By: Luke Moreland, who is back from seven years working in startups in Barcelona. He is a communications specialist diving into NOLA’s inspiring culture of social innovation.
Recently a local event called “Propeller Pop” celebrated the progress of a critical mass of social entrepreneurs doing business and doing good in and around New Orleans. From saving wetlands to developing an app to help nutritionists, local startups are both boosting the economy and making a social impact. Social ventures are popping up all over the Silicon Bayou with great success.
As part of Propeller’s incubator/accelerator program, a diverse mix of social entrepreneurs are each harnessing technology, business principles, and community relationships to tackle a variety of social problems. This is what they have done in just a year:
4,600 partner organizations provided with new software to help consumers make smarter health insurance decisions.
6,000 elementary school students provided with quality health screenings for vision, dental, hearing and immunizations.
500,000 projected gallons of water retained annually on site and kept from storm drains through current contracts.
180 students from 38 public and private schools will attend Live Oak this summer to develop as leaders, creating 25 part-time jobs for New Orleans residents.
1,300 acres of wetlands secured for restoration and permanent protection, to generate $20 million in potential future revenue.
9,500 fresh meals delivered to those in need and saved from waste.
All 4 pilot program graduates now pursuing careers as teachers in New Orleans public schools. Only 3% of teachers nationally are black men.
173 Food Literacy Educators trained to teach healthy cooking skills and nutrition education to youth.
$50,000 raised for evaluating water quality using low-cost, do-it-yourself tools (Riffle and Coqui) to collect, interpret and share valuable data such as oil contamination and water conductivity.
400 community fitness classes organized and led for the benefit of 2,500 participants as part of Fit NOLA Parks, Louisiana Public Health Institute, Whole Foods Market, and Ashe Cultural Arts Center.
500 staff members trained to reduce school suspensions by forming 86 Restorative Circles designed to break the school-to-prison pipeline.
3,800 hours of increased efficiency by national nutritionists, maximizing the number of patients seen.
5 early-education child-care centers given access to shared services, reducing back-office costs and improving child-care quality.
Nearly $1 million awarded in total self-reported scholarships to 100 students connected to the program’s resources.
The competitive advantage of social ventures
The social entrepreneurs have built an impressive base and a niche in their markets. In general the market is saturated with solutions to problems that are trivial or that people did not even know they had. Social entrepreneurs are developing clever solutions to real world problems that people are aware of and legitimately want to address.
The social ventures are also telling compelling stories about their products and services that give them a competitive advantage. Consider that 89 percent of U.S. consumers are likely to change brands for one connected to a cause. Consumers are becoming more socially conscious. And businesses at all levels are responding with more social responsibility. Innovative startups like the ones under Propeller have founded their businesses on social principles driving more consumers and communities to their cause.
Have we reached a critical mass of social entrepreneurs?
Both businesses and grassroots communities have gotten behind social innovation. Incubators, accelerators, government, private agencies, and other entities have provided substantial capital for social entrepreneurship to build momentum. Organizations have also provided connections to pro bono services such as legal advice. And numerous coworking facilities provide the physical space for social entrepreneurs to carry out their ventures.
A growing network of social entrepreneurs are connecting all over the Silicon Bayou. Here are a few examples of groups helping this network grow.
- Propeller is an accelerator, incubator, and shared workspace that is inspiring and supporting social innovation.
- Camelback Ventures empowers new socially-minded business leaders with coaching, capital, and connections.
- Life CIty works with businesses to make social and environmental impact profitable for businesses.
- Landing Zone New Orleans recently launched a small business incubator for military veterans.
- Good Work Network provides business development services to women and minority entrepreneurs.
How large could the impact be?
These socially-minded, business savvy leaders draw on local insight to get between the cracks of society. Larger institutions may not be as quick at tapping into new technological innovations, market driven solutions or social relationships. Although no substitution for powerful institutional reform, social innovation has the potential to deeply impact our economy and our society and do it at the same time.