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31 Social Entrepreneurs to Watch in 2018

Rachel Zurer October 3, 2018
Vava Angwenyi, 37; Founder of Vava Coffee and Gente Del Futuro

Vava Angwenyi

Vava Coffee Kenya and Gente Del Futuro

Vava Angwenyi, 37; Founder and Chief “Coffaholic”

Kenya, Tanzania, Colombia // Vava Coffee founded 2009; 5 employees // Gente Del Futuro founded 2017; 8 employees

Company Mission, Conscious Company Media's 2018 Social Entrepreneurs List

“To cause positive social and economic disruption within the coffee industry and create sustainable livelihoods for smallholder farmers as well as integrate more women and youth within the entire supply chain.”

“To develop a generation that will secure the future of coffee production in Africa and Latin America through a sustainable coffee education program.”

The story

Growing up in Kenya, coffee entrepreneur Vava Angwenyi didn’t actually drink the beverage she now lives and breathes. While she was fascinated by the coffee maker her parents had received as a wedding present, she perceived coffee as being a “white” thing, inaccessible to ordinary Africans. Then she headed off to university in Canada, where she found herself studying at coffee bars — and her curiosity about the industry was piqued. After graduating in the Netherlands with a master’s in international finance and management, she returned to Africa and began investigating the on-the-ground reality of coffee farming there. She’d always wanted to own her own business, and began that process by launching a small coffee bar in her town.

Soon, she was working with farmers from the ground up, helping them improve the quality of their coffee, finding buyers for that coffee locally and internationally, creating a brand, roasting coffee, packaging it, and selling it. Today, Vava Coffee exports, roasts, and consults on coffee value-chains, with its main aim being contributing to better prospects for coffee communities and the industry as a whole. The enterprise works with a network of more than 30,000 smallholder farmers who earn 18 percent more than they used to, on average, by working with the company.

One part of the work that’s important to her is the idea of “decolonizing empowerment.” “Something coffee farmers ask is why I’m not white,” she recently told Barista Magazine. “They’re so used to seeing white people come to producing countries. This thought that has really affected the minds of coffee farmers — and this is why I talk about decolonizing empowerment — is the idea of the white savior. The rationale behind my company was to let Kenyan farmers save themselves.” To that end, her most recent venture is Gente Del Futuro, a cross-cultural training program in Tanzania, Kenya, and Colombia that seeks to help more youth successfully stay in the coffee industry.

Leadership philosophy

“Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says, ‘Stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower and to humanize.’ It’s important for us, especially in positions of influence, to own our stories and share them. You never know the life you could be impacting or influencing.”


Derrick Emsley, 28; Co-founder and CEO
David Luba, 29; Co-founder and Director of Sales and Merchandising
Kalen Emsley, 29; Co-founder and Director of Content
Stephen Emsley, 30; Co-founder and Director of Digital
Arthur Kononuk, 30; Co-founder and Creative Director

Vancouver, BC // Founded 2012 // 45 Employees

Tentree, an environmentally progressive apparel brand

From left: Kalen Emsley, Arthur Kononuk, Stephen Emsley, Derrick Emsley, David Luba

Company Mission, Conscious Company Media's 2018 Social Entrepreneurs List

“To become the most environmentally progressive brand on the planet.”

The story

Like its name suggests, tentree exists to plant trees — 23 million of them so far, ten for every item of sustainable apparel the company sells. “That’s what we knew,” says CEO Derrick Emsley, who founded the company with his brother Kalen, cousin Stephen, and friends Dave and Arthur after seeing the power of one-for-one model companies like TOMS shoes. “We knew the impact tree-planting could have on the environment, the jobs it could create globally, the food security it could provide to those in need,” Emsley explains. “We wanted to create something that could allow us to bring that impact to people all across the globe. Apparel is how we do it. We try to make environmental change fun and relatable.”

By partnering with nonprofits in Madagascar, Nepal, Haiti, Cambodia, Senegal, Canada, and the US, tentree tailors its planting projects to the needs of the local community, providing social, economic, and environment benefits that vary by location. In Madagascar, for example, planting mangroves helps provide jobs, fight desertification, and counteract climate change, while avocado and orange trees planted in Haiti provide extra income that has helped double the number of girls attending school. Notably, the business hasn’t taken any outside funding since it started. “We wanted to create a sustainable business that would be around for generations and have an impact long into the future,” Emsley explains, “and we didn’t want to be tied to unrealistic growth expectations that ultimately dilute the brand and cause.”

Advice for entrepreneurs

“The company should be built around the impact and the change you hope to create, not the other way around. Find what matters to you and focus on that.”


Emily Kirsch, 33; Founder and CEO

Oakland, CA // Founded 2013 // 5 Employees
Emily Kirsch, founder and CEO of Powerhouse, a co-working space space and venture fund to back clean-energy entrepreneurs

Emily Kirsch

Company Mission, Conscious Company Media's 2018 Social Entrepreneurs List

“To change the way we power our lives by backing the world’s most innovative clean-energy entrepreneurs.”

The story

Powerhouse began with some big-name backers: the idea first sprouted when the singer Prince asked activist Van Jones what he should do with $250,000. Jones’ answer (actually, his wife’s): get solar panels on the rooftops all over Oakland. With a grant from Prince given to the solar startup Mosaic, Jones brought in Kirsch to work on their pilot in Oakland. Working with Mosaic inspired Kirsch to start Powerhouse, a co-working space and venture fund to back clean-energy entrepreneurs.

Since 2013, Powerhouse has housed 58 clean-energy startups and organizations which have collectively raised hundreds of millions in capital, generated hundreds of millions in revenue, and created hundreds of jobs across the country and around the world. The company plans to invest in dozens of clean-energy startups over the next five years. “Powerhouse works at the intersection of energy, software, and venture capital, all of which are majority male,” Kirsch says. “At Powerhouse, we’re an all-women team and know the power of investing in diverse founders.”

Surprising business lesson

“This year, Powerhouse launched a new initiative to financially back clean-energy startups. I was so afraid that we would fail that I didn’t start fundraising until our director of strategy, Emily Fritze said, ‘Just start raising and see what happens.’ Within a few months, we had over a dozen partners, including some of the most successful clean-energy executives in the country. Fear of failure, especially for women, is real, but the reward that comes with achieving something seemingly impossible is what entrepreneurship is all about.”


Sam Polk, 38; Founder and CEO

Los Angeles, CA // Founded 2015 // 50 Employees
Sam Polk, founder and CEO of Everytable, which offers nutritious, fresh, made-from-scratch food at fast-food prices.

Sam Polk

Company Mission, Conscious Company Media's 2018 Social Entrepreneurs List

“To make nutritious, fresh food affordable and accessible to all.”

The story

Sam Polk was a successful hedge-fund trader in a former life. While on Wall Street, experiencing the greed and negativity there, he started to read about the civil rights movement and realized he wanted to be part of the solution, not the problem. “I didn’t want to spend my life accumulating money for myself,” he says. “I wanted to create a better, more equitable world for all.”

His first social venture, launched in 2013, was the nonprofit Groceryships, which helps families make healthy choices by offering nutrition education, cooking classes, free produce, and support groups. Polk soon began hearing from Groceryships participants that they often had to buy food on the go because they were juggling multiple jobs and large families. And in south LA, their only options were fast food. Polk founded Everytable to help address that problem by selling nutritious, fresh, made-from-scratch food at fast-food prices.

The company has locations in food deserts and in affluent areas. To ensure that everyone can afford its meals, Everytable prices them according to the neighborhoods — the same meal that costs $8 in an affluent community costs $5 in an underserved one. As of press time, the business has raised more than $10 million in capital and has five locations in Los Angeles, with more to come by the end of the year. The long-term goal is to expand the model nationally and lead the movement to incorporate similar conscious pricing models in a consortium of brands.

Favorite leadership tip

“There are no bad teams, just bad leaders. At the end of the day, if my team does not execute successfully, it’s because I did not do my job.”

Advice for entrepreneurs

“Conserve your cash.”


Sona Shah, 28; Co-founder and CEO
Teresa Cauvel, 26; Co-founder and CTO

Chicago, IL // Founded 2015 // 4 Employees

Sona Shah and Teresa Cauvel, fo-founders of Neopenda, a company that engineers medical devices for where they're needed most.

From left: Sona Shah, Teresa Cauvel

Company Mission, Conscious Company Media's 2018 Social Entrepreneurs List

“Creating and implementing user-centric technology solutions for where they are needed most.”

The story

Neopenda co-founders Teresa Cauvel and Sona Shah met in a master’s-level biodesign course at Columbia University and then traveled to Uganda together as part of their education. There, they found a huge scarcity of functional medical equipment in many of the hospital wards, primarily because the commercially available products didn’t meet the design constraints of low-resource hospitals. After the trip, the pair decided to start Neopenda to engineer medical devices for where they’re needed most, collaborating closely with stakeholders in low-resource settings. The company’s first product, a neonatal vital signs monitor, is built to make it easier for overwhelmed health workers to give each newborn infant the attention they need when they need it. The device is currently in development and expected to launch commercially in late 2019.

Throughout the ongoing iterative design process, the Neopenda team has worked to engage the local communities in Uganda, gathering feedback and insights from their two Ugandan team members and over 150 nurses and clinicians from 43 hospitals. Once deployed, Cauvel and Shah anticipate the newborn vital signs monitor has the potential to improve care for the 600,000 babies in need in Uganda each year and 45 million newborn patients in emerging markets worldwide. “We prioritize inclusive decision-making and design processes, security of our vulnerable patients, and compassion for families during an extremely overwhelming time,” says Shah.

Advice for entrepreneurs

“Be resilient, and stay true to your vision and values. If it were easy, someone would have done it before. But if you have made the decision to take your idea and transition to the overwhelming and exhilarating path of social entrepreneurship, your idea is likely worth pursuing and you will find ways to overcome hurdles.” — Sona Shah

What’s giving you hope?

“We are constantly inspired by the amazing nurses we know in Uganda. Even without all the tools and resources they need, they do the best that they can and try to find a way.”

734 Coffee

Manyang Reath Kher, 30; Founder and Director

Washington, DC // Founded 2016 // 7 Employees
Manyang Reath Kher, 30; Founder and Director of 734 Coffee

Manyang Reath Kher

Company Mission, Conscious Company Media's 2018 Social Entrepreneurs List

“To provide college education opportunities to refugees from South Sudan.”

The story

As a child, 734 Coffee founder Manyang Reath Kher lived for 13 years in refugee camps in the Gambela region of Ethiopia — a “Lost Boy of Sudan.” He came to the US at age 17 and later formed a nonprofit, the Humanity Helping Sudan Project, which helps provide sustainable aid and scholarships for the more than 200,000 displaced South Sudanese citizens now living in the Gambela region having fled war, atrocities, drought, and famine. He founded 734 Coffee to help fund that nonprofit. The company’s name comes from the geographical coordinates for Gambela (7˚N, 34˚E); its fair-trade, naturally grown specialty coffee is harvested by growers right in the Gambela region.

“As a former refugee,” says Kher, “I understand the feeling of hopelessness; the thought that no one cares about your plight and living condition. I understand being labeled as a number and feeling the pity of others. I believe refugees have great potential, just like other peaceful people. I am always comforted by the fact that figures like Madeleine Albright and Albert Einstein were refugees who made immense contributions to humanity.”

Favorite leadership tip

“A good leader surrounds themselves with a team that will push them out of their comfort zone.”


Ryan Lewis, 42; Founder and CEO

Boulder, CO // Founded 2016 // 6 Employees
Ryan Lewis, Founder and CEO of EarthHero

Ryan Lewis

Company Mission, Conscious Company Media's 2018 Social Entrepreneurs List

“To make sustainable shopping so easy, everyone does it.”

The story

Shopping sustainably and supporting the most conscious consumer brands should be easy. That’s the idea behind EarthHero, an online community and shopping portal that features close to 100 (and growing) sustainable, best-in-class brands. “Every product on EarthHero is hand-selected for its positive impact,” says founder Ryan Lewis. “We have a five-stage vetting process that all brands and products must go through before being accepted, to ensure authentic impact.” With an extensive background in e-commerce and distribution, his aha moment was realizing that he could combine his passion for sustainability and his business background to create a platform for everybody who loves the planet. “At EarthHero, we do the work so you don’t have to,” he says.

Surprising business lesson

“The dance between being persistent and patient. I’m learning that with any project, strategy, initiative, or plan, I must either use one or the other. If I mix them up, nothing good happens!”

Favorite leadership tip

“I was once told, ‘You are going to have really good days and really bad ones. Don’t make decisions on either of those days.’ This advice has served me well.”

Mission: Launch and R3 Score Technologies

Laurin Leonard, 33; Executive Director, Mission: Launch Inc.
Teresa Hodge, 55; President of R3 Score Technologies

Baltimore, MD // M:L founded 2012; R3 founded 2017 // 5 Employees

Mother-daughter entrepreneurs Teresa Hodge, Laurin Leonard, of Mission: Launch and R3 Score Technologies

From left: Teresa Hodge, Laurin Leonard

Company Mission, Conscious Company Media's 2018 Social Entrepreneurs List

“To improve the economic health of entrepreneurs with criminal records by increasing their skills and capacity and unlocking their access to capital.”

The story

In 2006, businesswoman Teresa Hodge was sentenced in Maryland to serve an 87-month federal prison term for a first-time, nonviolent, white-collar offense. She and her daughter, Laurin Leonard, quickly discovered, as Leonard says, that “People do not go to prison, families do.” The two women spent their seven years apart studying the prison system from inside and out, working to understand the needs of the more than 2.3 million families in America who have a member incarcerated.

Their clear understanding of what it would take for Teresa, as an individual, and the Hodges, as a family, to rebuild their lives and leverage Teresa’s human capital inspired them to seek innovative and scalable solutions to help other families facing the same challenges. While Teresa remained in prison, Laurin enrolled in business school at Johns Hopkins University and, in 2010, came up with a business plan addressing prisoner reentry into the workforce and submitted it to a university-wide competition. Two years later, the plan became Mission: Launch (M:L), a nonprofit that advocates for inclusive entrepreneurship as a path to self-sufficiency for individuals living with criminal records. Through their signature program, Launchpad, they operate a capacity-building business accelerator that prioritizes financial resilience and preparation for mainstream banking products and services.

While determining the readiness of returning citizens for various opportunities, M:L realized existing assessment tools were woefully inadequate for evaluating the myriad indicators that facilitate successful and meaningful transition for returning citizens. As a natural extension of its work, M:L began developing and testing a process and tool to do just that. In 2017, the duo formed R3 Score Technologies as a for-profit Fintech company to prototype an algorithm for background screening that demonstrates the strengths and capacities of individuals living with criminal records, and expands access to entrepreneurship, financial products, and other opportunities. Together, the nonprofit and tech company will provide a program and a product that both help entrepreneurs with records build their capacity for capital and connect them to lenders.

Surprising business lesson

“It has been a journey in releasing ourselves from solving all of the problems we see in reentry and focusing solely on unlocking access to capital for entrepreneurs with records. Today we find comfort in a famous quote: ‘Do not try to do everything. Do one thing well.’”

Advice for entrepreneurs

“We have learned the urgency of execution. There is always a reason to wait, but sometimes you totally miss an opportunity in waiting. General Patton’s famous saying, ‘A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week,’ is written on a Post-it in plain sight these days. Just get stuff done.”

One Degree Organic Foods

Stan Smith, 54; Co-founder and President

Abbotsford, BC // Founded 2011 // 12 Employees
Stan Smith, Co-Founder and President of One Degree Organic Foods

Stan Smith

Company Mission, Conscious Company Media's 2018 Social Entrepreneurs List

“To provide people with delicious food they can trust through 100 percent transparent, nutrient-rich ingredients from organic farmers.”

The story

This family-owned and operated food company is all about transparency and traceability: each of their bread and cereal products carries a unique code that customers can use to identify the producers of every ingredient in every package. The idea came to co-founder Stan Smith one day as he was walking through the organic bakery the family has owned since 1989 and saw a pallet of applesauce from South America. “I wondered, ‘Why would we bring in apples from so far away? We have pristine apple-growing regions of our own nearby,” he says. “The reality is that no matter how good a farmer is at caring for his soil and crops, his harvest is usually just treated like a commodity.” One Degree Organic Foods was born to change that. In addition to the unique codes on all packages, One Degree personally visits every supplier, and is a pioneer in supporting agricultural practices that go way beyond organic, including certification that their products are free of glyphosate residue (a carcinogen that comes from pesticides and herbicides), and that all farming inputs are plant-based (vegan).

Leadership tip

“Pursue the truth no matter how painful. Keep your promises no matter how difficult. You succeed when you make others successful.”


Emily Mochizuki Lutyens, 35; Co-founder and CEO
Brandon Burke, 27; Co-founder and Chief Product Officer

Buffalo, NY // Founded 2014 // 7 Employees

Emily Mochizuki Lutyens, Brandon Burke, co-founders of Legworks, enabling amputees to walk with confidence.

From left: Emily Mochizuki Lutyens, Brandon Burke

Company Mission, Conscious Company Media's 2018 Social Entrepreneurs List

“To enable amputees globally to walk with confidence.”

The story

For well-to-do amputees in the developed world, options for fancy, niche prosthetics abound, including ones with electronic stabilization and computer microprocessors. But, says Emily Mochizuki Lutyens, CEO of LegWorks, “there’s no point in having an innovative technology if people cannot afford it,” as 90 percent of the millions of amputees in the developing world can’t access any artificial limbs at all. “If you’re a kid, you’re not going to school,” she says. “If you’re an adult, it’s hard to get a job. Amputees face incredible stigma.” To help solve that problem, LegWorks has designed and launched a collection of four patented prosthetic limb products that it sells to amputees in 30 countries, including 19 developing countries. “We do not believe poor people deserve poor-quality products,” Lutyens explains. “We sell the same high-quality products whether we’re in Cambodia, the US, or Australia,” with pricing adjusted to match local conditions. “Every amputee deserves to walk with confidence on a high-quality prosthetic leg,” she says. “And while we believe in our technology and our mission, we also believe our social business model can be applied beyond prosthetics to tackle any number of inequalities around the world.”

Surprising business lesson

“As much as we want to keep pushing and moving and growing, we have learned that for our business to succeed, we need to own the work that is ours to do and not beyond that. Quite simply, when we as co-founders burn out, it hurts the business. We unfortunately do not have superpowers. It is a discipline to stay balanced as an entrepreneur, but it’s the best thing for the business. Focus on staying present, not on ‘productivity.’” — Emily Mochizuki Lutyens

Peak Design

Peter Dering, 35; Founder and CEO

San Francisco, CA // Founded 2010 // 35 Employees
Peter Dering, Founder and CEO of Peak Design

Peter Dering

Company Mission, Conscious Company Media's 2018 Social Entrepreneurs List

“To create happy, meaningful lives for the people who work for Peak Design.”

The story

In 2008, Peter Dering took leave from his engineering job to travel in Asia. The photography buff was inspired by the sights, but the camera he was carrying felt like as much of an encumbrance as a necessary tool. His experiencing a tangible problem combined with the time the trip afforded him to think and dream fostered the invention of the Capture Camera Clip, a camera holster that became the seminal product of Peak Design. He launched it on Kickstarter with a goal of raising $10,000. He raised more than $360,000. Today, the design company is a market leader in camera bags, camera straps, and camera clips, and has raised more money for its products via Kickstarter than any other active company.

What makes Peak Design a conscious company, though, is how it has pursued this success. Its mission is articulated by six rules: 1) make the best things; 2) succeed at the expense of nobody; 3) treat our customers as peers; 4) offset our environmental impact; 5) use our voice to inspire positive change; and 6) prioritize happiness over growth. No full-time employees have ever quit; the company’s product return rate is less than 1 percent; it has given over $500,000 to environmental nonprofits, including initiatives to offset its carbon emissions; and Dering has never taken a dollar from equity investors, while the company has been profitable since the first year. “The other significant input that my travels infused was a desire to be free,” says Dering. “To not have rules about when or from where one has to work. Personal freedom and the right to feel like you are your own person was something that I valued, and is a value I extend to my employees.”

Favorite leadership tip

“Empower your employees to risk making mistakes by admitting your own.”

Advice for entrepreneurs

“Green-washing is counterproductive. So is talking down to ‘the other side,’ whether intentionally or otherwise. Solutions come from pragmatic ideas that are set up to succeed on both sides of aisles. Change happens slowly, so it’s better to try to nudge than it is to force. Let’s make friends and show respect for alternate perspectives first, and convince later.”


Priyanka Bakaya, 35; CEO and Founder
Hannah Trimble, 29; Head of Renewlogy Oceans

Salt Lake City, UT // Founded 2011 // 12 Employees
Priyanka Bakaya, Hannah Trimble of Renewlogy, renewing plastic waste globally, on land and in oceans.

From left: Priyanka Bakaya, Hannah Trimble

Company Mission, Conscious Company Media's 2018 Social Entrepreneurs List

“To renew plastic waste globally, on land and in oceans. (Less than 10% of plastic is recycled each year.)”

The story

As an MIT student, Priyanka Bakaya spent a summer in India working in e-waste, and realized that plastics were often burned or dumped in the environment. She went back to MIT with a mission to find a solution. Thus began Renewlogy, which uses a proprietary chemical recycling process to reverse plastic back to its basic molecular structure, then incorporate it into new products such as high-value fuels. Renewlogy now has two commercial-scale facilities in the US and Canada for chemically recycling plastics. After meeting Hannah Trimble and discovering a shared passion for sustainability, design, and women’s empowerment, the duo is now launching a new Renewlogy Oceans initiative which aims to set up 100 biofences in major polluted rivers across the world to prevent plastics from entering the oceans. The material collected will be processed in the company’s off-grid mobile systems, and revenues will go directly to the female waste-pickers who collect the waste. Their first project will be launched along the Ganges in India in 2019.

Favorite leadership tip

“Leaders become great not because of their power, but because of their ability to empower others.” — Priyanka Bakaya

Good Nature Agro

Sunday Silungwe, 28; Co-founder and Director of Talent
Carl Jensen, 31; Co-founder and CEO
Kellan Hayes, 36; Co-founder and
Chairperson of the Board of Advisers

Chipata, Zambia // Founded 2014 // 26 Employees
Sunday Silungwe, Carl Jensen, Kellan Hayes, co-founders of Good Nature Agro, an organization whose priority is the generate lasting income with small-scale farmers.

From left: Kellan Hayes, Sunday Silungwe, Carl Jensen

Company Mission, Conscious Company Media's 2018 Social Entrepreneurs List

“To increase African smallholder-farmer incomes.”

The story

Good Nature Agro co-founder Sunday Silungwe was born and raised around small-scale agriculture in the Eastern Province of Zambia, and became interested in helping solve the problems that farmers around him faced. He met co-founder Carl Jensen at a design summit in Zambia organized by MIT’s D-Lab. Shortly thereafter, Jensen met Kellan Hayes through UC Davis’ D-Lab, where they were both finishing graduate degrees. Together, the trio created an organization whose priority is to generate lasting income with small-scale farmers.

The strategy is multipronged. First, they train local community leaders to become qualified Private Extension Agents (PEAs) who oversee and train farmers throughout the growing season (reducing the ratio of experts to farmers from 1:5,000 down to 1:40). Through the PEAs, the organization also delivers a farmer-friendly loan of seeds and other necessary inputs. At harvest, Good Nature provides a guaranteed market for the legume seed that growers produce. Choosing to produce these high-value crops over traditional cash crops — like maize and cotton — more than doubles farmer income.

In the past four years, Good Nature Agro has increased farmer incomes from $115 to $382 per hectare of production. Through its seed business, Good Nature is supplying over 10 legume varieties to Zambia and regional neighbors. The company now sources from 5,000 small-scale farming families.

Surprising business lesson

“In the past year, I have learned to fail and accept failure. My culture groomed me to despise failure; when you failed, you were the talk of the family or town. So, the natural inclination was either to hold back on good ideas and never try or to watch others take the risk. At the stage that the company has reached, risk is inevitable. We have failed so much that it’s part of the culture to try. The failures have made us stronger, and this lesson has given me hope and the zeal to keep going and growing.” — Sunday Silungwe

Favorite leadership tip

“Listen to everyone. Every time I humble myself to listen, I learn something new.” — Sunday Silungwe

Creative Action Network

Max Slavkin, 31; Co-founder and CEO
Aaron Perry-Zucker, 31; Co-founder and CCO

San Francisco, CA // Founded 2013 // 5 Employees
Aaron Perry-Zucker, Max Slavkin, co-founders of Creative Action Network, putting artists to work telling stories that matter.

From left: Aaron Perry-Zucker, Max Slavkin

Company Mission, Conscious Company Media's 2018 Social Entrepreneurs List

“To put artists to work telling stories that matter.”

The story

“We believe that art is the most powerful tool to make change,” say Max Slavkin and Aaron Perry-Zucker, and their company helps mobilize that power. The two have been friends since preschool, and grew up participating together in creative communities including high school musicals and a ska band. In 2008, Perry-Zucker launched Design For Obama from his dorm room, inviting artists to create posters for the campaign. A few years later, the pair crystalized that idea into a business that runs ongoing crowdsourced social impact campaigns, inviting anyone and everyone to contribute their own meaningful designs on a topic. The company then develops those designs into a range of physical goods, from posters to apparel to home goods, which it sells online and in retailers all over the country, supporting artists and causes with every purchase.

Thus far, the team has built a community of over 10,000 people, paid out over $100,000 to independent artists, and raised more than $50,000 for nonprofit partners including the National Parks Conservation Association, the Boys & Girls Clubs, and the Anti-Defamation League. In 2018, Creative Action Network finished the process of raising capital for the first time. “We did it in a new, alternative, mission-driven way we’re super proud of,” says Slavkin.

Favorite leadership tip

“Decisions are made by those who show up.” — President Josiah Bartlet, “The West Wing”

Advice for entrepreneurs

“Make sure that the way you make impact and the way you make money are the same. Neither should distract from the other; they should be part of the same single good/service you’re providing.” — Max Slavkin


Christian Kroll, 34; CEO and Founder

Berlin, Germany // Founded 2009 // 36 Employees
Ecosia's found Christian Kroll visiting one of the company's tree-planting site in Borneo.

Christian Kroll

Company Mission, Conscious Company Media's 2018 Social Entrepreneurs List

“To restore the planet and to cultivate a world where all humans live together compassionately and in accordance with nature.”

The story

There’s plenty of money in search advertising, but only one search engine that uses its profits to help restore the environment. While studying business administration, Ecosia founder Christian Kroll already knew he wanted to come up with an enterprise model that could help the world. Traveling to South America and seeing the destruction of the rainforests in Brazil and Argentina left a deep impression on him, and he subsequently read a lot about deforestation and climate change and how beneficial planting trees can be for humans, animals, the environment, and the global climate. He saw a lot of potential profit in the area of search, and created Ecosia, a search engine that exists to fund tree planting.

Since 2009, the company has planted more than 35 million trees and helped close to 35,000 community members benefit from the projects. Meanwhile, the company’s user base quadrupled over the course of the last 18 months. Ecosia also recently became the first search engine legally bound to restore the planet. “This means that Ecosia shares can’t be sold at a profit, decisions can only be made by people involved with the company and in line with our values and in favor of our mission of protecting the environment, and it means profits can’t be taken out of the company or used for anything else but protecting the planet,” says Kroll. “This is not reversible and means that I basically intentionally gave up my chance to be a very rich man.”

Advice for entrepreneurs

“Find mentors and talk to people who are already a few steps ahead of you. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel and solve everything by yourself. There are people who can help you avoid mistakes by sharing their experiences with you.”

Green Canopy

Aaron Fairchild, 48; Co-founder and CEO
Sam Lai, 41; Co-founder and Chief Acquisitions Officer
Andy Wolverton, 29; Co-founder and CFO

Seattle, WA // Founded 2009 // 42 Employees
Andy Wolverton, Aaron Farichild, Sam Lai, co-founders of Green Canopy, building homes, relationships, and businesses that help regenerate communities and environments.

From left: Andy Wolverton, Aaron Farichild, Sam Lai


Company Mission, Conscious Company Media's 2018 Social Entrepreneurs List

“To build homes, relationships, and businesses that help regenerate communities and environments.”

The story

This homebuilding company based in Portland and Seattle is all about a future where net-zero energy homes become the norm, good homes are affordable, communities are resilient and inclusive, impact investors earn profits, and wildlands are preserved. They help make this happen in several ways. First, they build infill homes, replacing underused single-family residences with four or five homes in urban areas. They also run a real estate investment fund that builds these certified green, energy-efficient, and healthy homes for the homebuyer — with some operating on renewable solar power.

Finally, they continually educate real estate agents on the importance and value of green building and sustainable housing and engage with the local homebuilding communities and policymakers. Since 2009, Green Canopy has raised $25 million in three funds and is working on its fourth. They’ve sold 140 deep-green homes while recycling about 95 percent of their construction waste.

Favorite leadership tip

“A quote from the great Albus Dumbledore: ‘Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.’ It speaks to me about the importance of perspective in doing the deep work of our business and leaning into our mission.” —Andy Wolverton

Aceleron Ltd

Amrit Chandan, 29; Co-founder and CEO
Carlton Cummins, 30; Co-founder and CTO

London // Founded 2016 // 21 Employees
Amrit Chandan, Carlton Cummins, co-founders of Aceleron Ltd, cleaner, more renewable energy usage by creating storage technology that is more accessible by all.

From left: Amrit Chandan, Carlton Cummins

Company Mission, Conscious Company Media's 2018 Social Entrepreneurs List

“To accelerate the global transition to cleaner, more renewable energy usage by creating storage technology that is more accessible to all, thereby enabling more people to participate more affordably in the global economy.”

The story

Lithium batteries don’t just die, they degrade. And when, say, an electric car battery is no longer powerful enough for that application, the current tendency is to throw it away. UK-based engineers Amrit Chandan and Carlton Cummins have a different idea. They’ve developed a technology and a company that can quickly test a tired battery and see how much life it still has in it — and match it to a new application in a second-life battery pack. “We liberate them,” says Cummins. The car battery can help power a house, for example, or an old laptop battery could power a clock. The goal is to introduce lithium batteries to the circular economy, reducing waste by reusing these batteries to produce low-cost energy storage.

The two-year-old company currently designs and manufactures advanced lithium batteries that are completely reusable and serviceable. They’re also piloting a build-anywhere philosophy: in April 2018, they stood up a lithium battery-pack production operation in Nairobi, Kenya, that produced 124 functional advanced lithium batteries within one week using minimal equipment and zero specialist training.

Advice for entrepreneurs

“Value and develop relationships. Think big even when you are small.” —Amrit Chandan

Check out last’s year’s list:

19 Social Entrepreneurs to Watch in 2017

Social Entrepreneurship / Stakeholder Capitalism
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