Emulating Successful Social Innovation Ecosystems

Author: Arvnid Ashok

One of the things most crucial to the success of social ventures is the existence of a supportive ecosystem -- a well-connected network of organizations and people willing to provide financing and support to new ventures. One trend that has accelerated the success of social innovation efforts is the opening of spaces like The Center for Social Innovation (CSI). These spaces allow different parts of a social innovation network to collaborate under the same roof and access mutually beneficial resources.

The Commons, a Denver campus for social entrepreneurs, serves as an example of how social innovation spaces can yield positive results. Since its conception in 2015, the campus has hosted more than 450 events that provide legal, financial, and technical advice to entrepreneurs. These workshops, which cover everything from Google Analytics to pitching a company, gives tenants a convenient, centralized place to go for support. Additionally, The Commons features a mentorship program that matches new entrepreneurs with already successful entrepreneurs who are in the same industry or have expertise dealing with a similar set of problems.

The Center for Civic Innovation provides similar support for nonprofits and social ventures in the South Downtown Atlanta area. In addition to providing coworking space, the center focuses on being a space for the entire Atlanta community to engage with social issues. To foster a sense of community, the center hosts expert panels, townhalls, and presentations on prominent social issues that are often open to the public. The consolidation of non-profits, public officials, researchers, and community members under one roof allows Atlanta to tackle its social problems in a coordinated fashion. The results speak for themselves: The Center for Civic Innovation houses 25 socially innovative companies, and has led to $100,000 in early stage investments.

The Center for Social Innovation in Austin hopes to build off of the successes of these spaces with its community focus and impactful programming. It will emulate some aspects of existing social innovation and startup spaces, but will also have a unique Austin identity.  Like other startup ecosystems, the CSI has the potential to help social entrepreneurs build companies with maximum positive impact on the community.