Entrepreneurs used to be those who had an idea, started a company, and made money. They wrote a business plan, circulated the document to a bank, and worked tirelessly to scale their company and drive profits for themselves and their investors. But in 2018, we’re a startup nation. Actually, we’re a startup world. Entrepreneurs have different motivations for starting a business just as consumers have different motivations to buy.

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I’ve noticed a significant uptick in interest in companies that have a basic alignment in social responsibility, meaning the mission is not just to grow and make money, but to do good in the universe. Enter, social entrepreneurship.


TOMS arguably put social entrepreneurship on the map. It started as a one-for-one model; Buy a pair of shoes, and TOMS would give a pair to a child in need. Today, buying a pair of TOMS shoes or sunglasses provides shoes, sight, water, safe birth, and bullying prevention services to people across the globe.

2. Ben & Jerry’s

Ben & Jerry’s aims “to create linked prosperity for everyone that’s connected to our business: suppliers, employees, farmers, franchisees, customers, and neighbors alike.” They do this by using their power of purchasing to support positive change, keep their manufacturing footprint small and responsible, give back to local communities, and make delicious ice cream.

3. Warby Parker

To date, this eyewear company has given away over 4 million pairs of glasses through their “Buy a Pair, Give a Pair” program. They’ve also disrupted the eyewear industry and spawned countless copycat organizations.

4. Good Eggs

Good Eggs is an online grocery and meal kit delivery service that sets itself apart with fresh, local produce and meal kits for a variety of occasions. Their mission: over 70% of their food, wine, and spirits are locally sourced, and every item must meet a strict list of sourcing standards.

5. Lush

This cosmetics company cites environmental awareness and ethical consumerism as its bedrocks. All Lush cosmetics are free of packaging, and the company gives millions to environmental causes each year.

6. Uncommon Goods

Independent makers are the backbone of this company. They offer a marketplace for creatives to sell their goods with the aim of having a positive impact on people and the planet. They work to minimize their environmental impact and work with artists to use sustainable or recycled materials when possible.

7. GoldieBlox

“GoldieBox is the award-winning children’s multimedia company disrupting the pink aisle in toy stores and challenging gender stereotypes with the world’s first girl engineer character.” They create toys, books, apps, videos, animation, and other merchandise to empower girls to build confident, empowered futures.

8. Pipeline Angels

In 2016, only 26% of U.S. angel investors were women and only 5% were minorities. Pipeline Angels wants to change that and is doing so by creating capital and investment opportunities for women and non-binary femme social entrepreneurs. They run a signature bootcamp aimed at educating female investors and also offer a pitch summit for entrepreneurs seeking funding.

9. United By Blue

Not your ordinary outdoor apparel store, for every product sold, United By Blue removes one pound of trash from the world’s oceans and waterways. At the time of publication, they had removed over 1 million pounds of trash.

10. Shea Radiance

Co-founder Funlayo Alabi and her husband started making soap to solve their family’s dry skin problems. What started as an experiment to heal their sons’ eczema prone skin morphed into a clean and effective product line for hair, skin, and body. Alabi sources all Shea Butter directly from women-run cooperatives in rural Nigeria and Ghana which ensures revenue ends up “in the hands of the women who have earned it.”

11. Werk

Werk believes the future of work is not unchangeable, it’s adaptive to each employee’s skills, motivations, and needs. By helping people find their Flextype, Werk believes they can make work flexible for everyone.

12. Oliberté

This shoe manufacturer is a sustainable brand supporting workers’ rights in sub-Saharan Africa. They launched their own factory in 2012 and make every pair of Oliberté shoes from this factory in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. In 2013, they also become the world’s first Fair Trade Certified™ footwear manufacturing factory.

13. Lstn

Proceeds from the sales of LSTN speakers and headphones go towards giving hearing aids to people in need through their partner, Starkey Hearing Foundation.

14. FIGS

FIGS exists to create super-comfortable, ethically responsible scrubs. They create a high-quality product and donate hundreds of thousands of scrubs to healthcare providers in over 35 countries.

15. Love Your Melon

This apparel brand gives a hat to every child battling cancer in America. They also support nonprofit organizations fighting against pediatric cancer. 50% of all the profits that come from buying a Love Your Melon product go to their nonprofit partners and beanie donation events run year round.

Social Entrepreneurship Ideas

So, you want to do some good, but you’re not quite sure where to start? Here are a few social entrepreneurship ideas and some guidelines for how to develop an idea that's all your own:

  1. Crowdfunding
  2. Baking for a cause
  3. Electricity or technology projects for the developing world
  4. Conflict-free or fair-trade goods
  5. Educational travel
  6. Employment services
  7. Crafting for a cause
  8. Micro-lending
  9. Facilitating exercise among disadvantaged communities
  10. Sustainability housing and development
  11. Mentorship or funding for entrepreneurs in developing countries
  12. Diversity and inclusion initiatives in the classroom
  13. A cooperative marketplace

How to Pick a Social Entrepreneurship Idea

Define what you’re passionate about

Do you firmly believe every child in America should have a pillow? Do you volunteer at a food pantry on the weekends? Are you an activist for certain local charities? Define what you’re passionate about and proceed to step two …

Determine the gaps

Once you know what you’re passionate about, it’s time to decide what the gaps are in existing products/services and determine how you can fill those gaps. If the food pantry you volunteer at can’t disseminate fresh, donated produce before it spoils, think about how you could provide a service that makes it faster and easier to get fresh produce to the underserved communities in your area.

Identify your strengths and skills

Are you an excellent writer or a salesperson extraordinaire? List your strengths and skills, and define how they can serve your mission. This is also an excellent time to identify your weaknesses, so you know who to call upon for help.

Decide on a business model

Being a social entrepreneur is not the same as starting a nonprofit. Consider how you will monetize your idea and choose a business model. Whether a cross-compensation model like TOMS and Warby Parker or a market connector like Uncommon Goods, it’s important to know how your business will be structured.

Social Entrepreneurs

1. Jazzmine Raine

Raine is the founder of Hara House, the first zero waste guest house in Bikaner, Rajasthan, India. The area is a tourist destination with a vibrant environmental scene. Of the house’s profits, 20% go to helping local youth get involved in economic opportunities, social justice, and environmental education. The youth help run the guest house, tours, and a community center.

2. Muhammad Yunus

Yunus is the founder of Grameen Bank. This Bangladesh-based institution provides small loans to those living in poverty. 97% of their borrowers are women -- and these women pay their loans back at a rate of 97%. The bank has managed a net income of $10 million, has 2,568 branches, and covers 93% of total villages in Bangladesh. His work has also earned Yunus a Nobel Prize. See his Talks at Google session on “The New Economics of Zero Poverty” below.

3. Scott Harrison

Charity: water CEO and INBOUND speaker Scott Harrison founded his nonprofit to bring clean, safe drinking water to people in developing countries. They track every dollar raised to the project it funds, and private donors cover their operating costs to 100% of the money they raise can fund their water projects. To date they’ve funded 38,113 water projects, helped almost 10 million people get clean water, and partnered with 37 local partners in 27 countries. Check out Harrison’s INBOUND 2018 keynote below.

4. Vava Angwenyi

Kenyan coffee entrepreneur Vava Angwenyi started with one small coffee bar in her town, but she was soon helping farmers improve the quality of their coffee, their brand, and their sales. Soon, Vava Coffee was born. Angwenyi’s company now serves as an exporter, roaster, and consultative partner working with more than 30,000 smallholder farmers who earn 18% more by working with Vava. Angwenyi’s first company has been so successful, it inspired her to start Gente Del Futuro, a cross-cultural coffee training program in Tanzania, Kenya, and Columbia. Hear more about Vava’s work in her recent presentation at the Re:co Symposium.

5. Durell Coleman

Coleman is the founder and CEO of DC Design, a social impact design firm putting design thinking to use solving some of the world’s biggest problems. His firm has addressed challenges in the criminal justice and foster care systems in the United States. They’ve also designed solutions for refugee camps, and they’ve worked with executives at global enterprise organizations like Sony, Oracle, and Santander.

6. Emily Kirsch

Kirsch started Powerhouse after working with solar startup Mosaic to put solar panels on houses in Oakland, California. Today, Powerhouse supports clean energy entrepreneurship through a network of energy-focused co-working spaces. It also offers venture backing for early-stage energy startups. Powerhouse also facilitates a series of signature events, from the Suncode hackathon to Powerhouse Circle and even a monthly podcast called “Watt it Takes.

7. Tony Weaver Jr.

Weaver is founder and CEO of Weird Enough Productions, a media company focused on creating stories that inspire positive media images of black men and other minority groups. With every piece of content they create, they also produce a lesson plan for teachers to introduce media literacy to their students. Check out Weaver’s recent TEDx Talk below.

Why has Social Entrepreneurship Gained Popularity?

In the age of heightened competition, social responsibility is a differentiating factor that allows many companies to appeal to specific buyer demographics. The idea of “Conscious Capitalism” gained mainstream attention when Whole Foods founder John Mackey published a book by the same name.

Employment rates are climbing in the United States and beyond, and employees have a choice in who they work for. For many, they choose to work for companies with strong missions as well as earning potential.

When we were researching our book, Inbound Organization: How to Build and Strengthen Your Company's Future Using Inbound Principles, my co-author Todd Hockenberry and I call out several examples of how social responsibility is an important component of having a competitive advantage in today’s marketplace.

So, if you’re still interested in becoming a social entrepreneur -- you couldn’t pick a better time. Formulate your plan today and make the world a better place.

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Originally published May 10, 2019 8:30:00 AM, updated June 12 2019