Transformational Entrepreneurship: Where Technology Meets Societal Impact

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The slow decline of industrial manufacturing in developed nations and recent failures of financial capitalism across the globe have sent us searching for a new model of economic growth. I see the two movements of Technology Entrepreneurship and Social Entrepreneurship beginning to converge into a promising solution. An increasing number of entrepreneurs are awakening to the possibility of combining the scalable tools and methodology of Technology Entrepreneurship with the world-centric value system of Social Entrepreneurship. Together they create a new type of entrepreneurship that could become our primary source of socioeconomic value creation. What do we call this movement? I propose we call it “Transformational Entrepreneurship.”*

Over the last few decades, nearly all the economic growth and job growth in the U.S. has come from high-growth technology companies. That growth is driven by companies like Amazon, Google, Salesforce, and VMware (which didn’t even exist 15 years ago), and companies like Facebook, Twitter, Groupon and Zynga (which didn’t even exist 10 years ago). Then of course there’s Apple, which brought itself back from the grave in the beginning of this decade and is now the world’s most valuable public company. Collectively these companies have created almost a trillion dollars in new wealth over the last decade and a half.

All of these companies were created by high growth technology entrepreneurs, making inner workings of entrepreneurship ecosystems like Silicon Valley the stuff of legend. Yet although Silicon Valley has mastered the art of building technology companies, it hasn’t yet developed the moral compass to figure out which companies are worth building. There are simply too many talented entrepreneurs today building meaningless ventures. From advertising products that get people to buy things they don’t need, to social games that are designed to addict people to wasting their time, to “mobile-local-social” products that attempt to leverage the latest technological trends without giving much thought to the importance of the problem being solved. The unquenchable thirst for growth that fuels much of this wealth creation must be carefully watched; it could easily turn malignant and lead technology entrepreneurs to commit the same kind of economic atrocities as the financial sector.

The emergence of “Social Entrepreneurship” attempts to fill this moral void by refocusing energy and resources on important social problems. While Social Entrepreneurship is promising, its impact has been limited to date as its solutions are rarely devised with scalability and true economic sustainability in mind. Furthermore, while the Social Entrepreneurship community is full of well-intentioned people, many of their solutions fail to take into account the complexities of the problems they are attempting to solve, which can lead to doing more harm than good. This backfiring is far too common because the community’s propensity to descend into self-congratulation starves the founders of the critical feedback required for them to find the holes in their vision. The standards must be set higher than good intentions.

Source: HBR Blog Network (link opens in a new window)

Impact Assessment, Technology
social enterprise