Social innovation and entrepreneurship: A very likely love story

Click to meet the Social Entrepreneurs
Click to meet the Social Entrepreneurs

Are you wondering if your venture is a social one? Already convinced of your enterprise’s blended value? Then check out this video.

Last week’s Entrepreneurship 101 Meet the Entrepreneurs session was packed despite the flu season and last minute holiday shopping. They all gathered to hear about entrepreneurs working in the social space. The panel shared insight and weighed in on the challenges of navigating the social enterprise sector.

The panelists’ experience spanned the spectrum. Christine Ho is the founder and Executive Director Operations of the new start-up, Well of Change. Well of Change provides people and organizations the choice to donate their time or their money to support the charity of their choice. An innovative spin on traditional volunteerism and charitable giving, Christine’s non-profit is leveraging existing resources in order to respond to changing attitudes around fundraising in the social sector.

Oliver Madison, founder and CEO of Me to We Style, heads up a well-established for-profit enterprise. The unique business model of Me To We Style emerges through not only providing ethically manufactured, quality apparel for the socially-conscious consumer, but also donating half of its profits to its charitable partner, Free The Children.

The third panelist was Amy Coupal, the Executive Director of Curriculum Services Canada. As an intrapreneur she is seeking to achieve sustainability for her organization through the use of entrepreneurial skills and strategies. Intrapreneurship describes innovation that emerges within a larger, more established organization and in sectors where risk-taking and innovation are more traditionally thought of as being the province of entrepreneurship.

The panelists agreed that a social entrepreneur’s passion to address a problem must inform the business venture (and not simply a desire to turn a profit for good). But they also stressed adaptability. The ability to innovate and allow an organization to evolve is essential to its growth and success.

If you watch the video through to the end, you’ll hear Q&A’s with the audience on topics that plague all entrepreneurial ventures, like where to find funding and how to finance growth. On this question, the panel highlighted the potential for early stage bootstrapping (Well of Change) and the value of a business model that allows for financial growth (Me To We Style).

The video that kicked off the panel discussion addressed the very specific and complex challenge of financing social ventures. MaRS and Social Innovation Generation (SiG) recently launched the report from the Canadian Task Force on Social Finance, Mobilizing Private Capital for Public Good. The report provides a national strategy to expand the impact investing space in Canada. Impact investing is proactively investing in businesses, organizations or funds that generate both a social or environmental and financial return. Through a set of recommendations, the Task Force calls on institutional investors, corporations, philanthropists, foundations and governments to work together to build a robust impact investing marketplace in Canada – systemic changes that will help the upcoming crop of social entrepreneurs navigate the complexities of funding their innovative ventures.

If you’ve got an innovative idea or are running a charity or non-profit but aren’t eligible for grants or do not have existing core funding, think like a business: find like-minded investors and most importantly, believe in your social purpose.

Downloads and resources

Entrepreneurship 101 2010/11 – Meet the Entrepreneurs – Social innovation from MaRS Discovery District on Vimeo.