The idea entrepreneur is an individual, usually a content expert and often a maverick, whose main goal is to influence how other people think and behave in relation to their cherished topic. These people don’t seek power over others and they’re not motivated by the prospect of achieving great wealth. Their goal is to make a difference, to change the world in some way.
— Harvard Business Review on the “idea entrepreneur.”

Premature incorporation: Don’t let it happen to you

By Kevin Starr 

I’m spending an inordinate amount of time these days talking social entrepreneurs out of launching for-profits. Many drank deeply of the impact-investing Kool-Aid, and came away believing that going for-profit is the only way to drive financial and operational discipline, that it will give them immediate access to much more capital, and that they will find the holy grail of sustainability while the deluded do-gooders who went nonprofit are still grubbing around in the bushes for donations.

It’s mostly bullshit.

Instead, a typical scenario goes like this: Social entrepreneur has cool idea. Social entrepreneur launches for-profit venture with own/friends’/family’s dough, maybe even gets a chunk or two of seed funding. Hard work ensues. Money runs out. Venture is nowhere near ready for real investment. Venture goes off a cliff.

I think we are succumbing to the human habit of breathing our own exhaust. I think we believe our own hype. I think we’re not rigorous enough about what’s really needed. I see a lot of the same problems–that we’re trying to undo–being replicated. We want a new model for how to live and how to be in the world, and yet everybody has to have to their own business, everybody has to have their own brand, everybody has to have their own unique technology, everybody has to have their own platform. And it’s not what’s needed. In a world where we’re trying work together in a different way, we don’t hold that same standard for ourselves.

Kenya’s Startup Boom

Local programmers and homegrown business models are helping to realize the vast promise of using phones to improve health care and save lives.

What Would it Take to for social entrepreneurship to help pull people out of poverty? An interview with Solomon Prakash, India’s local director of Ashoka.

What would it take for social entrepreneurship to make serious inroads into poverty?

If you tackle a problem like poverty head on, you need a set of people on your core team who share your vision. This can be a challenge.

The difference between a social entrepreneur and a business entrepreneur is one of commitment and vision. In a business, you might bail out once you’d made enough money. In social entrepreneurship, you believe you can solve a problem and that others will work with you to solve that problem. That core team needs to grow; otherwise, you don’t have the skills to manage the project as it grows. You need talented people who are both committed and dedicated, who are willing to live and work in isolated areas in poor conditions for very little money. Sometimes people want to work in a social enterprise because the work is different. “I may not have much money,” they say, “but my soul is satisfied and I feel happy because I’ve made a contribution.”

We also need to think creatively about funding because there are serious challenges in the kind of finances available. Increasingly, granting organizations are looking at things like returnable grants or interest-free loans to make their money last longer. Some people are talking about “social venture” funding, which is a similar model to private venture capital funding. They’re expecting returns similar to microfinancing, which was hugely profitable. But that’s not going to happen.

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An infographic depicting the percentage share of formal firms that are owned by women in Africa. Data from the World Bank.


Social(ist) Impact Investing: Why Ecuador Invested $500,000 in a Brooklyn Startup

Governments take all kinds of measures to boost business—from creating subsidies and setting standards to loans and fiscal stimulus—so it’s not unusual that the government of Ecuador is investing taxpayer money like a venture capitalist to get a new industry off the ground. It is unusual, however, that socialist Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa is using public funds to buy ownership shares in a Brooklyn startup.

Runa, the newest company in Correa’s investment portfolio, is a beverage firm with a social slant. The company makes guayusa, a twist on tea made from leaves that grow in the Ecuadorian jungle, with as much caffeine as coffee and more antioxidants.

What makes Runa particularly unique is how the company focuses its efforts on protecting the Amazonian rainforest through the cultivation of guayusa, working closely with the farmers throughout the process. To learn more, we checked in with one of Runa’s co-founder’s, Tyler Gage, via our 6 questions with…series.

Social or Cultural Entrepreneurship: An Argument for a New Distinction

Cultural entrepreneurs, who often rely heavily on new media tools such as Twitter and Kickstarter, use persuasive communications and peer influence to shift attitudes, beliefs, and behavior and, in doing so, change the world for the better.

Think of cultural entrepreneurship as social entrepreneurship’s little sister. Social entrepreneurship has gotten considerable attention in the last decade in terms of resources, investment, and analysis—and deservedly so. Some of the most exciting new innovations in social change are happening under the ever widening big tent movement of social entrepreneurship, fueled by organizations like AshokaAcumen Fund, and Echoing Green. David Bornstein, author of How to Change the World, has founded the blog Dowser that focuses on “solution journalism,” giving voice to innovators who pursue the much-coveted triple bottom line: people, planet, and profit.

As social entrepreneurship has come of age as a field, it’s become more and more apparent to us that a new distinction must be made between innovations that focus on changing markets and systems and those that change hearts and minds. Building on the work of entities like the Santa Fe, N.M.-based Global Center for Cultural Entrepreneurship, we argue that cultural entrepreneurship is different than social entrepreneurship, because it is focused primarily on reimagining social roles and motivating new behaviors—often working with and in popular culture to reach the widest possible audience. Social entrepreneurs solve problems by disrupting existing systems, as microfinance has, or through breakthrough product design, like the solar powered lights from d.light design or Barefoot Power. Cultural entrepreneurs, on the other hand, solve problems by disrupting belief systems—using television shows like Glee to initiate viewers into the disability or GLBTQ rights frameworks or the Twitter campaign #mensaythingstome, designed to expose anonymous misogyny online.

To be truly useful, these two types of entrepreneurship need not be thought of as mutually exclusive. Some social entrepreneurs can be cultural entrepreneurs and vice-a-versa., for example, has created a college loan lending system through online giving for students in the developing world. The nonprofit is proving that there is a market for other institutional lenders, and is increasing hope and supercharging educational expectations among people in these communities. The former is more of a market innovation; the latter is an affirmation of people’s potential.

Constructing the Case for Impact Investment

6 questions with...Tyler Gage

An entrepreneurship class at Brown University focused on using international markets to promote social change drew a handful of classmates together to begin brainstorming a project. A few years later, the outcome of that brainstorm, Runa, is the world’s only dedicated supplier of Ecuadorian guayusa tea, which is sold throughout the U.S. Guayusa, a naturally caffeinated tea leaf, is native to Ecuadorian indigenous communities and is known for providing energy without the jittery drawbacks of coffee.

Runa’s business model is such that it works closely with the hundreds of farmers who cultivate the guayusa so that they — and their families — can benefit from their native crop. Additionally, Runa has created the world’s first guayusa factory and is working to build a market for guayusa in the United States.

What makes Runa particularly unique is how the company focuses its efforts on protecting the Amazonian rainforest through the cultivation of guayusa, working closely with the farmers throughout the process. To learn more, we checked in with one of Runa’s co-founder’s, Tyler Gage, via our 6 questions with…series.

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