Want to launch a social enterprise? Think local impact!


by Alyssa Gill ’15

Social entrepreneurship is often framed as being global in nature, and charged with addressing issues such as hunger, poverty, or climate change at scale. However, aspiring founders can leverage the same principles to approaching challenges at a local level while creating lasting economic impact.

My passion for cities and the organizations that help them boost their economies led me to launch Hometeam Brand. Hometeam’s an apparel company that connects representing your hometown with contributing to the organizations that make it great and help it grow. With this mission in mind, I’ve launched Hometeam in my VFA city of Providence, where a portion of sales are going to entrepreneurs out of Social Enterprise Greenhouse.

In getting Hometeam off of the ground, I’ve proudly enlisted other Providence entrepreneurs such as designers, videographers, and screen printers. I’ve also given a lot of thought to the impact that businesses can have on cities. For inspiration, I look up to the entrepreneurs whose organizations are profiled below, as they’ve launched successful ventures for and by their communities. They’re creating opportunities for people to build businesses, wealth, and skills in and for their cities and neighborhoods. Their models are exemplary as they invest in local people and places for the long run – tapping into, and subsequently bolstering, the power of existing resources such as talent and real estate assets.

If you’re interested in launching your own social enterprise, consider looking at CoFound Harlem, Century Partners, StartupBox, or EforAll for their creative and intentionally inclusive business models making sustainable, local impact.

CoFound Harlem – John Henry

The CoFound Harlem accelerator evolved out of a monthly meetup for people in Harlem interested in startups, and is now working to help create 100 new businesses above 96th street. Instead of giving up equity, portfolio companies are required to host free, educational programming for community members while in the accelerator, and remain in Harlem for at least four years after completing the program. In exchange, they’re offered resources such as office space, in-kind services, and mentorship from leading companies based in New York.

So many great organizations start out as small groups that get together consistently around a common passion. As an aspiring social entrepreneur, think about how starting a meetup or club could benefit your organization down the road. By building in a networking component from the beginning, you can foster an ecosystem by creating a way for stakeholders such as local funders, mentors, and talent to connect and collaborate!

Century Partners – Andrew Colom and David Alade

Century Partners is a real estate development startup with community wealth building baked into the business plan. The firm is flipping the traditionally exclusionary home owner’s association on its head to build Black wealth in a city that once had a particularly high rate of African-American homeownership. Century Partners purchases homes in disrepair, then invites neighbors to invest in their rehabilitation. Residents moving into the formerly abandoned properties bring new life into the community while generating returns for their new neighbors via rents paid.

A grassroots strategy can help you learn from the very community you are working to impact through your social enterprise. Welcoming local input in whatever form it may come (monetary investments in the case of Century Partners) can be beneficial and even critical to your success. Inviting people to contribute and deservedly reap the benefits of your collective efforts will take you further and create tangibility for your mission. Century Partners is not just sharing a grand vision of how their firm will help shrink the wealth gap in Detroit. Instead, they’re showing people how they can contribute to eliminating blight in their city and enjoy the financial and community development benefits.

Startup Box – Majora Carter and James Chase

Startup Box was founded by urban revitalization strategist Majora Carter and her husband and VP of Marketing with the Majora Carter Group, James Chase. The pair is a part of the urban reshoring movement to bring technology jobs back to the U.S., specifically to the unlikely Hunts Point neighborhood in the South Bronx. Carter and Chase have found their niche in creating quality assurance testing jobs, which have been moving overseas for the past couple of decades. “Startup Boxers” address a need for NYC software development firms that have found subpar services abroad. They test video games, for example, while providing focus group quality insight for their client companies. StartupBox is creating a point of entry into the tech industry for members of the South Bronx community while combatting unemployment and brain drain.

Are you considering starting an educational organization to help people develop the skills they need to compete in today’s innovation economy? Consider building a model that helps them to support themselves and their families at the same time. By creating a setting where people can develop and leverage new skills in their neighborhood, you’ll demonstrate that your community can be a source of experienced tech talent. More importantly, people in your community will know that they can enter the rapidly growing tech industry locally, or branch out and apply their homegrown skills in the tech sector anywhere!

EforAll – David Parker

Short for Entrepreneurship for All, EforAll is revitalizing mid-sized cities through inclusive entrepreneurship. The small business and nonprofit accelerator equips entrepreneurs across Massachusetts with skills and resources to help them launch successful ventures. Most importantly, the organization operates with the understanding that an EforAll entrepreneur has the strongest understanding of their community, its challenges, and how to address them while creating opportunities in their own career.

EforAll promotes a local entrepreneurial culture by engaging community stakeholders as experts and mentors while hosting pitch nights and other relevant events. Created for and by the Latinx community in Lawrence, EforAll also offers EParaTodos, a Spanish-language small business accelerator helping Latinx immigrants start their own companies and contribute to the local economy. EParaTodos helps participants learn to conduct business in English so they can compete in diverse markets. A model of inclusion, 40% of EforAll’s entrepreneurs are immigrants, and over 50% are minorities. Their model has seen a remarkably high success rate with 80% of portfolio companies still in business creating nearly 300 jobs thus far.

Consider what inclusivity might look like for your company or nonprofit, whether it be through your hiring practices, and/or who you dedicate resources to! If you’re intentional about diversity and inclusion you can broaden the pool of people you work with and serve. EforAll recognizes that the people experiencing the challenges they’re addressing are always the experts. In other words, the customer is always right!

Again, while the language around social entrepreneurship is often global in scope, the organizations and founders above prove that impact can be made by having a local focus. Arguably, by narrowing in on your community’s unique challenges and advantages you’ll be best positioned to make long-term impact. Think about which socially minded businesses and nonprofits you most admire, and how their models may be applicable to your own social enterprise! This exercise served as the inspiration for Hometeam, and now I’m proudly building a brand that will help people represent and build their cities.

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