Social entrepreneurs have a passion for solving real-world problems by using for-profit business models and behaving like start-ups rather than traditional non-profit agencies.  The New York Timesprofiled one company, D-Rev, that decided to create a more durable and easier-to-use phototherapy system to treat jaundice patients in rural hospitals.  As they went through the process, D-Rev discovered that not only did they need to design the phototherapy machine they envisioned, they also needed to become more involved in supply chains, licensing agreements, and procurement systems than they had previously expected.  


Another organization, the Apps Youth Leadership Academy, teaches at-risk youth to program smartphone apps and helps provide seed money for their own start-up businesses. It is another example of how the social entrepreneurship model can successfully bring the best products and services to their target audience.

Both organizations highlight three rules for creating a successful social start-up:

  1. Design Solutions For the Real World: 

    D-Rev:  CEO of D-Rev, Krista Donaldson, saw old phototherapy systems abandoned in hospitals due to burned out bulbs and other simple-to-solve problems.  She went back to her engineers and designers to develop one that was sturdier and easier to use.  She saw a problem and knew she could solve it.

    Apps Youth Leadership captured the interest of their target audience of 10th and 11th graders by using smartphone technology, in which they were already immersed and fluent.  At the Academy, students learn to build smartphone apps, building skills that they can use to enter into science and technology fields, either through higher education or through the marketplace.  This benefits them as individuals, increases minority participation in science and technology, and helps grow the economy as a whole.

  2. Combine the Best For-Profit Markets With Non-Profit Funding:  

    D-Rev made its own licensing deals, supply chains, manufacturing arrangements, and procurement systems to manufacture their phototherapy device.  By creating the enabling ecosystems to ensure the success of their device, D-Rev gained credibility with the social impact donors who invested in their work.

    Apps Youth Leadership combined monies from the Rockefeller Foundation (private philanthropy) and the Harlem Community Development Corporation (a state government agency) to successfully fund its activities.  Obtaining funding from a variety of options lended credibility to the project.

  3. Solicit Feedback And Use It To Improve:  

    :  Design is an iterative process and getting feedback from users is crucial for a social start-up.  D-Rev introduced prototypes early on to get information that helped refine its phototherapy system until it was exactly what patients and hospitals needed. Using the speed and reach of the internet and social media, companies can quickly get feedback on their ideas.

    Apps Youth Leadership:  Students receive feedback on designing and coding apps from mentors in those fields, as well as business management mentorship from business professionals. Feedback allows the students to develop skills and products that are valuable in the real world.  

Non-profit organizations can advance their social missions through market dynamics.  By taking advantage of the connectivity and reach of the internet, information and expertise can be shared quickly as well, making social entrepreneurship more effective.

If you need consultation on Social Entrepreneurship, contact TrustedPeer Expert Bruce Lincoln.