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Impact: Social Enterprise in San Diego

by Neal Bloom

By Carter Crockett, Ph.D.

Guest Writer

“Impact” – a series brought to you by Carter Crockett and Fresh Brewed Tech – features key insights from San Diego’s impact ecosystem, those with the grit to build a better world…one social enterprise at a time.

A 2017 report ranked San Diego the 11th best city in America for launching a social enterprise. The report includes four pillars deemed essential in a social enterprise ecosystem: funding, talent, quality of life, and culture (to include local government policies). Having lived in four other highly ranked cities, I completely agree with the authors’ claim: if the buzz around the wave of social enterprise movement is to realize its audacious potential, it is crucial to nurture regional networks that understand and support such ventures.

This new series will highlight San Diego’s emerging capacity for doing just that and we will proudly feature local change makers and impact champions leading the effort. We will celebrate early pioneers in the movement, like Wikipedia, launched in San Diego and now a household name and one of the most popular websites on the internet. We will also highlight new entrants, such as NeuroLace Medical, a startup introducing an opiate alternative for those suffering from chronic pain, and winner of San Diego’s recent John G. Watson Quick Pitch competition.

There are thousands of businesses in San Diego doing impressive and noble work for the benefit of society and the environment, yet this series is a place to focus on those with a mission that explicitly aims at something beyond the interests of the venture and its shareholders.

What the Heck is a Social Enterprise?

Social enterprise represents a growing movement and it has introduced some confusing terminology. In 2008, I authored one of the early definitions of social entrepreneurship: “the pursuit of an opportunity to benefit society beyond the tangible resources currently controlled.”  (In true entrepreneurial fashion, I borrowed heavily from the insight of others, namely Harvard Professor Howard Stevenson). This definition assumes the most inspiring social enterprises respond convincingly to two questions:

  1. Social: Is impact embedded into the very reason the venture exists and the core of their mission?
  2.  Enterprise: Is the venture abiding by central principles of market systems (e.g. product-market fit; competitive advantage; self-sustaining revenue)?

The social entrepreneurs we feature here employ marketplace logic to sustain the value they create for target beneficiaries, regardless of their tax designation or institutional form. We are after change agents like Patagonia or Toms Shoes, those tackling big problems motivated by more than mere charity or a desire for better publicity.

Key Features of a Social Enterprise Ecosystem

Any new venture enters the world vulnerable, requiring the care and feeding of others. Brad Feld is a guru of startup communities, and his book offers practical tips for how cities can care for them. Chief among these is this: The ‘leaders’ must be entrepreneurs. Feld calls the other stakeholders in the ecosystem ‘feeders’ and notes they have an important role, but only experienced founders have what it takes to lead by example and provide inspiration for newcomers in the startup scene. I recently moved to San Diego from Boston, but the key players in the San Diego social enterprise ecosystem are already coming into view. The below illustration features key leaders (like the pioneers at Classy and Kitchens for Good in blue) and feeders that support them (like Mission Edge and the Global Social Innovation Challenge).

It will take an active village of support to see social enterprise flourish in San Diego, and it is starting to emerge. What if San Diego were to host the well-known SOCAP conference for global impact instead of San Francisco? What if San Diego unified and celebrated key partners in the ecosystem, as Boston does with City Awake? What if San Diego became known as the place where growth in ‘impact investment’ outpaced conventional venture capital and philanthropy?

There are cultural advantages here that suggest San Diego may rank higher in the future – a culture of collaboration (even across the border), fundraising technology, life-saving biotech advances, and a keen interest in supporting healthy lifestyles and the environment. This series aims to highlight and accelerate that growth, but we could use your help.

  • Which key leaders and feeders are missing in San Diego’s social impact ecosystem as depicted above?
  • Who would you like to see featured in this series?

Help guide the future of our new “Impact” series.  E-mail San Diego’s Impact Ambassador at carter.crockett@gmail.com.


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Jason Martin December 11, 2018 - 5:33 pm

Congratulations on launching this much-needed and well-timed enterprise! Your experience and vision are amplified in a very compelling way by your demonstrated regard and support for human dignity, purpose, and advancement. I predict great things for Impact!

Carter Crockett December 12, 2018 - 5:48 pm

Thanks, Jason! Please continue to send examples of inspiring organizations my way – I’m keen to fan the fame of this growing movement in San Diego.

Carter Crockett December 12, 2018 - 8:03 pm

…”flame” :)

Chuck Samuelson December 13, 2018 - 4:31 pm

Great article! Thanks for the shout out to Kitchens For Good. We are excited to see what will happen in our sector in the coming years.

Carter Crockett March 12, 2019 - 3:34 pm

I’m grateful to know you, Chuck.
Thanks for providing such inspiration for the local social enterprise sector!
Onward and upward,

Stephanie Antonucci December 13, 2018 - 7:08 pm

Carter! So excited to hear you’ve found an ecosystem to inspire with the potential of social enterprise. Simply written, but through provoking. Who knows, perhaps we’re due for an immersion trip with Gordon College students out to San Diego. You have so much to offer, fascinated to see how this grows.

jack January 20, 2019 - 10:18 pm

Well done Carter. You might include Bernie Schroeder and the Lavin Institute at SDSU. They were the first to really invest in this entrepreneurship space though everyone else seems to be moving past them. It was the jewel of the SD Entrepreneurship space until about 3/4 years ago when everyone jumped in. Look forward to coffee and chat.

Carter Crockett March 12, 2019 - 3:33 pm

Thanks, Jack. Will look forward to meeting Bernie at an upcoming SDSU Entrepreneurship Educators’ event


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