In a time of national anthem protests, statue removals, and Dr. Seuss rejections, it’s hard to imagine where our current political fever pitch will take us next. But this sort of social hyperconsciousness doesn’t always equate to controversy. In fact, tech itself has become imbued with a growing sense of the greater good, so much so that charitable causes have undergone a transformation thanks to the innovation and interconnectivity achieved in the past two decades. Social entrepreneurship is by no means a new concept, but it certainly enjoys a renewed purpose. And as a prime example of collaboration between the public and private sectors, it may very well have discovered the formula for drastic change in the 21st century.

What Is a Social Entrepreneur?

Along with all the guts, intuition, charm, financial savvy, and vision of a for-profit entrepreneur, the essential trait of a social entrepreneur is the willingness to forgo wealth for a mission-oriented pursuit. And the mission always aims toward improving a particular social, cultural, or environmental situation. Social enterprises often operate within healthcare, education, poverty mitigation, and community development, though they aren’t restricted to these sectors.

The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship defines a social entrepreneur as someone who:

  • “Achieves large scale, systemic and sustainable social change through a new invention, a different approach, a more rigorous application of known technologies or strategies, or a combination of these.
  • Focuses first and foremost on the social and/or ecological value creation and tries to optimize the financial value creation.
  • Innovates by finding a new product, a new service, or a new approach to a social problem.
  • Continuously refines and adapts approach in response to feedback.
  • Combines the characteristics represented by Richard Branson and Mother Teresa”

Social Entrepreneurship Models

The Schwab Foundation divides different social ventures into three resource-oriented categories:

Leveraged Non-Profit Ventures

  • innovates to solve market or governmental failure
  • engages public and private organizations
  • depend on outside philanthropy
  • partnerships can help to provide long-term stability

Hybrid Non-Profit Ventures

  • model requires some degree of cost recovery through sales of goods/services to public and private institutions, as well as target populations
  • must set up variety of legal entities to help distinguish between income and charitable expenditures
  • engages public and private organizations, as well as seeks grants or loans

Social Business Venture

  • for-profit entity
  • though profit is generated, the ultimate goal is to grow the venture’s reach
  • seeks out investors who are willing to combine financial and social returns

The Good Trade, a digital media company that features brands and products dedicated to social good, gives a more simplistic breakdown of social enterprise models:

The Innovation Model – “directly addresses social need through innovative products.”

The Employment Model – “employs disadvantaged people at a fair wage.”

The Give Back Model – “gives back for every purchase made.”

How Do Social Entrepreneurs Measure Success?

A traditional for-profit business might develop the “perfect” ice cream scoop then wait for the market to validate its efforts, but a social enterprise tackling a global issue like clean water access is truly just aiming to put a dent in the problem. That dent might also drastically change the lives of millions of people for the better. To appreciate the ultimate value metric of social entrepreneurship begins by understanding failure. That’s not a glass-half-empty outlook, either. Social entrepreneur Tori Utley says that there are three different ways to encounter failure:

1. You raised awareness.

Whether it was the spreading of an idea or sparking passion in someone else who will go onto make a difference, if you tried, you most likely spread your message enough to spark awareness and conversation.”

2. You learned what not to do.

“By making mistakes and learning from them, you’ll better ensure you won’t make the same mistake again – and your future venture will benefit.”

3. Your leadership will be refined.

“Failure helps build humility, ownership and accountability – and perhaps most importantly, resiliency, a critical leadership trait that you’ll need as you work to impact social systems and help others.”

At the Nexus of Collaboration

Whatever your social venture, you’ll need to be able to navigate the public and private spheres with a strategy that meets present needs while sowing long-term sustainability. As one of the nation’s emerging innovation and entrepreneurial centers, tekMountain has built a vast network of public and private partnerships, along with wide-ranging access to financial support, mentorship, and legal advice. Every mission needs to find its first foothold, and we’re here to help.

Contact tekMountain today to learn how you can take your social venture to the next level.


This blog was produced by the tekMountain Team of Sean AhlumAmanda SipesBill DiNome and Beth Roddy with lead writer Zach Cioffi.

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