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Entrepreneurship Moves Forward By Giving Back

In 2012, Qualcomm Inc. co-founder Irwin Jacobs and biotech CEO Phillip Low asked mayoral candidates to rebrand San Diego as an “entrepreneurial hub.” It looks like it’s working.

This March, Forbes identified San Diego as the best city to launch a startup, and Connect unveiled its new CEO, Greg McKee, who announced intentions to support San Diego’s burgeoning entrepreneurs. This new entrepreneurial spirit is exciting; however, we should ask ourselves, “What kind of entrepreneurs do we want to be?”

We can begin to answer this question by exploring some of the businesses in this rising entrepreneurial culture. San Diego’s new entrepreneurial space is largely composed of businesses with a penchant for giving back — from the tech scene to consumer products to health care.

Innovative Models

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Many of San Diego’s rising social entrepreneurs have created innovative models that make giving a part of the DNA of their companies. SOLO Eyewear uses a profit “giving” model. SOLO, a sunglasses company, was featured in Time magazine for giving a portion of all profits to eye surgery or glasses to the underserved internationally. Cura Coffee has leveraged unique partnerships by working with Point Loma Nazarene Dental School and coffee cooperatives to fund affordable dental care in Nicaragua. Accretive and Savii Group help corporations save money, then allocate this “found” money to corporate giving. Other entrepreneurs have started their own nonprofits, essentially creating their own unique corporate social responsibility — CSR — program. GirlTech, founded by the CEO of ProFlowers, introduces girls to computing in grades six through 12. Others are transforming business from within their companies. “Intrapreneurs” at McKinney Advisory Group have created regular CSR and sustainability programs.

Other leaders have brought innovation, efficiency and accountability to our nonprofit community. StayClassy created an online platform that crowdsources giving for nonprofits, creating new models for funding. 2-1-1 directs community members in need to the right nonprofit, enabling nonprofits that can’t afford to market their services to help more people. Compassion It provides mindfulness training, increasing employee effectiveness and engagement while improving workplace culture.

This quest for companies that give back was also seen in Edelman’s 2014 Trust Barometer Study, released in January. Edelman’s report highlights the lowest levels of trust in business since 2001, where 23 percent of respondents reported feeling that the wrong priorities are driving business decisions. Additionally, 84 percent of the 33,000 respondents in this study believe that business is capable of pursuing self-interest while also giving back.

San Diego has long-standing businesses that have made both their bottom line and social impact priorities. Patagonia has an extended history of sustainable business practices and high-quality corporate giving. Life Sciences Solutions — formerly called Life Technologies Corp. — is well-known for its environmentally sustainable business policies. Sempra, Bridgepoint Education and Mission Federal Credit Union are known for inspiring employee engagement through giving. Yet, why can’t we identify more?

Building an authentic CSR program or social enterprise, and improving one, can be challenging. An important first step is the commitment to measuring your impact and understanding how to use these results to guide your program. Many rising leaders are addressing this need by establishing data-centered social good solutions. The Equinox Center is creating a regional dashboard for sustainability data, helping businesses understand how they can do more. YourBecause.Is creates measurement scales and systems, helping corporate social responsibility programs and nonprofits measure, analyze, interpret, use and share their social impact in engaging ways. Measurabl provides businesses with an environmental sustainability reporting system that makes sharing and completing complicated mandated reports easier. Profits for Purpose helps businesses quantify and inspire employee giving.

While all this innovation exists, we risk losing momentum if the public doesn’t know how to access it. A communication pipeline that highlights the social good happening in San Diego must be created to increase community engagement with businesses that give. One local leader is creating a media platform that highlights social good, with the goal of rebranding San Diego as “America’s Kindest City.”

Team Effort

The San Diego Social Innovation Trust also helps organizations communicate better across sectors by facilitating high-impact collaborations. Each year, the American Marketing Association hosts the San Diego Cause Conference, highlighting the social good happening in our region. This year’s Cause Conference is May 28 at the University of San Diego, with the theme “Transformation through Collaboration,” with hopes to cultivate more “Purpose Driven Leaders.”

The theme of the 2014 Cause Conference is timely, given the socially conscious group of rising entrepreneurs in San Diego. This year may set the stage for collaborations combining communication, social impact and an entrepreneurial spirit driven by data that can shape our burgeoning entrepreneurial community.

Andrea Yoder Clark is CEO of YourBecause.Is. Neville Billimoria is chief advocacy officer of Mission Federal Credit Union. Shannon McCrary is founder of America’s Kindest City.

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