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Start Your Business Success Stories

How a Kick Below the Belt Launched Me on the Path of Social Entrepreneurship

How a Kick Below the Belt Launched Me on the Path of Social Entrepreneurship Credit: Scott Petinga Group

My current job title is not chief executive office, chief financial officer, chief operating officer or anything of the like. I am chief troublemaker of my company, The Scott Petinga Group.

Of course, before landing this esteemed position, I worked a series of other jobs with more traditional titles. Over the course of my career, I was a Madison Avenue marketing agency guy, a financial institute Segmentation vice president and an adjunct professor at several colleges. Before all of that, I served in the military as a U.S. Marine.

From all accounts, I had a decent career trajectory going. But that's when a life-threatening bout of testicular cancer came along to kick me, quite literally, below the belt. It was 2004, I had been married for about a month, and my world came crashing down.

However, after a long battle, I walked away a new man. Not only did I have a vibrant, renewed appreciation for my family and loved ones – that's standard, apparently – but this health scare at 30 also changed how I viewed myself as a professional. I came to realize that, despite all the accomplishments I'd chalked up at various business positions along the way, my contributions really had no genuine value beyond bolstering the company's balance sheet.

Given a second chance at life, I was compelled to thrive. I was no longer content to sit on the sidelines, going through the routine playbook scrimmages when called upon, and hoping for enough wins to play another season. No – I needed to change how I played the game, and the game itself.

Over the last decade, I've engaged in ventures that have changed the world for the better and redefined the meaning of success for all businesses. I have launched 14 companies and three charitable foundations, and take pride in disrupting every industry I enter. Every one of these start-ups benefits some form of charity or greater social change. 

My latest venture is a premium underwear company called Pariah Underwear. When I first thought of launching a product line like this, naysayers told me the margins were too low, it couldn't be done profitably without utilizing sweatshop labor and that it would never support this "gimmick" I had for always including charitable-giving.

Beating cancer teaches you to dismiss the pessimists for what they are.

Within a few months, I identified a textile manufacturer in China that could provide me with a unique fabric called CLEANCOOL that's perfect for creating soft, cool undergarments. This company has been recognized for its ethical work conditions, including paying fair wages. We're able to donate 50 percent of our proceeds to support men's health initiative, and every package of our Pariah underwear comes with an educational flyer about testicular cancer, a topic near and dear to my heart. What better place to educate men about the cancer so few want to talk about than with an enclosure tucked into their reasonably priced, premium underwear?

It's become my calling to be the change I want to see in the world. And the truth is, it's not all that difficult to establish companies that provide for the better good – if you simply include that goal in your business plan from the start. I've been able to accomplish it in every industry we've launched businesses in – which has earned me my reputation as "troublemaker" and "disrupter."

But I see this as part of a bona fide business movement – an evolutionary and revolutionary paradigm shift that can change the world for the better. It calls on all of us, especially today's corporate leaders and innovative entrepreneurs, to redefine success in business so that it works to solve social and environmental challenges.

Won't you look for ways to join us in bringing about this change?

About the author: Scott Petinga is the Chief Troublemaker of The Scott Petinga Group, where he is a pioneer in the development of businesses that make a lasting impact on society. He is the founder of the TH!NK DIFFERENT Foundation, the Fairy Foundation, the Center of Advocacy for Cancer of the Testes International (CACTI), and a volunteer mentor with Imerman Angels of Chicago. He lives in the Minneapolis metro with his life partner and also the father of three pretty amazing daughters.