Starting any entrepreneurial endeavor isn’t easy – the commitment, hard work, and long hours involved is tremendous – which is why it’s so amazing when someone decides to embark on a new venture with the goal of generating social returns rather than monetary ones.
These 25 people saw a societal need and, rather than sitting back and waiting for someone else to come up with a solution, decided to tackle it themselves. Armed with passion, commitment, and persistence, they created innovative solutions to pressing problems in the hopes of generating wide-scale change.
At only 19 years old, Eden Full has created a new invention that helps us better harness one of the cleanest, most abundant, and most underused resources: the sun. The SunSaluter is a solar panel that rotates with the sun – without using any electricity to rotate. The result is a 40% increase in efficiency. The cost? Just $10 – a lot cheaper than the traditional sun tracker which runs around $600. Two prototypes have been deployed in Kenya, and she’s now working with several corporations to increase its reach.
If financial reasons are impeding you from taking advantage of learning at a university, you can still have access to high quality education – for free. Thanks to Richard Ludlow’s vision, AcademicEarth.com offers videos of university lectures and other educational content from a variety of institutions, including Berkeley, Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Stanford, and Yale. Ludlow is working to expand the functionality on the site, as well as finding more ad sales and affiliate marketing opportunities to make the operation sustainable for the long term.
Xavier Helgesen and Christopher Fuchs
Every year, thousands of libraries throw away millions of books to make room for new editions. Xavier Helgesen and Christopher Fuchs saw this as an opportunity to create a business that would make an impact for landfills and for literacy. They “rescue” these books and sell them on BetterWorldBooks.com, and then donate a portion of the profits to literacy projects in the U.S. and around the world. To date, they’ve raised over $11 million – and they’re not done yet!
Imagine the impact that could be made if we could cut our trash output by a fifth – less overflow of landfills, less fuel spent on garbage trucks, and fewer required labor hours. That’s what Jim Poss’s solar-power trash compactor achieves by fitting five times as much garbage as a standard trash can. To date, he’s helped 30 states and 17 countries implement the technology, and he’s looking to expand its reach.
Tim O’Shea and Dale Sims
It’s hard to quantify the damage done to ecosystems by large-scale commercial fishing operations, and that’s why Tim O’Shea and Dale Sims set out to make it easier for supermarkets and restaurants to get their fish from sources using sustainable methods. Their company, Cleanfish, connects environmentally-friendly small-fish suppliers to chefs and consumers. Their success has already helped their suppliers to expand their sustainable practices.
Local artisans in developing countries need customers. Well-off consumers in first world countries crave unique items. In 2007, Christopher Benz found a way to bring those two groups together with CraftNetwork. His company unifies local artisans under a single brand that has a much larger reach than individual artisans had before, which has increased their employment and sales.
Diana Schulz and Reza Pourzia
Tired of the waste of typical timed sprinklers that turn on even in the rain because of their internal timer, Pourzia and Schulz created Cyber-Rain. The company uses a system that connects sprinklers to the internet and checks the weather. If there is going to be rain, the sprinklers shut off; if not, they’ll run as planned. Units aren’t cheap – they cost $399 – but most customers make that money back within a few months on water saved. Even better, using less water prevents waste! Want proof? Within a few months of using the Cyber-Rain system, California alone saved 9 million gallons of water.
Kassidy and Ryan Brown
This brother and sister team recognized that mainstream media didn’t spend a lot of time reporting on the people trying to solve societal issues, so they traveled to 14 countries in North and South America to put together a Journey of Action, a video series profiling people who are solving local issues. Their goal is to inspire more people to take action in their communities.
A professional entrepreneur who makes it his job to fund startups and mentor other budding businesspeople (he heads the Young Entrepreneur Council), Scott Gerber wants to help people disrupt and improve their respective industries. He has shepherded programs as diverse as the NexGen IT Bootcamp for Egyptian entrepreneurs (sponsored by the State Department) and the Gen Y Fund, which helps young American entrepreneurs by investing in the early stages of ideas and providing funding to get rid of their student debt.
Bam Aquino and Mark Ruiz
The Philippines is home to more than 10,000 “mom-and-pop” stores, but not all of them have reached the level of success they need to sustain themselves and grow – especially those in remote areas. Enter Hapinoy, Aquino and Ruiz’s venture dedicated to assisting women small business owners by helping them with branding, offering business coaching, and providing training in leadership – all while it connects the small businesses together for their supply orders. By having them band together to order supplies in greater quantity, Hapinoy has been able to cut store owners’ costs by 5-15 percent!
Sam Goldman and Ned Tozun
When the two met as MBA students in 2005, Goldman had already served as a Peace Corps volunteer for four years in Benin. He knew firsthand the difficulties of trying to survive without electricity, and wanted to create a lighting solution that was both affordable and scalable. Tozun was immediately on board, and they ended up developing a solar-powered LED lamp that can be built and marketed so cheaply that it can be sold to people living on less than $5 a day in Southwest Asia and Africa on a payment plan. The lamp works so well that families have doubled their income since they can now work at night, and they’ve saved money and time by not having to travel and pay for fuel for dangerous kerosene lamps.
Have you ever wondered how countries like America can have an obesity epidemic while children in Africa and Asia are starving? Wouldn’t it be nice if you to just send those extra calories where they’re needed? That’s exactly what Kogure is trying to do with Table for Two. When TFT meals are served in the U.S. (college dining halls, corporate cafeterias, and even restaurants have gotten involved), the company donates 20 cents per meal so that poor African primary schools can provide free lunches.
Will Bradshaw and Reuben Teague
After witnessing the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, Bradshaw and Teague launched Green Coast Enterprises with two goals: make buildings that are more resistant to storms in New Orleans, and develop practices that enable builders to do this around the world. Through 2008, they’d built 24 total units in New Orleans.
Jason Panda, Ashanti Johnson, and Elkhair Balla
One might make an argument that all forms of contraceptives help you to exercise social responsibility, but b condoms from Panda, Johnson, and Balla takes this to the next level by reinvesting 20 percent of its profits in community programs that help with HIV/AIDS, such as running campaigns that encourage teens to get tested and hosting high school panel discussions. Not surprisingly, some of their biggest clients are local health organizations and universities like Harvard, but the ultimate goal is to expand into major retailers.
Brian Hayden and Duncan Miller
Did you know that geothermal heating and cooling systems can cut energy bills by 30-70% of what most of us pay for oil and gas? Hayden and Miller did, and they founded Heatspring Learning Institute to make sure that building professionals in the U.S. were aware of this, too, and train them on how to design and install these systems for their customers.
Tags: AcademicEarth, b condoms, BetterWorldBooks, Cleanfish, CraftNetwork, Cyber-Rain, entrepreneurial endeavors, Green Coast Enterprises, Hapinoy, Heatspring Learning Institute, Jim Poss, Journey of Action, Sam Goldman and Ned Tozun, social businesses, social entrepreneurs, SunSaluter, Table for Two, Young Entrepreneur Council