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Help Us Find America's Most Promising Social Entrepreneurs

Posted by: Nick Leiber on February 9, 2010

Today we’re launching our second annual search for the most promising social entrepreneurs in the U.S. As we did last year, we’re looking for companies that aim to both turn a profit and solve social problems.

We want to find entrepreneurs who are building profitable business models in which doing good is an intrinsic part of the business and not just a philanthropic sideline. Concepts are great, but for this roundup we just want to hear about companies that are up and running and willing to disclose annual revenues.

So we’re asking readers for suggestions of for-profit companies based in the U.S. doing business here or abroad that meet these criteria.

What do we need from you? Submit your suggestions using the form on this post and tell us why the particular company you have in mind stands out. Our reporters and editors will also be scouring the field.

When our call for suggestions ends on March 26, we’ll sift through them and narrow the selection down to 25 finalists. Then we’ll profile each and ask you to vote for the company you feel holds the most promise, from May 4 to May 21. On June 1, we’ll announce the top five vote-getters.

(Because the suggestion period is over for the the 2010 roundup, we removed the form. If you’re looking for the 2011 form, please visit this post.)

Please note: There’s no need to suggest the same company more than once. To meet last year’s finalists, flip through this slide show.

Reader Comments

Jonathan Ortmans

February 10, 2010 12:13 PM

Many of today’s entrepreneurs are passionate about “social innovation.” But their concept of social innovation has a different twist than the typical interpretation. For these entrepreneurs, the marketplace offers untapped opportunities to tackle the many challenges facing the world. Young people everywhere are inspired by others’ ability to turn their creativity and tireless efforts into products, processes and technologies that can raise standards of living by generating wealth and jobs. These young entrepreneurs recognize they can create social, environmental and economic value as entrepreneurs. What is significant here is that it is now socially acceptable now the likes of Google have made start-ups cool, to use the marketplace to do good. I have written on my experience witnessing this new entrepreneurial drive through Global Entrepreneurship Week:

I will let Global Entrepreneurship Week participants tell you more about this new business mindset, letting them know about this wonderful opportunity.


February 11, 2010 11:32 AM

I'd be interested in seeing a list of these companies. We need more of this in the business world!

Mark Lewis

February 18, 2010 5:13 PM

"Concepts are great, but for this roundup we just want to hear about companies that are up and running and willing to disclose annual revenues."

I think your criteria is rather limiting and the "concepts are great..." comment seems dismissive of the vital nature of strategic THINKING that goes into what ultimately becomes the end product, sustainable social innovation.

Annual revenues are important from a macro perspective, but the truth is we need far more people willing to labor in obscurity for years, sacrificing short term results in pursuit of entirely different business formulas. We need those who can create powerful resource networks able to drive serious scale more than we need just another hybrid social impact initiative following cookie cutter approaches.

In other words, beneath the revenue radar is where you will find many of the "most promising" you're looking for. On top of this, simply searching for financial metrics that please traditional market expectations misses the point; social entrepreneurs should be creating SOCIAL value as their ultimate objective. While looking for profitable business examples, make sure you go the extra mile and drill down deeper in order to unearth those who are hatching true change. Profitable enterprises only qualify as promising if they also drive very innovative ideas to fruition, do so in ways that produce actual sea-change, and yes...eventually make a profit in the process.

Mark Lewis
Strategic Business Intelligence Group

John Brennan

February 19, 2010 1:44 PM

To Jonathan's point, I actually think startups have always been cool, just not something main stream media followed.

And to Mark's point, I agree that a measurement of a social entrepreneur's "concept" or business needs to be measured on more than just annual revenue. Revenue is important for sustainability (and potentially feasibility) of the idea, but if social value isn't built into your bottom line (aka triple bottom line) then focuses can shift once critical mass is reached.

As a social entrepreneur myself, I think it's so important that we remove barriers to entry, create more smaller competitions to reward concepts that have potential to grow, and we start investing more in the people. While this life is often exhilarating it is also quite hard to leave a six figure salary for no salary for many months on end and eat chili, veggies and quinoa because it's what you are willing to sacrifice to see your idea realized... because you know it is a game changer.

I actually did this on a small $5,000 grant I won by submitting a mashup at NTEN (non profit conference) last year.

To my fellow socentr: times get tough, but we both know we are going to create positive change. Keep going!

in peace,

Co-founder, OpenAction


February 22, 2010 7:05 AM

Be careful, If you really have a great idea and are making good money you will create more competitors, do you really want to do this? Don't be the fool. You have been warned. The reason I will be watching this process is to get more ideas for what and where my next company will be. I bet 100's of others will be doing the same.

Mark Lewis

February 22, 2010 3:49 PM

Hi Todd, interesting isn't it...the level of cooperation to be found randomly floating in this sector, a 180 for what some of us are used to.

I get what you're saying, but the bottom line for me looks like this; if it's in our blood we don't really care. Funny as that seems, in this value system it's often true. But beyond that, there's another thing, and it's simply that nobody can do me like me. I bet you feel the same way, so weather competitors are created or not...I like to think momre in terms of them being future collaborators...but if you're working on something you know's a winner, consider that a lot of open source people are out there who can add immeasurable value to what you're doing, and do it pretty much at a zero-cost expenditure.

I can't stray far from the idea that collaboration is the way to work now, but admittedly that takes a longer term perseptive. Will investors appreciate it? That might depend on how start ups shake up market expectations in the next five years. A small bet on an obscure initiative off the radar makes more sense all the time the further we get from the social and digital divirgence point. It's time we energized the BOP beyond creating consumer markets and start uplinking innovation up instead of down in the food chain.


March 2, 2010 5:14 AM

Sounds great (though it is not about finding an elite of promising people but helping EVERYONE now:) Can share your informative videos & help? &

Problems with applications and forms and competition!

Scott Ballum

March 2, 2010 1:35 PM

While revenue is a measurable benchmark, social and community-driven enterprises are better marked by 'impact', something that can rarely be found on a ledger. Over at we highlight businesses with this focus, embrace the shared entrepreneurial experience, and hope to inspire others to bring a bit more passion and compassion to their work.

There's definitely room for coming at this discussion from both directions, and acknowledge that BusinessWeek is a valuable resource for the financial point of view, we just have different priorities. We think everyone we write about are pretty promising Americans.

Laurie Loew

March 31, 2010 2:10 PM

I'm a bit slow to respond, but I feel a compelling need to respond to Todd.

One of the most pivital factors in my making the decision to start my socially responsible business model was the "what's the worst thing that can happen?" question. I realized that copying my business model was the biggest risk, yet came to the personal decision that if someone copying it does more good for the community and humanity at large, isn't it worth it? After all, this is what true social entrepreneurship is about.

I am a first and foremost a business woman, and realize I have to have a viable business model. But having lived the business model for the past 20 months, it has been a truly transforming experience for me. Of course, I want to be able to make a living at what I do and have employees that can do so also, but success to me doesn't have to do so much with dollars and cents anymore.

Laurie Loew
Give Realty, Inc.

Michele Labadie

April 1, 2010 10:32 PM

Ditto to Laurie Loew's comment. ! I agree completely.

Michele Labadie
The PC Project

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What's it like to run your own company today? Entrepreneurs face multiple hurdles new and old, from raising capital and managing employees to keeping up with technology and competing in a global marketplace. In this blog, the Small Business channel's John Tozzi and Nick Leiber discuss the news, trends, and ideas that matter to small business owners. Follow them on Twitter @newentrepreneur.

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