5 Startup Incubators Jump Start Social Enterprises

5 Startup Incubators Jump Start Social Enterprises

Startup incubators are organizations that help people with innovative ideas turn them into successful businesses or social enterprises. Social enterprises are “businesses whose primary purpose is the common good. They use the methods and disciplines of business and the power of the marketplace to advance their social, environmental and human justice agendas”(Social Enterprise Alliance).

Startup incubators that support and empower social entrepreneurs and social innovation can have huge benefits for communities. Here are 5 startup incubators that are committed to making an impact on society and the environment by helping to jumpstart innovative social enterprises.

Impact Hub Global

Part innovation lab, part business incubator, and part community center, we offer our members a unique ecosystem of resources, inspiration, and collaboration opportunities to grow impact. We believe a better world evolves through the combined accomplishments of creative, committed, and compassionate individuals focused on a common purpose.”


Impact Hub Global has created a network of over 7,000 people building social enterprises in more than 40 different locations across six continents. With offices and community centers all over the world, people can connect and use the network to expand their social enterprises. In many of the locations, Impact Hub Global holds at least one community event a day, creating a place for like-minded collaborators to work together, grow together, and learn together.

Urban Farmers was one of Impact Hub’s first Fellows in their 2011 Fellowship Program. They are revolutionizing the way people enjoy fresh food in the city by providing enterprises with systems and solutions to grow food in urban areas. With projects in Basel, Berlin, Zurich, and the Hague, Urban Farmers is transforming the European produce industry.

GoodCompany Group

“We offer a bold new approach to business that’s about anchoring global impact with real traction; about scaling this impact by refining transformative business models; about launching dreamers by giving them the tools to do so.”

Boasting stats like $40.1 million raised, $12.5 million projected revenue, and 286 jobs created, GoodCompany Group seeks to create sustainable social enterprises by turning “innovators into entrepreneurs, and dreamers into doers.” GoodCompany Group is based in Philadelphia and empowers people to create and refine solutions to urban challenges by designing business models “that support long-term change” helping to “mobilize capital to accelerate their impact”.

Thread International wasin GoodCompany Group’s 2013 Venture class. Thread International is a company that converts used bottles into raw materials and fabric in some of the world’s poorest countries. They not only create jobs, but also help clean the environment by reusing waste. In Haiti, Thread International has collected 1.3 million pounds of trash, 1,620 people with employment and income generating opportunities, 100 Haitians benefiting from Job Training and Professional Development, and $165,000 of revenue generated by Haitian businesses.


Photo courtesy of Thread International


“Propeller: A Force for Social Innovation is a 501c3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting social innovation in New Orleans. We drive social, environmental, and economic impact in New Orleans by incubating early-stage ventures that have the potential to solve our city’s most pressing issues.”

Photo courtesy of Rush Jagoe (www.RushJagoe.com)

Propeller sponsors a 10-month fellowship for social entrepreneurs called the Social Venture Accelerator. Fellows have access to a collaborative working and meeting space where they can connect with a network of almost 200 pro bono professionals, policy and advocacy support, and a network of potential funders, customers, advocates, and financing partners. Propeller and its Social Venture Accelerator Fellows have been successful enough to be mentioned in the New York Times, Time Magazine, Los Angeles Times, Entrepreneur Magazine, and Forbes.

The Healthy School Food Collaborative was in 2012-2013 Social Venture Accelerator and has “facilitated more than 1.5 million healthy school meals to 33 percent of all public schools in Orleans parish”. The Healthy School Food Collaborative is a project through the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) New Orleans Schools. KIPP New Orleans Schools “is an influential network of tuition-free, open-enrollment, college-preparatory public charter schools that empower students with the knowledge and character traits to be life-long learners and leaders”.

The Skoll Foundation

“The Skoll Foundation drives large scale change by investing in, connecting and celebrating social entrepreneurs and the innovators who help them solve the world’s most pressing problems.”

Since 1999, the Skoll Foundation has awarded approximately $413 million in investments to social entrepreneurs who are benefiting communities in five continents. As a pioneer in the social entrepreneurship and innovation industry, the Skoll Foundation supports and partners with the Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford, organizations such as Ashoka and the Acumen Fund, as well as Duke University’s Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship. These partnerships give the Skoll Foundation access to research and education, further empowering people to make change in their communities. The Skoll Foundation is making a huge impact on growing, expanding, and influencing the social entrepreneur industry by “investing in, connecting, and celebrating social entrepreneurs”.

The Skoll Foundation enabled Mabel van Oranje to create Girls Not Brides, a global partnership to end child marriage. Girls Not Brides has connected over 300 civil society organizations in 50 different countries that are all working to break the social norm and end child marriage.

Plan International Report

Photo courtesy of Girls Not Brides


“We care about people and provide discovery, resources, trust and traction for entrepreneurs and professionals pursuing sustainable financial and social impact.”

In Chicago, Panzanzee incubates three types of “impact organizations”: Social Impact Business, Traditional Commercial Business, and Nonprofits with a Business Model. A Social Impact Business is a for-profit with a social mission as a core part of their business model. The Traditional Commercial Business is a business that is looking to develop a social impact strategy. Lastly, Nonprofits with a Business Model are nonprofits that want to build sustainable business models to support their mission. Each strategy uses structures and models of success to optimize financial and social impact.


Photo courtesy of Panzanzee

Using Panzanzee’s successful incubator model, Better Bag has grown into a viable business selling 100 percent compostable bags for retail, produce, kitchen trash, and compost bins. Not only are they reducing waste in landfills, Better Bag also educates communities about composting and sustainable living.


Each year, 80 percent of startups fail. And for social entrepreneurs, the social and environmental impact they make is more important than making money. “Wealth is just a means to an end for social entrepreneurs”(J. Gregory Dees). Social enterprises must grow and be successful so that their impact can expand and make the difference they intend to make. They must recognize the importance of a successful business model so their impact can grow and flourish. With the success rate of startups and the focus of social entrepreneurs on positively impacting the world, startup incubators specifically for social entrepreneurs are necessary and important for the success of those enterprises.

Written by Janneke J. Lang

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