There was a time in the age of Gordon Gekko and Jay McInerney novels when all that mattered in business was the number at the end of the P&L. The Internet era changed that when valuations lost their correlation with profit and the concept of rational decisions in economics completely turned on its head. Today, there is a new movement in business perhaps even more “irrational” – one that adds social good in the profit equation.
A new segment of business – the social enterprise – is proving itself to be a viable model. TOMS shoes, is perhaps the most famous example. Locally, Thread and Innovesca are paving the way.
The idea is that businesses can run and be profitable even when social good is an inextricable part of their value chain. These enterprises are different from nonprofits that commonly depend on grants and donations to deliver their mission. In a true social enterprise model, the revenue generated supports the mission.
Indicative of the social enterprise’s new place at the table is the fact that traditional venture capitalists, like Tim Draper and Steve Case, are forming funds targeted at these enterprises. New funds solely focused on social enterprises are also growing.
Social enterprises are still new but showing promise in Pittsburgh. New Sun Rising is an organization that aims to facilitate the growth of socially innovative organizations and on September 13, they will be running the first IgniteMODE – a series of day camps for socially innovative companies.
As part of Thrival Festival, 11 companies will participate in a day-long mentorship camp with almost 30 mentors and tackle everything from project evaluation and identifying resources to functional aspects such as legal and marketing. A StartUp Weekend for social enterprises, if you will. While not purely focused on for-profit social enterprises, the event is a first in the city and paves the way for future organizations.
Companies went through an application process to be part of IgniteMODE. Among the ones chosen include Time Tender, a timebank platform that allows people in the social innovation realm to connect through their work in the community; Pittsburgh Posh, a content-commerce website and interactive marketing campaign that supports Pittsburgh’s growing fashion scene (think Refinery29 local); The Boarding School, an urban skatepark, utilizing elements of film, music, art, photography, and entrepreneurship to educate and engage at risk youth; and Startup!, a cooperatively-owned local living economy business school, seeking to promote an entrepreneurial culture that contributes to a sustainable planet.
Other companies are Sharpsburg Neighborhood Organization, Pittsburgh Articulate, Rochester Revival, C-clear Center for Innovation & Empowerment, DECO Resources: Green Business Project, Spruce Pittsburgh, and Aquaponic Urban Food Sustainability.
Mentors include Josh Lucas of The Hardware Store, Christopher Whitlach of The Pittsburgh Foundation, Bill Generett of UrbanInnovation21 and Tom Jones of RedSail Consulting.
Tony Macklin, a participating mentor and one of Awesome Pittsburgh’s founding trustees is looking forward to meeting the companies and seeing this new movement in Pittsburgh grow. “I’m excited when people choose to devote their passion, time, and talents to improving their community – as donors, investors, volunteers, entrepreneurs, innovators, and more,” he says. “Every community needs more people willing to jump in, take risks, and actively attract others to a good idea. Ignite MODE should be a great opportunity to meet and be inspired by those people.”