Winning businesses think about more than profit

— -- I am filing tonight's dispatch from our nation's capital where I attended the 3rd annual SCORE Awards. I have written about SCORE -- "a nonprofit association dedicated to educating entrepreneurs and helping small businesses start, grow, and succeed" -- many times and will do so again, as I am an unabashed fan.

But of immediate concern is the question of the night: How does a business get plucked from obscurity, win a national award, and get recognized as among the best, most meaningful, most impact-making businesses at a black-tie event in D.C.?

What are these businesses doing right?

All the winners seem to share one trait -- a secret I will share in a moment -- but all were a dynamic, visionary, difference-making group who are changing their lives and those in the communities they serve.

So what I say to all the economic doomsayers and financial fussbudgets out there who seem to take some sort of perverse pleasure in any economic bad news is this:

Let them see what I saw tonight!

Let them meet and speak with the winners and participants, with the organizations and companies dedicated to small business.

I left the evening convinced that economic prosperity is on the way.

Maybe it's taking longer than we want, but no matter. It's coming. How do I know? Because I met founders of some of the best of the best small businesses in the country tonight, and the organizations committed to supporting them, and saw firsthand that entrepreneurship is thriving in this country.

So, what is it that works? What are these small businesses doing right?

The first thing, the clearly obvious thing, is the radical thing:

Forget about profit.

Heresy, I know. But what I mean is this: The winners were visionaries who were using an entrepreneurial model to change the world for the better. Their vision, that passion, that . . . compulsion to make a difference is what set these companies apart. Do they love profit? Of course. We all love profit. But what was equally clear is that profit to them was a means to an end, i.e., the vision.

As Karen Sepulveda, dynamic director of small and medium business strategy for American Airlines told me, "We had no idea when we started the 'Flights, Camera, Action' contest just how impressive the contestants would be, and just how difficult it would be to narrow it down to a few finalists. It was a remarkable group."

I'll say. Consider some of the winners of that contest. In association with SCORE, the winners get free flights and more to help take their businesses to the next level:

Grand prize winner Jack Minton created his business, HopeForce International, as a second career when he was well past 50. Hopeforce is a global business that empowers volunteers around the world to help in disaster relief, response, and remediation. When I asked Minton why he created the business, he said, "I was compelled to. I thought we could make a difference …someone had to do something."

Dr. Kathleen Harrison won for her business, Project Harambee, which helps HIV infected women in Kenya with education, economic assistance, and healthcare. The doctor says, "It is the quality of your work, a good heart, and values that will dictate your success."

Not to be outdone, consider Yak Films. Another global company yes, but this time formed and run by three hip 20-somethings (or is it Hip Hop? There I go, dating myself.) The three friends travel the world filming cutting-edge dance and music scenes, then posting them on YouTube. Haven't heard seen their stuff? Don't worry, others have . . . millions of others Google "Heroes of Dance." That is why the likes of Adidas and Red Bull hire these guys to produce videos for them.

The three Yak Film prodigies say they succeeded by following their muse and using social media, not just to promote their business, but better, in an unobtrusive way that adds value to others.

Finally, consider the SCORE winner for "Outstanding Woman-Owned Small Business," which went to Rachel Weeks for her business, School House.

While a Fulbright Scholar in Sri Lanka, Rachel had a business brainstorm and began to get online counseling from a SCORE mentor in the States. She wanted to offer "ethical manufacturing" to the booming college gear market, and so she did, starting a living-wage garment factory in Sri Lanka. Weeks paid about three times the going rate to her Sri Lankan workers. Her alma mater, Duke, was her first customer, and now School House serves more than 100 universities.

So what is the collective secret of these winners? Here are the words the winners chose to use:

"Ethics." "Values." "Vision." "Passion." "A good heart."

I am pretty sure they don't teach that at B School.

Full disclosure: I atteneded the awards as a guest of SCORE and American Airlines.

Today's Tip: For the uninitiated, SCORE is, as CEO Ken Yancey once explained to me, "sort of like a Peace Corps of entrepreneurs for America." 13,000 SCORE volunteers, all experienced business people, give confidential, free advice to small businesses in person and online, every day.

Some SCORE stats:

? SCORE cost to create one business: $119

? SCORE cost to create one job: $98

? Estimated taxes paid by SCORE clients: $3.8 billion

Ask an Expert appears Mondays. You can e-mail Steve Strauss at: an index of Strauss' columns is here. Steven D. Strauss is a lawyer, author and speaker who specializes in small business and entrepreneurship. His latest book is Get Your Business Funded: Creative Methods for Getting the Money You Need. You can sign up for his free newsletter, "Small Business Success Secrets!" at his website — Follow him on Twitter at