Doing Well By Doing Good: Social Ventures On The Rise In South Florida

By Nancy Dahlberg
The Miami Herald

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Social entrepreneurship is a growing trend in South Florida’s startup scene, with new programs designed to fund, nurture and grow companies that can improve lives and the environment.

The Miami Herald

Chances are you’ve popped a pod into a Keurig machine today, and you may have felt a wee bit guilty about the environmental impact of that convenient jolt of java.

Daniel Buelhoff is aiming to mitigate the damage. Buelhoff is the co-founder of Gourmesso, the online market leader for environmentally friendly Nespresso compatibles in the U.S. and Germany.

The company, now located in Miami, also has launched a 100 percent-compostable Keurig alternative, called Glorybrew, with Fair Trade-certified coffee to end the negative environmental impact of the billions of coffee pods ending up in landfills.

Though research and development on the compostible product took about two years, it’s paid off. Sales quickly climbed into the millions and the business is profitable.

“I saw an opportunity and I went for it,” he said.

Buelhoff, who moved from Germany last year, thinks of himself as an entrepreneur first and foremost — he has also co-founded companies in gaming and other e-commerce and food ventures.

But with Gourmesso, he is also a social entrepreneur, because his company has an environmental return as well as the financial bottom line.

His and other social enterprises present solutions to challenges such as global warming, healthcare and poverty.

It’s also a growing trend in South Florida’s startup scene, with new programs designed to fund, nurture and grow companies that can improve life here.

But not all see themselves as social entrepreneurs, even when they are, says Rebecca Fishman Lipsey, whose organization, Radical Partners, has been running social entrepreneurship bootcamps in Miami for three years.

The bootcamp itself is already showing a social return because 75 percent of the bootcamp organizations have significantly expanded services or scaled their social ventures to other cities.

“The whole genre has expanded in people’s consciousness,” Lipsey said. “I would love to make a magnet out of Miami, where great people who want to solve social impact issues want to be here doing that work, and people who want to fund work like that would look to Miami and wonder what social innovations we are cooking up.”

If it seems like social entrepreneurship is the flavor of the year, you’re right. Gustavo Grande has seen more and more social entrepreneurship ventures come through the Miami Dade College’s Idea Center, where he is programs manager.

“We already have a lot of students with ideas in social entrepreneurship, but we want to give them the structure to develop sustainable social ventures and collaborate with different partners in the community to accelerate that,”

It’s a movement that gets a significant boost from the burgeoning millennial generation but encompasses all ages and ethnicities. In South Florida, a growing percentage of participants in high schools and university entrepreneurship programs are focusing on social enterprises — about half, according to Grande — and a community of serial entrepreneurs and investors is forming to help them.

Some notable social enterprises in South Florida include Rising Tide Car Wash, now in two Broward locations, which employs people on the Autism spectrum; Mela Artisans, a seller of luxury lifestyle products handmade by artisans in emerging markets; and FIGS, which sells antimicrobial, breathable and fashionable scrubs and has donated more than 75,000 sets of scrubs in emerging markets.

EcoTech Visions focuses on incubating green manufacturing businesses, while the Urban.Us fund invests in tech companies with solutions that help cities.

But across the region, there are now also scores of startups in development that are focused on the environment, employment, alleviating poverty and improving access to education.

It’s a global movement. An estimated 11 percent of adults in the United States between 18 and 64 are attempting to start or are operating in a social enterprise, according to a Global Entrepreneurship Monitor study about social entrepreneurship by Babson College and other partners in 2016. That’s up from about 7 percent in its 2010 report.

Social ventures are led by women 45 percent of the time, according to the study — far more than in commercial ventures.

Despite their noble goals, more than three-quarters of social enterprises fail before their fourth birthday, according to a Failure Institute study. Among key reasons, according to studies: the unequal access to financial, mentoring and educational resources and opportunities.

“The world will be a better place if we can determine the most appropriate ways to support social entrepreneurs and scale up their solutions,” said one of the GEM report’s authors, Siri Terjesen.

That’s where new resources come in. A few recent developments in South Florida:

— Ashoka, the global organization that supports and accelerates social entrepreneurs, anointed both Miami Dade College and Florida International University as Changemaker Campuses because of programming and student interest on its campuses.

Malik Benjamin, Ashoka U Changemaker Faculty Fellow for FIU, said that by mapping out the university’s changemaker ecosystem, the school could ensure that there were well-publicized opportunities at every level — from the idea on a napkin to the growth stage to social impact investing. Strategies include creating an active pitch cycle — often with cash awards, curricula incorporating design thinking, resources and networks.

Participating in the extensive Changemaker application process — FIU and MDC are two of just 42 campuses globally — “showed us that not only were we doing impactful things but that we weren’t satisfied with where we were,” he said.

Next up is honing the definition of a “changemaker city” and connecting initiatives not only among universities but with the greater community, Benjamin said. “Between us [FIU and MDC], we have more than 250,000 students, faculty and staff. That’s a pretty big base when you are talking about impact. The real challenge is connecting those initiatives.”

— Rodrigo Arboleda, co-founder of the internationally renowned One Laptop Per Child, now heads a new Miami-based venture called Fastrack Institute. It accelerates the formation of companies and organizations to work on pressing urban problems. After piloting several successful rounds in Colombia, the organization’s first Fastrack in Miami is underway and addressing mobility.

“Traffic — think about it. If we can solve it in Miami, then that becomes an export industry that applies to every city in the world,” said Salim Ismail, founding executive director of Silicon Valley’s Singularity University. He co-founded Fastrack with Arboleda and Maurice Ferre, former CEO of Mako Surgical.

After analyzing Miami’s transit problem, Fastrack established teams drawn from hundreds of exceptional minds from around the world. In a 16-week Fastrack, the teams have examined the conceptual, social, entrepreneurial and technological implications of mass transit solutions for Miami-Dade County. With that knowledge, they are creating initial solutions for community testing, feedback and accelerated development. The idea is that legal, regulatory and societal hurdles can be addressed while the concepts are being built and the technology is being tested. Once deployed, the technologies can be used by other cities.

From 23 presentations, two teams were formed with complementary skills including technology, business, environmental and regulatory expertise that will use one methodology. On Dec. 14, Fastrack will award a winner to accelerate a minimum viable product, form public/private alliances and seek funding opportunities, Arboleda said. “What we have seen in other Fastracks is that the ideas presented complement each other and there is always a possibility we will develop both. But one will be developed first.”

— Along with Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus, the father of micro-financing and world-renowned champion of social entrepreneurship, the CEO of Grameen America announced last month that the micro-lending organization for women would be bringing its services by the end of the year to Miami-Dade County, an area with one of the nation’s highest poverty rates.

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