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The Rise of Social Entrepreneurship: How Impact Startups are Changing the Game

Posted by Arya Chatterjee

April 4, 2024

Who says you can’t change the world and make a profit? We’re unveiling how business can be a force for good.

If there’s one thing humans excel at, it’s dreaming big and chasing those dreams with unyielding fervor. In today’s rapidly evolving business landscape, a powerful force is reshaping the traditional notions of entrepreneurship. We’ve transcended bottom lines and profit margins, entering a far more profound realm—one that values making a tangible difference in the world.

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Welcome to the era of social entrepreneurship, where businesses are rising with a mission to drive positive social and environmental change.

According to the B Lab, the non-profit behind the B Corp certification, there are over 4000 B Corporations in more than 80 countries and over 2000 in the U.S. and Canada alone. These corporations share one common goal: transform the global economy to benefit all people, communities, and the planet. This rise of social entrepreneurship in the U.S. and worldwide is not just a trend; it’s a movement reshaping the business terrain one impact startup at a time.

The roots of social entrepreneurship

Social entrepreneurship isn’t a new concept, but its popularity has skyrocketed recently, fueled by a growing desire for meaningful work and a more sustainable future, especially post-pandemic. Based on the 2021 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) results, nearly 33.5 million Americans are starting or running new businesses. But what sets this wave apart is its commitment to social change. A study by Harvard Business Review found that 9 out of 10 people are willing to earn less money to do more meaningful work and collaborate with a company that aligns with their values. And let’s not forget the financial muscle behind these endeavors – impact investments in the United States have grown exponentially, projected to reach $307 billion by 2026.

But before we dive deeper, let’s understand what social entrepreneurship truly means. Think of it as a marriage of business acumen with a humanitarian heart. It’s about recognizing pressing societal issues – poverty, education, healthcare, or environmental sustainability – and crafting innovative solutions to gain personal success, uplift communities, and tackle societal change head-on.

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The seeds were planted decades ago by visionaries like Muhammad Yunus, who pioneered the concept of microfinance through the inception of Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. In the U.S., the popularity of social entrepreneurship can be traced back to Bill Drayton, founder of Ashoka, the world’s largest network of social entrepreneurs. Drayton recognized that traditional charity and government aid models did not address the root causes of disease, hunger, and poverty. He created Ashoka to empower individuals with the tools and resources to drive change from the ground up today. He built a global ecosystem of over 4,000 social changemakers, reimagining systems and reshaping communities worldwide.

The rise of impact startups

Fast forward to the present day, and the impact of the startup landscape in the United States is booming. Entrepreneurs harness their business acumen to drive positive change, from renewable energy companies tackling climate change (Heirloom, Oceanworks, TerraCycle) to tech startups revolutionizing healthcare access (NexHealth, Lark, Absci).

One notable example is Warby Parker, an eyewear company that disrupted the scene by offering affordable glasses while providing vision care for those in need. Since its inception in 2010, Warby Parker has become a household name and a golden example of how businesses can seamlessly blend profit with purpose.

Another story is that of Jessica Jackley, co-founder of Kiva. In 2005, she had the vision to connect people through lending to eradicate poverty. Today, Kiva has facilitated over $1.5 billion in loans to entrepreneurs in more than 70 countries, empowering individuals to create better lives for themselves and their communities. But it’s not just about the big names and grant gestures. Social entrepreneurship thrives in local communities nationwide, with individuals and grassroots organizations helming the reins of change.

What’s driving this surge in impact entrepreneurship?

This movement responds in part to the shortcomings of traditional philanthropy and government intervention. With growing skepticism over bureaucratic red tape and inefficiencies, social founders are taking matters into their own hands to fill the gaps and catalyze meaningful progress. Moreover, consumers are also looking to support brands that align with their values. Companies that respect transparency, authenticity, and accountability resonate in a crowded marketplace, proving that doing good is good for the soul and business.

In an age of hyper-awareness and cancel culture, businesses can no longer afford to prioritize profit over people and the planet. This shift towards conscious capitalism has catapulted many founders into measuring success in dollars earned, lives improved, and communities transformed.

Looking towards the future

Of course, the world of social entrepreneurship has its unique challenges, like navigating the complex landscape of regulations, funding, and scalability or figuring out personalized accounting for entrepreneurs. From funding manacles to regulatory mazes, even the most driven changemakers face an uphill battle on the road to impact. But it’s precisely this spirit of resilience and determination that acts as the fuel to their wagon.

As we look towards the future, the potential impact of social entrepreneurship is limitless. With technological advances, increased awareness of social and environmental issues, and a new generation of purpose-driven changemakers rising, the stage is set for a revolution.

This rise of social entrepreneurship in the U.S. is not just a response to the problems of our time; it’s a declaration of hope, a testament to the indomitable spirit of human creativity and compassion. As we stand on the cusp of this new era, let us embrace the challenge and opportunity before us, for we hold power to change the world, one impact startup at a time.

If you need help with setting up your social enterprise and understanding how NPO financial management works, choose an experienced outsourced fund accounting service.

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Want to know more? Since 2006, Escalon has helped thousands of startups get off the ground with our back-office solutions for accounting, bookkeeping, taxes, HR, payroll, insurance, and recruiting — and we can help yours, too. Talk to an expert today.


Arya Chatterjee
Arya Chatterjee

Arya Chatterjee is a freelance writer and consultant from Mumbai. With a background in journalism and over five years of creative writing experience working with legacy media like Architectural Digest and Femina India and brands like The Label Life, and Macy's, she crafts unique and compelling stories that engage the readers. She enjoys writing about health, beauty, fashion, and lifestyle and exploring the symbiotic relationship between thriving businesses and happy employees through her writing. She is always looking to explore new avenues to expand her creative energy.

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