Social Innovation

Entrepreneurs are working everywhere. While we traditionally associate entrepreneurs with business, we don’t generally associate entrepreneurs with social or civic efforts.

New Ways to Work Together

Entrepreneurs are working everywhere. While we traditionally associate entrepreneurs with business, we don’t generally associate entrepreneurs with social or civic efforts. In fact, there are a growing number of social entrepreneurs in the news because of the success they have in finding innovative solutions to social problems. While the traits of the business and social entrepreneur are similar, the outcomes they seek are different. Business entrepreneurs measure performance in profit and return, while social and civic entrepreneurs also measure their efforts’ return to society.

Amazing social entrepreneurs are building their enterprises right here in Central Florida.

Shawn Seipler, founder of Clean the World, has a mission to recycle soap and distribute it to impoverished people to save lives around the world. Their social measures include (1) number of children who have died to diseases preventable with proper hygiene, (2) number of people who have received the soap and (3) an environmental measure of soap recycled.

Julie Colombino, founder of REBUILD globally, has a mission to provide a platform for sustainable, dignified, living wage employment. For example, in Haiti, artisans make high-quality sandals from recycled tires. Their social measures include (1) number of artisans earning a living wage income, (2) tires recycled and (3) youth trained as apprentices.

Results Oriented & Lean Startup

Entrepreneurial principles can be applied to solve social and civic issues in any government, education, health, social service or community-building organization. One key principle of entrepreneurial success is the understanding of what is required to take a product to market. So, as civic leaders thinking more like “product developers,” we can be more successful at bringing needed services or programs to our communities. And as these successful social entrepreneurs have shown us, we need to rethink how we measure success.

Michelle Royal, an Innovation Teaching Fellow and founder of Royal Innovation Design Group, states, “Social entrepreneurs are drawn to opportunities that NEED to be solved NOW but take too much time to solve through traditional channels. They empathize with the end user and leverage their business knowledge, social influence and desire to change the world. Most importantly, they co-create solutions.”

Social entrepreneurship requires frequent feedback and user insights, a process in the buzzed about Lean Startup Model popularized by Eric Reis. He is creating a movement that transforms how new products are built and launched to get the right product or service into customers’ hands faster — a transformation that can be used when addressing a community issue.

The key to this approach is a rigorous process of validated learning that allows you to test each element of your new concept by running continuous experiments to understand the customer. By using this repetitive “Build-Measure-Learn” process, you can minimize uncertainty and failure leading to accelerated success.

Civic Entrepreneurialism

What happens when we apply this approach to the civic sector? While civic entrepreneurship has some unique characteristics from business entrepreneurship, the most critical difference is that civic change requires cutting across organizational or disciplinary boundaries. The product of civic entrepreneurship is not only an enhanced social outcome, but more importantly a new way of collaborating for shared results. Here are just a few examples.

Code for America (codeforamerica.org) is a national nonprofit working to bring government leaders and staff together with citizens and social tech entrepreneurs to design better community services. Their approach is simple: “Coders and designers want to make a difference. Leaders in government want to innovate. Code for America’s Fellowship Program brings these two groups together for a structured year of building apps, and piloting programs using lean startup techniques.”

Open for Business (openforbusinesscfl.com) is a web-based product built in Central Florida by government and business entrepreneurs who wanted a way to streamline the permitting process for business owners. A small group of leaders came together to create an approach that might work, then continued to “test and adjust” the model until the product launched with seven counties and 23 cities participating in the innovative web-based solution to a regional issue.

How can these product development principles be more consistently applied to solving our community issues?

  • Cultivate the ecosystem for social innovation. Our ecosystem needs to include access to mentors, forums, educational programs, peer networks, funding, best practices, etc.
  • Enhance community awareness of the benefits of product development and lean startup to solve social issues.
  • Encourage business leaders who serve on nonprofit boards to seek innovative solutions that require crossing traditional “boundaries” to find new ways to work together.


headshotShelleyLeslie Hielema is vice president of the Orlando Center of Florida Institute of Technology.

Shelley W. Lauten is a founding partner of triSect, LLC, a strategy consulting firm focused on civic innovation serving the business, government and independent sectors.





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i4 Business magazine has become one of the most trusted voices for and about the Central Florida business community. Each month through our print and digital platforms, we provide access to meet, to learn from and to learn about some of the incredible entrepreneurs and business leaders who are shaping our region.

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