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

Grameen America facilitates micro loans to women to help them start businesses, as well as provides training and support. Miami will be the 13th city location in the Grameen America network that started in 2008. Over the next several years, the organization will likely add several more branches in the area, said Andrea Jung, CEO of the network.

"We will be here for the long term in this city," Jung said. "Our goal is to have a movement that offers a hand up, not a handout, and the only way to do that is through financial inclusion."

-- Lynn University in Boca Raton has partnered with Watson Institute of Colorado, an incubator for young social entrepreneurs, to create a program that allows students to build a venture and thus earn a Bachelor of Science in social entrepreneurship.

Students receive seed funding, mentorship and training in ideation, rapid prototyping, fund-raising, leadership and management and team building. Mentors and entrepreneurs coach participants in the Watson Lab and via Master Courses.

Jorge Mendez, who formerly worked at the Miami Dade College Idea Center, is helping Andrew Lippi set up the South Florida program, due to launch next fall. Lippi is president of Watson Institute at Lynn University.

Mendez and Grande are also bringing a local lab of Uncharted, an accelerator for social ventures, to Miami, one of seven locations worldwide, for five-day full-time programs for budding social entrepreneurs. "The whole purpose is to identify local problems and that way we can help local social entrepreneurs to develop solutions and exponentially replicate this model in other cities," Mendez said.

-- A few years ago, Lauren Harper co-founded the Center for Social Change, a Miami co-working and educational hub for social ventures. This year, she founded a Miami chapter of the global Social Venture Partners organization to support social ventures in the growth stage through mentorship and investment and eventually grow social impact investing in South Florida, too. Social ventures chosen by SVP will be given $100,000 over three years in funding and support services.

In its first round of applications, SVP Miami attracted 67 companies and organizations, including some of Miami's best-known nonprofits who are developing social enterprise models so they aren't depending solely on grants. Final rounds of decision making are underway. SVP will likely choose one company or nonprofit to back with the $100,000 and up to three others to help on specific challenges.

Harper believes the pool of applicants will continue to strengthen as more and more social entrepreneurs go through programs offered at the universities, such as University of Miami's Launch Pad, Florida International University's StartUP FIU and Miami Dade College's Idea Center, as well as Lipsey's Social Entrepreneurship Bootcamp. "We need that bridge to get more social enterprises to the growth stage," she said.

So far, 30 partners are part of SVP, including individuals, corporations and family foundations. Partners commit money, time and expertise.

In January, the work begins. Once a company or nonprofit has been selected, SVP will work with the organization to create a growth plan with specific targets. Along with mentorship from the SVP members, consultants will be hired as needed to help with specific challenges.

While more funding mechanisms such as SVP ramp up, the explosive growth of crowdfunding on platforms such as Kickstarter and Indigogo has provided a way for social entrepreneurs to get off the ground.

It worked for Juan Castellanos, co-founder of Alana Athletica.

Castellanos was born in Colombia and moved to Miami when he was 3, went to Stanford Business School and quickly landed a "dream job" at Deloitte. But after three years he left to join with his former boss, Azad Rahman, to co-found Alana Athletica, which designs and sells yoga pants manufactured by women in Sri Lanka who are abuse survivors.

"I knew I wanted to do something impactful in the world and I figured this is the time to take the risk," Castellanos said.

Earlier this year, Alana launched a Kickstarter campaign, selling 650 pants in 30 days. The company hopes to ship next week. The young team found the production a tougher challenge than anticipated, but stayed true to its mission with an all-women production team that defies Sri Lanka's notorious sweat shops.

"Having Cheynelle on the ground in Sri Lanka is an advantage," he said. Co-founder Cheynelle Mendis is also the designer of the pants.

Miami social entrepreneurs are also grabbing attention through contests. All 2017 winners of the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge's high school track presented social enterprise ideas -- including the all-female team behind Smart Straws, which detects popular date-rape drugs. Half of the winners in the community and FIU tracks were social entrepreneurial, too.

The new American Entrepreneurship Awards at MDC, sponsored by the Libra Group, also award ventures with social mission.

Leyanis Diaz was one of this year's AEA winners, taking home $25,000 for Major Marketplace, a marketplace for minority businesses and those who want to support them. She is now trying to connect minority suppliers to anchor institutions such as hospitals and universities and has secured partnerships with other marketplaces. Major Marketplace gets a percentage of sales and offers memberships to the businesses.

Diaz, a first-time entrepreneur and 2017 Miss Black Florida, has surrounded herself with mentors. She is participating in Startup FIU, along with Castellanos, and went through MDC's Startup Challenge and its CREATE programs. She's also in Babson WIN Lab for women entrepreneurs. Major Marketplace currently is a team of four.

Diaz was inspired after attending an Advocates for Change event last year and learning that most of the country's 8 million minority-owned businesses will fail in the first five years.

"I knew then that as Miss Black Florida I wanted to help out in anyway I could, so I started a marketplace to bring more buyers to minority businesses. I believed that if they had a platform and a way to tell their stories, people would want to give them their support. Major Marketplace is about giving the little guy a chance."

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