There’s an emerging set of young social entrepreneurs in the philanthropic world who are combining their talents, social networks, and passion for education reform to "shock the system" by creating a non-profit startup incubator called Startl.
This first-of-its-kind social innovation hub for education is being backed by some of the best-known foundations, including Gates, Hewlett, and MacArthur, and has garnered support from DreamITVentures, IDEO and investment bankers Berkeley & Noyes, among others. New forms of seed funding resources for social startups are being created across the social change sector in recent months, but this is the first that both focuses on single-issue change communities and offers technology app design boot camps as well as accelerator programs to teach entrepreneurs how to start sector-specific businesses.
Cofounder Phoenix Wang says the venture is setting out to build a community for young social entrepreneurs who want to revolutionize the education system "but have nowhere to go" to raise funds, share ideas, and collaborate for change.
Wang says Startl was hatched 18 months ago during a conversation among young innovators at various foundations who wanted to find a way to fill that gap."We're a group of foundations that got together to start thinking about the failure of a lot of interesting learning products that have had great potential but never make it to scale," Wang told Fast Company in a recent interview. A lot of young entrepreneurs "really want to change education in fundamental ways." Wang told FC writer Amy Kamenetz that "it's about money but it's also about the networks, expertise, cultivation, and insights to figure out how to be a good entrepreneur."
Wang says it's time to set up innovation hubs for social change, given the powerful pressure that technology is putting on many of the nation's outmoded schools and the fact that the costs of developing education technology are coming down. But most powerfully, she says, it's a cultural shift that must be addressed in today's schools. Wang says that today's new generations of kids don't want to be told what to learn. "They expect they should be able to have control over how they learn, what they learn and where they do it, as co-collaborators."
What do you think? Is there a collaboration example in Startl that should apply to more forms of social enterprise? Is it time to set up innovation hubs for all types of individual issues or sectors ripe for social change? Are issues-themed social hubs the right way to go to better channel and more realistically fund innovation or could they end up excluding more would-be innovators than including them? What are the drawbacks?
-- Marcia Stepanek
(Illustration by istock.com)