Social enterprise startups are businesses with specific social objectives and a meaningful purpose. Accordingly, social enterprises reinvest profits into their business and communities. A social entrepreneur’s mission allows them to tackle societal problems, improve people’s lives, support communities, and preserve and sustain the environment. There is a reciprocal relationship between social enterprise startups and society.
Accelerator Programs Compared to Business Incubators
Social entrepreneurs often work with accelerators and incubators that are sometimes assumed to represent the same concept. However, there are key distinctions between the two. Accelerators focus on:
- Quickening the growth of startups and condensing years of building a business into a few months of guidance.
- Defining a set time frame and well-organized program and mentoring structure.
- Providing access to practical mentors, networks, and likely investors.
- Gathering a committed, coachable cohort of entrepreneurs who participate in the defined program together.
- Creating a supportive and collaborative environment.
- Providing a platform in which, at the end of the program, entrepreneurs productively interact with potential investors.
- Accelerators may have a specific focus (e.g., tech, social enterprise, healthcare), and some include funding capabilities as part of the program.
Incubators provide a platform for entrepreneurs to nurture ideas that may eventually be turned into a sustainable business model. Incubators provide:
- Counseling and a shared workspace.
- General access to business networks, mentors, and potential investors.
- Informal structure without specific time frames. Incubators offer greater flexibility to entrepreneurs as they define and validate their ideas.
- Incubators may have a specific focus, but many will support diverse industries.
Accelerator programs work with incubators and vice versa. In a supportive community, both approaches work together to create a diverse and robust startup economy and ecosystem.
Social Entrepreneurs: A Higher Purpose for Entrepreneurs and Programs
Social enterprise startups and the community are interdependent. There is a strong case for using social innovation to drive solutions for local problems from within the community, rather than importing ideas from outside. Harvard’s Doing Development Differently (DDD) Manifesto calls for local ownership of development initiatives from conception to implementation, high levels of community participation, and rapid cycles of execution and revision.
Social entrepreneurs need social incubation – a time to test out and adapt their ideas to solve local problems in the contexts where the problems occur.
When starting a social enterprise, there are three high-level goals to consider:
- Discipline with empathy is the importance of social entrepreneurs embracing a rigorous approach to building their business, balanced with understanding for all stakeholders. Community is an essential stakeholder, along with employees, customers, partners, and investors.
- Validation with adaptation is doing the work necessary to substantiate business ideas with customers, established companies, mentors, market experts, and the community. Engaging the validation process includes the willingness to adapt and re-formulate ideas to enhance the opportunity for success.
- Mentoring with accountability is the importance of securing influential mentors, with experience in key industry sectors, aligned with the accelerator program startups. The mentoring engagement includes responsibility for both the mentor and the entrepreneur – a willingness to listen, challenge each other, and hold each accountable in actions needed.
New models for social enterprise startups and community
development are emerging. Santa Fe Innovates will work with social entrepreneurs
who are striving to solve problems or priorities identified by the local
community. Solutions with the highest potential for creating lasting change in
a community are those that develop within that community. A collaborative,
engaged community makes a big difference for the entrepreneurs in diversifying
an economy while making a positive social impact.
 Using Social Incubation to Drive Local Innovation, Stanford Social Innovation Review, July 14, 2015