Is Social Entrepreneurship Teachable?

Today, social innovation is the ever-present buzzword floating around business schools, the internet, and in the minds of resourceful (and conscientious) entrepreneurs around the world. An increasing number of companies like Toms Shoes and Grameen Bank are operating viable businesses with social causes in mind. But the question remains, can you cultivate and teach social entrepreneurship?

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This past weekend, 3 Day Startup hosted its first inaugural social entrepreneurship-focused program with St. Mary’s University at Geekdom in San Antonio. This particular 3DS program was unique because participants were Greehey MBA students from a pre-formed class. Thus, this specific 3DS program focused on pitches as opposed to tech demos. Furthermore, some of the final pitches also addressed social innovation opportunities inside of existing companies with a focus on increasing the overall social contributions of existing corporations.

Through the 3 Day Startup “learning by doing” model, student teams built viable social startups that ranged from green construction waste management services to financial literacy initiatives for low income teens. Over the course of three days, the students collaborated, discussed business ideas with social impact, formulated several iterations of their ideas, and eventually presented their pitch.

Lessons learned? Students were able to:

  • Identify and articulate a real problem and brainstorm possible solutions
  • Think through the social and environmental contexts and complexities of business models – and how to affect, impact, and improve different stakeholders
  • Reframe one’s thoughts and methodology around societal impact (i.e. social entrepreneurship is not charity)
  • Quantify financial risk, talent needs, and marketing strategies
  • Map out a value chain that ensures appropriate last-mile distribution models
  • Create ROI and measurable impacts that are attractive for the investors and the beneficiaries

More importantly, students teams navigated around many of the pitfalls of building a socially conscious company by talking to customers, understanding their challenges, and solving their real problems. Such pitfalls happen when aspiring, social-minded companies push the importance of real social impact to just an afterthought of an existing model, or jump on popular bandwagons (i.e. labeling everything sustainable and eco-friendly) to meet some corporate social responsibility quota.


After the intense, grueling sprint to the final pitches on Sunday evening, each participant gained a better understanding of how to instill economic, environmental, and societal impact to the traditional business framework of meeting shareholder value, profit maximization, and market innovation. These projects were led by individuals that saw injustice, inequality, and a great need – and applied best-practice solutions from their personal and business backgrounds to solve such problems. That is the beauty of social entrepreneurship – innovating with the double (or triple) bottom line in mind.

About 3 Day Startup

3 Day Startup (3DS) teaches entrepreneurial skills to university students in an extreme hands-on environment. In addition to supporting budding entrepreneurs, 3DS programs cultivate entrepreneurial communities that contribute to the growth of entrepreneurship ecosystems in the regions surrounding these university programs. This proven program provides students the tools they need to start successful companies. To date, more than 41 companies have come out of 3DS to collectively raise $14.5 million in investor capital and more than a dozen have been accepted to prestigious incubators and accelerators such as Y Combinator and TechStars.

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