Terri Harel

6 Ways Social Entrepreneurs Can Fund Their Idea

It’s an exciting time to be a social entrepreneur. With dramatic ideas, tech experience, and entrepreneurial acumen, an entire generation of young people are building entities focused on making a difference over making more profit. As these for-purpose organizations grow in size and influence, accelerator and incubator programs that provide support for the unique challenges faced by social entrepreneurs are also blossoming. Here are six programs for individuals passionate about accelerating social progress by turning their ideas into actions.

Acumen Fund

What it is: Acumen is an investment fund for early-stage companies and projects that address poverty in new ways. Rather than providing traditional charity dollars, Acumen makes long-term debt or equity investments in ideas that provide underserved communities with a pathway to independence. So far, they’ve invested $88 million in people, ideas, and innovations.

How it benefits social entrepreneurs: Through their investments and fellowship programs, Acumen really invests in the people who have ideas that can change the world. They ensure young leaders get the training and support they need to follow through with their vision.

Find out more about Acumen

Echoing Green

What it is: Among other programs, Echoing Green’s main purpose is to provide seed funding to young leaders working on positive social change. The program is extremely competitive, but equally as prestigious. Fellows work on the world’s toughest challenges in every cause sector and receive up to $90,000 over two years.

How it benefits social entrepreneurs: Through funding and intensive leadership training, Echoing Green supports the next generation of change-makers from all angles. They’ve opened up access to capital and mentorship, proven by an upward trend in for-profit or hybrid applicants coming from countries other than the United States.

Find out more about Echoing Green


What it is: Ashoka enables its fellows to implement their ideas on a global scale. Since 1980, Ashoka has supported 3,000 social entrepreneurs all over the world. The selection process is rigorous; candidates need to be nominated by someone familiar with Ashoka’s work.

How it benefits social entrepreneurs: Ashoka has a unique outlook on revolutionizing approaches to social problems. Ashoka encourages social entrepreneurs to create networks and work together to transform the sector. Fellows come from all ages and fields, and the support they receive keeps them fully focused on building and disseminating their idea. One of the most compelling statistics to come out of the Ashoka Fellowship is that 54% of Fellows “have changed market dynamics at a national level within five years of election.” That means those individual’s projects have created a new market, improved access to goods and services, or provided opportunities to a host of people who didn’t have them before. The impact of participating in the program is tangible and meaningful.

Find out more about Ashoka

Dell Social Innovation Challenge (now called Verb U)

What it is: verb U distributes funding to innovative entrepreneurs through competitions; each round addresses a different social or environmental challenge.

How it benefits social entrepreneurs: Each Verb Competition presents a unique question to entrepreneurs. They then compete for up to $140,000. Winners also gain access to mentors and potential investors, making Verb U an incredible opportunity for university students and recent grads.

Find out more about Verb U

Bonus: Check out the work of Classy Client and Verb Competition winner, Shining Hope for Communities

Y Combinator

What it is: Y Combinator is one of the most prestigious and well-known tech startup accelerators in the country. They’ve churned out some of today’s most well known online companies, like reddit, Airbnb, Dropbox, and Stripe. Over the past couple years, Y Combinator has started to fund social enterprises and nonprofits.

How it benefits social entrepreneurs: Y Combinator provides early stage seed money and serious world-class mentorship. Participants who make it through the rigorous program are presented with a host of opportunities for themselves and for their projects.

Find out more about Y Combinator

Fast Forward

What it is: Fast Forward is a startup accelerator designed specifically for tech nonprofits. Participants receive a $25,000 grant and thirteen weeks of training, with access to mentors.

How it benefits social entrepreneurs: Fast Forward provides support for the unique challenges of a startup nonprofit. They help organizations develop and build their product, and offer them guidance on proving their impact model. There are many similarities between for-profit tech startups and their social enterprise counterparts but the latter often require a special perspective experienced at addressing social and environmental problems. That’s where Fast Forward comes in.

Find out more about Fast Forward

Rally a Community of Fundraisers

peer to peer fundraising resources

  • Great article. I would encourage others to read A Path Appears by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn and see what they have to say about a couple of these topics as well.

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