Doughnut Design for Business with a startup

My experience of using the Doughnut Design for Business with a startup business

Using the Doughnut Design for Business toolkit


“A useful design tool which aligned systems thinking with making practical decisions.” Sat Mann, Co-founder, ByDiffusion


Following a presentation at the West Yorkshire Innovation Festival on Doughnut Economics, the co-founders of a new business consultancy reached out to discuss two exciting ideas for Leeds.


Sat and Mike came with an impeccable pedigree of doing good stuff in the city; Sat had previously founded a sustainable local food delivery company, whilst Mike was the Chair of the Leeds Digital Ball, an annual event raising over £50,000 for good causes across the city.


Together they were about to launch a new business, a disruptive (in the best possible way) digital agency ByDiffusion, which would put people and planet at the forefront of all their work. 


And, putting their money where their mouth was, they also proposed to establish a new foundation, 'One for the City' modelled on 1% For The Planet, to provide their business, and others, with a vehicle to invest one percent of revenues back into the fabric of Leeds.


Their approach was timely, as the Doughnut Economics Action Lab (DEAL) had just launched their new Business Toolkit to help establish possibilities for business transformation.


Over the course of two half-day workshops (twice as long as the guidance suggests), we used the toolkit to hold a structured conversation about the business, its transformative potential and how we could enable that through business model design.


Sat and Mike already had a vision of what they wanted the business to be; the Doughnut provided us with a valuable lens to examine the elements more deeply and relate them to their enterprise design.


Was there any new knowledge or insight gained from the Doughnut, or was it simply a useful design tool?


“The toolkit highlighted the importance of considering every decision made when taking into account all of the social and ecological factors. 

We learnt why it was systems change that was needed to move both people and planet into the safe and just place.”

We gathered in person but used the canvas from the DEAL Miro Board, which provided a good structure to work with.


One issue experienced from the outset was adapting the toolkit to a pre-start business. This meant there was no existing business approach to map onto the doughnut. In practice, we did this initial mapping against the doughnut based on standard practice in their sector. This was still a useful exercise, as it marked out clearly how they intended to be different.


Strikingly, many of the outer segments of environmental overshoot had notes added saying "I've never seen or heard this discussed by business". 


The next stage, generating core regenerative and redistributive ideas, was the most beneficial element of the process. 


Having started mapping ideas onto on the doughnut canvas, we adapted the approach slightly to consider the business supply chain, thinking about redistributing power and resources across three stages:

  • Suppliers/Partners/Peers, 
  • within the Business and 
  • with Customers


This combination of the more abstract Doughnut Canvas and the practical supply chain canvas sparked some great discussions and provided a good balance of transformative ideas.


This ideas session was split across our two workshops, ending the first and beginning the second, which provided time for the ideas to percolate.


As we moved onto the Business Design phase, it was really useful to deconstruct the business model into the five elements (Purpose, Network, Governance, Ownership, Future). This helped move from the ideation phase to understanding how it would manifest within the business.


Beyond the incredible proposal of "Invest 1% of revenue back into the city", perhaps the most powerful idea was their plan to 'Ignite beacons of change for community, clients, colleagues, peers and partners'. This grounded the business purpose as creating change in the industry beyond simply the services provided.


As a pre-start business, much of our discussion was about the things they would do in future, so rather than using the structure to redesign the business, we identified the critical first steps, such as incorporating wording from the Better Business Act about balancing shareholder interests with society and environment into their Articles of Association, and seeding conversations with Branding and PR agencies with the core purpose of the business. 


We agreed that the other elements provided a development plan and evaluation tool to check in on progress in 6 months time.


Overall, the toolkit provided a good core structure to work with, though it did need some adaptation to relate to a pre-start business and to provide a less abstract canvas to consider transformative ideas.


How influential was the Doughnut Economics Toolkit on the business design and development?

“The theory and toolkit were useful in helping to understand the interplay between both internal and external factors which affect the design of our business model. 

In some scenarios it validated thinking but in others it provoked new ideas leading to a different approach.” Sat Mann, Co-founder, ByDiffusion




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