, rather than just the PR it will bring to your business. If your commitment isn't genuine, it can backfire 一 not only with your employees, but with your consumers as well. Consider setting internal KPIs to actually measure how much value you've brought to certain nonprofits or communities. This can help keep your ego in check and allow your team to set more audacious goals in the future.

Remember to involve your employees in the conversation as well. Startups are known for the creative minds behind them. Startup talent is bound to dream up new ways to tie sustainable practices into everyday activities.

One easy way to get this started is to leave 2 - 3 minutes at the end of an all-hands meeting to get input or send an anonymous survey to pick your first undertaking. Putting these habits into practice early sets you up to grow your program over time.

Partner With Orgs That Impact Your Community

Want to get started quickly? Consider partnering with a nonprofit that pertains to your industry. L.A. startup founders have some of the most diverse options at their fingertips.

For instance, youth and family services nonprofit The Bresee Foundation would be an incredible partner to startups in the education, childcare or even healthcare industries. It serves central L.A. youth, combating poverty through youth and family services and gang prevention.

The Bay Foundation is ideal for companies looking to work with a local nonprofit focused on improving the environment. The staff at TBF are science and policy experts who deeply care about L.A.'s ecosystem and work to restore natural land and water habitats. (Note: I provided pro bono services for The Bay Foundation in 2020).

The Point Foundation is an excellent option for startups that want to volunteer their time as mentors. Point works to counter the high prevalence of bullying in schools and provide bisexual, transgender and queer students scholarships, leadership development, and community service.

Looking for other organizations that might be good partners for your startup? Do Good LA, Great Nonprofits and Cause IQ all offer listings of area nonprofits, broken down by location and focus.

Have any more suggestions? Let us know!

https://www.linkedin.com/in/elizabethmelton1/

🏰 Disney's Epic Investment Stands Out Amidst Gaming Industry Layoffs

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

🔦 Spotlight

In the midst of widespread gaming industry layoffs, a glimmer of positive news emerges as Disney announces a significant move: a $1.5 billion investment in Epic Games. 🏰💰🐭

Image Source: Disney

Disney's $1.5 billion investment in Epic Games, disclosed late Wednesday, signals a strategic alignment aimed at expanding the success of "Fortnite." The deal enhances Epic's growth prospects after financial setbacks, including layoffs, and strengthens the partnership between the two companies. With Disney gaining a larger equity stake in Epic, the collaboration will broaden the integration of beloved Disney franchises like Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, and Avatar into the game, potentially boosting its appeal and longevity. This significant investment underscores Disney's commitment to interactive entertainment and signifies a shift towards games as a primary revenue stream, aligning with the growing trend of digital engagement among younger demographics. Moreover, the potential for crossover sales of physical Disney products within "Fortnite" and the exploration of new content distribution channels are just some of the opportunities arising from this partnership.

For LA tech, the Disney-Epic Games partnership represents a validation of the region's burgeoning tech and gaming ecosystem. The substantial investment in Epic, who maintains a large Los Angeles office with 1,000+ employees (according to LinkedIn), reflects confidence in the LA’s talent pool and innovation potential. Additionally, this partnership between two industry giants fosters an environment for further collaboration, investment, and growth within LA's tech sector. As Disney and Epic Games deepen their ties and explore new avenues for content integration and distribution, it not only elevates the prominence of LA as a tech hub but also stimulates economic growth and job creation in the region. This partnership highlights LA's unique position as a hub where technology and entertainment converge. With its ability to integrate diverse industries, LA is driving innovation and expansion in digital entertainment. 🚀💸🎮

🤝 Venture Deals

LA Companies

  • ProducePay, a financing and marketplace platform for the fresh produce market, raised a $38M Series D led by Syngenta Group Ventures joined by Commonfund, Highgate Private Equity, G2 Venture Partners, Anterra Capital, Astanor Ventures, Endeavor8, Avenue Venture Opportunities, Avenue Sustainable Solutions, and Red Bear Angels. - learn more
  • Blush, an invite-only dating app that drives users to local businesses on dates, raised a $7M Seed Round from individuals like Naval Ravikant. - learn more
  • Mogul, a startup founded last year that provides an overview of an artist's royalty earnings and identifies areas where money is owed but has not yet been collected, raised a $1.9 million seed round from Wonder Ventures, United Talent Agency, AmplifyLA, and Creator Partners. - learn more
  • Avnos, a hybrid direct air capture startup, raised a $36M Series A led by NextEra Energy and joined by Safran Corporate Ventures, Shell Ventures, Envisioning Partners, and Rusheen Capital Management. - learn more
  • AI.fashion, startup whose mission is to help retailers enhance the online shopping experience by providing consumers with virtual try-ons and personalized fashion recommendations, raised a $3.6M Seed Round led by Neo. - learn more
  • Suma Wealth, startup that aims to demystify financial topics and provide culturally relevant content, virtual experiences, and resources to help Latino users navigate financial challenges and opportunities, raised a $2.2M Seed Round . Radicle Impact led, and was joined by Vamos Ventures, OVO fund and the American Heart Association Impact Fund. - learn more
  • 222, a startup that helps users discover their city and meet new people through unique social experiences, raised a $2.5M Seed Round. Investors included 1517 Fund, General Catalyst, Best Nights VC, Scrum Ventures, and Upfront Ventures. - learn more
  • LimaCharlie, a security operations cloud platform, raised a $10.2M Series A led by Sands Capital. - learn more
  • Polycam, an app that uses a smartphone’s sensors to capture 3D scans of objects, raised an $18M Series A co-led by Left Lane Capital and Adjacent, and joined by Adobe Ventures and individuals like Chad Hurley and Shaun Maguire. -learn more.

LA Venture Funds

Actively Raising

  • ReelCall, Inc., an entertainment technology company focused on powerful apps and platforms that help build and maintain the professional network of connections vital to career growth, is raising a $850K Pre-Seed Round. - learn more
  • CZero, a startup building software to decarbonize logistics for logistics businesses and goods business through a vetted marketplace and optimization software. - learn more
  • Couri, a technology startup addressing last-mile delivery issues, is raising a $450K Pre-Seed Round at a $2.2M post money valuation. - learn more
  • Sweetie, a marketplace to help people plan date nights, is raising a $1.5M Pre Seed Round. - learn more
  • StartupStarter, an investment platform that provides real-time data and analytics on startups, is raising an $850K Angel Round. - learn more

If you’re a founder raising money in Los Angeles, give us a shout, and we’d love to include you in the newsletter!

Venture Waves, Climate Tech Wins, and Silicon Beach's Ongoing Evolution

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Anduril Seeks $1.5B in VC Funds

Defense company Anduril Industries Inc., based in Costa Mesa and founded by Palmer Luckey, is seeking to raise $1.5 billion in fresh funds to boost its valuation to $12.5 billion or more, according to sources quoted by The Information. This fundraising effort, if successful, would mark one of the largest venture capital rounds of the year.

Image Source: Anduril

Anduril recently secured a contract to develop and test small unmanned fighter jet prototypes under the Air Force’s Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) program, beating out major defense companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman. Alongside General Atomics, Anduril will design, manufacture, and test these aircraft, with a final multibillion-dollar production decision expected in fiscal year 2026. This program aims to deliver at least 1,000 combat aircraft to fly in concert with manned platforms and is part of the Air Force’s Next Generation Air Dominance initiative. Central to Anduril’s success in this contract is the Fury autonomous air vehicle, acquired through the purchase of Blue Force Technologies. This victory underscores Anduril's rapid advancement in the defense sector, aligning with Luckey's vision of building faster and more cost-effective defense assets. - learn more

Los Angeles Ranks Number 1 in Emerging Climate Tech Hub

The 2024 Emerging Climate Tech Hubs Report by Revolution highlights Los Angeles as a burgeoning center for climate tech innovation. LA's growth in this sector is driven by its diverse talent pool, strong research institutions, and a culture of environmental consciousness. The city's unique mix of legacy industries, such as entertainment and aerospace, alongside emerging tech companies, positions it as a pivotal player in the climate tech landscape. This shift reflects a broader trend of decentralized climate tech funding across the U.S., reducing the historical dominance of California's traditional hubs. - learn more

Silicon Beach: Looking Back, Moving Forward

Assessing the overall health of the startup market is challenging, especially as venture capital funding has decreased by an average of 61% from 2021 to 2023 across the top VC markets in the US. Markets with robust ecosystems in AI, SaaS, Biotech, Healthtech, and Fintech appear to be weathering the downturn better than those focused on Consumer and Gaming industries, areas where Los Angeles traditionally excels.

Percent Change In VC Funding By Region

CB Insights

LA Times paints a rather bleak outlook on the Los Angeles tech scene noting venture capital funding in Greater Los Angeles plummeted 73% from 2021 to 2022. Silicon Beach, once a vibrant tech corridor, currently faces high vacancy rates and lacks late-stage financiers, especially in the AI sector. However, there are positive signs, including growth in aerospace startups and increased venture capital investment in early 2024, suggesting a potential rebound for LA's tech ecosystem.

While LA may not be exceeding expectations during this period, its tech ecosystem warrants a nuanced evaluation, given the broader market dynamics and its strong performance in specific sectors. Reach out to us with your thoughts.

🚀 SpaceX gears up for another stellar year, active raises, and more

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Happy Friday Los Angeles! You made it through the first week of 2024!

🔦 Spotlight

Elon Musk may be a divisive (albeit entertaining) figure, but the continued success of SpaceX is pivotal for the aerospace industry in Los Angeles and more broadly around the world.

Image Source: SpaceX webcast

What happened with SpaceX in 2023?

  • Elon Musk challenged Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg to a cage fight.
  • SpaceX launched 96 successful missions with its Falcon series of rockets, a 57% increase over its previous annual record.
  • SpaceX conducted two test flights of the largest and most powerful rocket ever built, Starship.
  • Roughly two-thirds of SpaceX's launches in 2023 were devoted to building out Starlink, the company's satellite-internet megaconstellation.
  • Isaacson’s Elon Musk biography was published in September including everything from Musk’s tumultuous relationship with his father to his work ethic and “demon mode”.

Moving forward what can we expect from SpaceX and its controversial founder? Continued innovation pushing the aerospace industry to new limits? Yes. More drama? Without a doubt.

Here is some of what is to come in 2024:

🤝 Venture Deals

Just Announced

Check back next week!

LA Exits

  • CG Oncology, an Irvine, CA-based developer of immunotherapies for bladder cancer, filed for a $100M IPO. It plans to list on the Nasdaq (CGON) with Morgan Stanley as left lead underwriter, and has raised around $317m in VC funding. - learn more
  • McNally Capital agreed to sell Advanced Micro Instruments, a Costa Mesa, CA-based maker of gas analyzers and sensing technologies, to Enpro (NYSE: NPO). - learn more

Actively Raising

  • ReelCall, Inc., an entertainment technology company focused on powerful apps and platforms that help build and maintain the professional network of connections vital to career growth, is raising a $850K Pre-Seed Round. - learn more
  • CZero, a hard-tech startup that is developing a technology for decarbonizing natural gas, is raising a $1.5M Seed Round. - learn more
  • Couri, a technology startup addressing last-mile delivery issues, is raising a $450K Pre-Seed Round at a $2.2M post money valuation. - learn more
  • Sweetie, a marketplace to help people plan date nights, is raising a $250K Angel Round. - learn more
  • StartupStarter, an investment platform that provides real-time data and analytics on startups, is raising an $850K Angel Round. - learn more

If you’re a founder raising money in Los Angeles, give us a shout, and we’d love to include you in the newsletter!

📅 LA Tech Calendar

Sunday, January 7th

Wednesday, January 10th

  • Startup Cafe: Networking with a Kick - Entrepreneurs, Startups, and Tech Enthusiasts join together to meet and connect with like-minded people, industry professionals and investors, while enjoying a nice cup of coffee in Venice at The KINN. This week’s interactive discussion about AI’s evolution in entertainment will feature Dr. Sam Khoze and Rachel Joy Victor.
  • Venice Tech Happy Hour- Join Startup Coil and FoundrHaus Wednesday evening and enjoy the sunset from the rooftop, grab a bite overlooking Abbot Kinney, and mingle with other tech enthusiasts and entrepreneurs by the bar on the patio.

Have an awesome event coming up? Reach out to be featured on next week’s Newsletter!

📙 What We’re Reading

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