What differentiates a Social Entrepreneur?

entrepreneurWhat is the difference between a “traditional” entrepreneur and a social entrepreneur (no matter your definition of “social entrepreneur)?  Virtually no difference.  I would like to tear down the walls between the two; they’re simplistic divisions and hide the fact that there is so much overlap.  The personal qualities that are necessary to succeed, the skills required and the challenges faced are the same.  And there is much they could learn from each other if they shared their knowledge and experience.


For example, both are mission-driven and believe they will change the world with their product or service.  Having mentored both, I cannot say that the mission of a traditional entrepreneur is any less valid than that of a social entrepreneur.  This is especially the case with entrepreneurs focused on apps and devices to tackle medical challenges.  Most do not define themselves as social entrepreneurs but, in fact, their social impact will be substantial if their venture is successful.

On the other hand, I’ve met social entrepreneurs who believe so fervently in the importance of their social mission that they forget the importance of business models and strategies.  Consequently, their ventures do not survive to see the light of day and their social impact is nil.

This is not to say that social entrepreneurs do not have a tougher time succeeding than traditional entrepreneurs.  They do. The social venture must not only succeed financially but must meet social impact goals.  Sourcing investment is very difficult; “impact investors” are few and far between.  This adds complexity, more risk and additional cost to the business.

Almost none of my social enterprise clients have established impact goals yet as we first struggle with their business models and financing first. It’s not that their mission doesn’t inform their decision-making, but rather that it is not articulated as yet.

I am starting to work with a couple of them to work on social metrics, work I’m really looking forward to.

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