For many years the faith and work movement largely focused on helping Christians maintain their beliefs in the workplace and share the gospel when possible. But now we see an encouraging trend where new organizations and initiatives explore the broader dimensions of vocation and human flourishing. Praxis, for example, is a fascinating organization leading the effort to support Christian entrepreneurs compelled by their faith to advance the common good.
Dave Blanchard is the co-founder and president of Praxis, and I asked him to help us understand this developing trend among Christians in the marketplace. Praxis offers an accelerator fellowship program to advance the work of high-growth, pre-scale nonprofits and businesses led by Christ-followers. Applications for the 2014 Praxis Fellowship close on July 1 and can be completed at www.praxislabs.org. Follow them on Twitter @praxislabs and @dave_blanchard.
Why is entrepreneurship important for the church right now?
In a 2011 Kauffmann study, a stunning 54 percent of millennials said they want to start or join a startup. And as Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter and Square, noted recently on the cover of Fortune, “The most efficient means to spread an idea today is corporate structure.” From Scott Harrison at charity: water to Jeff Skoll at Participant Media to Dov Charney at American Apparel, these founders are leaning on their core beliefs to shape our world, for better and for worse. Given this increasing influence and platform, we believe the future of culture depends largely on the worldview of entrepreneurs. This is nothing less than a massive opportunity for the church—not to “take over” but instead to demonstrate our faith in action—our orthopraxis. At Praxis, we often talk about gospel-minded entrepreneurship as an important apologetic for the 21st century.
What is a gospel-minded organization anyway? Praxis talks about wanting business leaders to embody the gospel in their work. What does this mean? How does it practically play out?
This is an important question. While the gospel is the good news of God’s saving grace in the life of an individual, how does that message actually relate to an organization? When we receive God’s Spirit, we are made new; we become a new creation with new life. As a result, we cannot help but live differently. Fundamentally, we experience a shift in our motivations, goals, and methods for achieving these things. Just as a gospel-minded person wakes up each day working out of that new mindset—they have been made new to reflect the glory of God—the same can be true for a gospel-minded organization. This entity—any organization is really the sum of its people—must think about what it wants to accomplish in light of God’s regenerative work on earth and organize its operations in order to reflect those priorities. The gospel itself is a message, but its implications for business are rich with virtue.
Along with Josh Kwan and our mentor, friend, and board member Steve Graves, I authored a book entitled From Concept to Scale: Building a Gospel-Minded Organization that attempts offer some practical ideas and exercises for application as you construct your venture. From supply chain practices, to the worldview you market, to your concept itself, we think our faith is not only relevant but even essential to every component of the organization’s activities. I’m also a big fan of Peter Kreeft’s profound work Back to Virtue. In it, he outlines the four ancient virtues (wisdom, courage, justice, and moderation), the three theological virtues (faith, hope, and love), and a beautiful contrast of the eight beatitudes and the seven deadly sins. Read through an entrepreneurial lens, his content provides a fascinating way for every entrepreneur to think about creating a God-honoring organization that benefits our world.
What is Praxis, and how did it come to be?
In 2010, I was working at innovation firm IDEO, and God brought me together with Josh Kwan, a venture philanthropist. We shared interest in supporting high-impact entrepreneurs in their work and noticed a considerable gap around accelerating the faith-motivated entrepreneur’s path to creating a scalable organization. From that insight, we created Praxis in an effort to help Christ-following entrepreneurs advance their work into the world. We currently run two annual fellowship programs, one for nonprofits and one for businesses. The program is focused on preparing both the venture and also the leader for the demands of rapid growth, and is based on four core offerings: providing world-class mentorship, a shared-faith peer community, access to capital sources, and significant hands-on support from our core Praxis team. More on the program details and application process is available here. Application, which closes July 1, is highly competitive, but once you are in, there’s a truly incredible of community of people ready to pour into you and your work.
When you say “world-class” mentors, what does that look like?
We are incredibly blessed to have more than 25 volunteer mentors spend focused, one-on-one discussion time in person with our fellows at our events. In our business program, we have mentors such as Chi Hua Chien, partner at Kleiner Perkins; Greg Spencer, founder of Paradigm Project; and Nancy Duarte, founder of Duarte Design, the top presentation design firm in the world. For our non-profit program, we are grateful to have mentors ranging from Peter Greer, CEO of HOPE International; to Fred Smith, president of The Gathering; to David Weekley, founder of David Weekley Homes and the David Weekley Family Foundation. We are fortunate to have a group of remarkable people deep in both competency and also faith and put them around the next generation of Christian leaders.
Can you give us an example of the type of ventures Praxis fellows lead?
Jason Locy of FiveStone, a Praxis core mentor focused on story and design, says our fellows “look a lot like the body of Christ exposing the kingdom of God on earth.” They are inspiring to work with and diverse. Sajan George of Matchbook Learning is turning around our nation’s worst-performing public schools. Chris and Will Haughey of Tegu make high-end toys (read: job creation) in Honduras. Jimmy Lin of Rare Genomics is helping children with rare diseases use gene sequencing to discover what’s wrong. Hannah Song and Justin Wheeler lead Liberty in North Korea, a group focused on reshaping the public perception of an oppressed country.
What do you look for in entrepreneurs you support?
First and foremost, we look for high-potential entrepreneurs who have a real interest in pursuing what it means to integrate their faith and their work. We’re looking for leaders who feel called to their work, and typically have some sort of big idea they are expressing through their venture. They want to go to scale, to have big impact, and are on a high-growth trajectory that suggests they have a shot at it. When we started, some people asked us if there were really enough high-quality Christians out there involved in work at this level. Two years in, it has been amazing to uncover so many Christ-followers with incredible talent who are pouring their lives out to build these gospel-minded organizations.
If you could give advice to the Christ-following entrepreneur, what would it be?
There’s much that could be said, but three things stand out. First, use the gospel as a generative construct, not simply a retro-fitting values device or ethics manual. We have an incredible opportunity to create radically different organizations that upend societal norms, transform and renew culture, and popularize important ideas from generosity and charity to using business as a vehicle to free the oppressed. Second, don’t lose track of yourself in the entrepreneurial process. Our fellows’ only prescribed homework is Gordon MacDonald’s Ordering Your Private World. The taxing roller coaster of entrepreneurship can be stabilized with a structured life, healthy perspective, and disciplined practices like taking a Sabbath. Last, remember that God’s version of success is not the world’s. We are called to pray, work hard, be faithful and leave the results—much of which you cannot see nor will ever know—up to God.