8 Real Social Enterprises Disrupting Startup Culture

4 min read · 7 years ago


I grew up in the heart of Silicon Valley where everyone and their mother (literally) was an entrepreneur. Before I entered the professional world, just considering the possibilities excited me — and I couldn’t wait to help change the world in my own way. I still carry that enthusiasm, but with a healthy skepticism: Silicon Valley has changed. Its founders are more motivated by acquisition than creating something that leaves a lasting impact.

More and more, we are seeing companies arise that I like to call “feature companies.” These are companies that dig deep into existing platforms (like Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc.) in order to find one missing piece. Once they find that missing piece or “feature,” they capitalize on it, basing their entire company around building that feature in order to hopefully be acquired. These startups, such as Instagram, have no business plan. For the most part they have zero revenue, and are are perfectly fine with the potential of closing their doors in a year or two (funny what a billion dollars can do).

This mentality is fine for a gambler, but not for a social entrepreneur.

At the heart and soul of the social enterprise movement is legacy. We all have wildly different goals — that is for sure — but we all want to leave this world a better place than how we found it. We want to create something that has the ability to shape, disrupt, or destroy a familiar system. When you disrupt a familiar system, you change perspective — you change the way a community can define themselves to inspire future innovation.

Lucky enough, there is a new movement emerging of startups created by true social entrepreneurs. Rather than asking how they can maximize profit, they are looking at how they can affect social change. They value longevity over acquisition, sustainability over speed and impact over profit. The below is a list of the top eight companies I believe are disrupting startup culture as we know it and breathing life into its stale version of entrepreneurship.

  1. Be My Eyes: Be My Eyes is an app that uses live video chat to connect people who are blind with volunteers across the world. The goal is for volunteers to help with everyday tasks that can sometimes present barriers for those without vision. By providing this platform, Be My Eyes aims to increase the autonomy and mobility of people who are blind on a global scale. 
  2. KindWorks: Kindworks is an application that connects people who perform acts of kindness in their communities. Its platform allows people not only to share their good deeds, but also to track and measure the impact of their work. Kindworks aims to foster a happier and stronger global community by encouraging a pay-it-forward philosophy through which connecting with and helping others becomes a higher priority.
  3. U-Report*: U-report is a free mobile application led by UNICEF’s Innovation Unit that empowers young people across the world to connect and discuss issues in their communities and on a national level. By empowering young people to interact with their communities and engage in local issues, U-Report aims to support positive social change. 
  4. Social Coin: Social Coin allows people and companies to record and track their acts of generosity. Through the use of a physical coin, people can see how their actions are a part of a larger “good deeds chain.” By showing people what their actions mean in a larger context, they aim to encourage generosity on a larger scale.
  5. Yerdle: Yerdle is a platform that allows people to buy and sell used goods. They aim to reduce waste and help people save money by providing a way to bypass traditional, less convenient methods of buying/selling used goods.
  6. Causecast: Causecast helps companies increase employee engagement and social impact by providing an alternative to traditional volunteer programs, which often lack enthusiasm and are not impact-focused. Through technology, Causecast helps create employee-led programs that are both meaningful and efficient.
  7. Taproot+: Taproot+ connects nonprofits with pro bono services by matching them with professionals from a carefully selected group of volunteers. By saving money and getting quality services they might otherwise not have access to, nonprofits are able to better scale their impact.
  8. One Today: One Today is a platform that allows people to give $1 each day to causes/nonprofits of their choice. By turning giving into more of an automated habit, One Today aims to foster a culture of giving and help enact social change on a larger scale.

A former professor of mine has a saying that goes something like this: “We are never leaving, we are only ever arriving.” In many ways, this anecdote reminds us that no matter where we go, we leave a trail from our past that can inform our future. Perhaps by shifting the Silicon Valley mindset from “exit” to “arrive,” we can leverage the power of entrepreneurship and innovation to truly change perspective, and make impact that is not only massive, but long-term.

Note: The author’s company verynice worked directly the UNICEF Innovation Lab on the global branding and product development of U-Report. 

Matthew Manos is the founder of verynice, a global design, strategy and foresight consultancy that gives half of its work away for free to non-profit organizations. He is also the author of “How to Give Half of Your Work Away for Free,” the creator of the Models of Impact project and an Adjunct Professor of Social Entrepreneurship at the California College of the Arts’ MBA in Strategic Foresight program. 

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.