A recent post in the Guardian claimed that, “Solving social problems rather than getting rich is the priority for tomorrow’s ambitious entrepreneurs.”As excited as that statement and the rest of the post makes me, such a blanket statement makes me more than a little skeptical.
It’s easy to get lost in our own tribe and lose perspective on the perceptions and beliefs of everyone else. I’m pretty immersed in the social impact space (as I’m sure the author of that article is) which really does dictate what I read and who I talk to. This awareness of a bias toward information and interactions we find agreeable has always made me question the true progress and impact of the social impact space.
Fortunately, last Friday’s 9th annual Cupid’s Cup was a validating experience. The Cupid’s Cup is an entrepreneurship pitch competition for college students and recent graduates and for the second year in a row a social entrepreneur won. Finalists for the Cupid’s Cup were selected from across the nation by the competition’s host, the University of Maryland’s Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship. Any student entrepreneur could enter and The Dingman Center selected the top 6 submissions to pitch live to an audience and panel of judges with $115,000 in prizes on the line.
This year 3 of the 6 finalists had an explicit social mission and the entrepreneur that won ended up being one of them. This outcome is just one more reason to believe that our best millennial entrepreneurs really are more interested in solving problems.
What I find even more interesting is what this says about the entrepreneurship ecosystem. I think most entrepreneurs would argue that, at some level, entrepreneurship has always been and will always be about solving problems. But, I think they’d also agree that this isn’t what the ecosystem of incubators, accelerators, and investors always care about. Yet out of the hundreds of submissions to Cupid’s Cup over the last two years, both winners have had a social mission.
Does this represent a larger shift in the entrepreneurship ecosystem? Maybe it’s not all about the money anymore. Maybe it’s about solving problems, too. Whether we consider it “impact investing” or not, it seems to me that impact is becoming a bigger factor in startup funding decisions. I wonder if others are noticing the same trend.
What excites me most about this possibility is that entrepreneurs have always been at the leading edge of business. In a corporate ecosystem that, with a few notable exceptions, is still dominated by short-term profitability and share price, it’s exciting to see the leading edge of business trending toward solving social and environmental problems profitably.
Global social and environmental pressures are rising and the masses are becoming further and further disconnected from the profitability of corporations. I think the new norm in business is coming faster than we think and it’s time to begin building new infrastructure, frameworks, and regulation to support it.
photo credit: Robert H. Smith School of Business