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Unleashing the Power of Business for Social Impact
Unleashing the Power of Business for Social Impact


The Social Innovation Incubator (SII), an initiative of Portland State University's School of Business Administration's Impact Entrepreneurs, is a regionally unique resource available to both PSU students and members of the community who are launching social enterprises. Founded in 2010, the SII has had 20 clients developing new ideas to contribute to social, environmental and economic well-being both here in the Pacific Northwest and abroad. Within a year of opening its doors, Fast Company magazine named the Incubator one of America's 51 brilliant urban ideas. In 2012, the SII's parent program, Impact Entrepreneurs, co-led a successful PSU effort to achieve a prestigious designation as an AshokaU Changemaker Campus, becoming one of 19 campuses worldwide at the time recognized for leadership in researching, teaching and launching social innovation.

The SII provides curriculum, consulting services, and workshops to social entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs, helping them answer the challenges they and their companies will face as they tackle the challenges of creating positive social impact. The staff and volunteers at the SII include experts in social entrepreneurship, business, finance, and business/IP law. Cindy Cooper, Co-Founder and Director of Impact Entrepreneurs and Jacen Greene, the Incubator's Ames Fellow for social entrepreneurship both have experience in social enterprise and have both experienced the benefits of incubators like the SII.

According to J. Gregory Dees of the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University and a researcher/practitioner of social entrepreneurship, a social entrepreneur is who who:

  • Creates and sustains social value,
  • Pursues opportunities to create social value,
  • Innovates, adapts, and learns,
  • Does not let limitations stand in the way of creating social value and impact, and
  • Is accountable for the outcomes created.

Dees, "The Meaning of 'Social Entrepreneurship'"

Whether grown from a concept, or spun-off from an existing organization, members of the SII will receive mentoring tailored to their specific needs, as well as networking and educational resources aimed at acquiring the means to succeed, what the Incubator calls the 'Four Cs': Connections, Community, Capacity, and Credibility.

To help social entrepreneurs achieve their goals and affect positive changes worldwide, the SII offers, among other resources two innovative programs: the Vector Program and the Circuit Program.

The Vector Program.

The Vector Program is designed to provide support to established social enterprises working to improve conditions in areas such as poverty, climate change, access to education and healthcare, and social equity, among others.

"In the vector Program, social entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs have access to resources and mentoring support tailored to meet their specific needs," Cindy Cooper recently said. "It's a flexible program where we work in close partnership with the client in real time to identify solutions to obstacles and help generate the most successful strategies for their initiatives as they evolve."

Vector Program clients have included companies like Sustainable Harvest, Central City Concern, and EcoZoom, enterprises operating at the leading-edge of social innovation and impact. Entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs interested in the Vector Program are encouraged to contact Impact Entrepreneurs for information on how to become a part of the program.

I think the Incubator is reflective of the Portland community—we are focused on sustainable business and social good.I see social entrepreneurship as an area of increasing interest for students and businesses alike.

—Brenda Eichelberger,

SII Mentor & Coach

Ready to make an impact, but need guidance and support—the SII Circuit Program may be for you.

The SII Circuit Program is an excellent resource for early-stage social enterprises and the entrepreneurs behind them, be they socially-conscious PSU students or experienced entrepreneurs eager to face the challenge of making the world a better place. With a curriculum and workshops focused on developing the connections, community, credibility, and capacity to become a leader of social change, this six-month program combines expert and peer-mentoring sessions with the study and implementation of tested and proved methods and practices all geared to help entrepreneurs turn their ventures into successful social enterprises.

"This is a great program for early-stage enterprises," Cooper said. "Members attend workshops. They get the benefits of information tailored to their needs. They also get the benefits of learning from each other, developing contacts and building relationships that we hope they'll carry forward after they've graduated from the program as well. The SII is also looking to design a new Circuit Program format to integrate the curriculum into a series of for-credit PSU courses."

Achieving success in a burgeoning but difficult field.

As a client at the SII, the guidance I received helped me personally develop some of the skills that were essential for my later work at Sustainable Harvest and other social enterprises. The approach to consulting was to build the capacity of existing staff.
—Jacen Greene 

Becoming a successful entrepreneur is no easy task and social entrepreneurs arguably face additional challenges such as serving social, environmental and financial objectives without the benefit of a mature ecosystem of support. Here in the Portland metropolitan region, the SII is available to help and encourage social entrepreneurs who are eager to create more effective and lasting solutions to the social and environmental problems we face.

"My hope is that companies participating in our programs will strengthen their commitment and sense of empowerment for furthering their ventures," Cooper said. "These programs also help entrepreneurs connect with strategic partners and investors and grow networks of support that will be there when they meet the fears, frustrations, and challenges they undoubtedly will face.

"But I also think it's important for entrepreneurs to learn to look at their ventures with an objective eye, to see trouble and be able to change their approach, when necessary, in order to achieve success. In the Incubator, we measure success by the success of the entrepreneurs we work with. We want to partner with passionate people to help them solve social problems more quickly and successfully."

Moving forward.

Being a social entrepreneur is terrifying and requires a never-ending supply of energy, motivation, and passion. That being said, I don't know if there are enough words to describe all the ways My Street has benefited from the SII. I got everything I was looking for while I was there: help with my business plan, pitch coaching, and both group and one-on-one support.They've helped us get media attention, introduced us to partners and advisers, and helped us evaluate big decisions. Now that I'm out running my own business, I keep seeing the benefits of having worked with the SII.

—Amelia Pape, Founder, My Street Grocery

With support from the reTHINK PSU, the School of Business and Impact Entrepreneurs are seeking to extend programs beyond the Incubator into classrooms, both brick and mortar and virtual, where individuals worldwide will be able to earn a certificate in social innovation and learn the skills necessary to succeed in their social enterprises.

"The Incubator considers itself a program of inclusive dialogues," Cooper said, "and extending programs in this way will let us include more people from here in the metro region and around the world. 

"There's a real desire in Portland to be additive, constructive, and collaborative," Cooper went on. "No matter who you are, we want to encourage people to think about themselves as change-makers. It's not just about a social venture; it's about how you can contribute to creating a better world wherever you may be, whatever your age, and whatever your interests and passions."


For more information visit the Social Innovation Incubator.

And to learn more about Social Entrepreneurship check out the event below