This article originally appeared at Forbes.com.
A toilet paper roll, a milk carton and a shoebox aren’t items that typically make the list of brilliant innovations. In fact, these items mainly wander through our lives unnoticed — they’re containers that, very briefly, add value to our lives and then end up in the recycling bin.
Meet Chloe Harwell, a 5-year-old from Phoenix, Arizona, with a vivid imagination and propensity to stick her fingers where they don’t necessarily belong — in the recycling bin. Of course, parents of children worldwide are no strangers to this phenomenon — a child’s odd curiosity with packaging. Most parents have joked during birthday parties that their kids enjoy the box more than the gift itself. But to Janette Harwell, Chloe’s mom, the recycling bin as a toy box spawned an idea.
Harwell, a graphic designer, spent the weekend designing stickers that turned ordinary recyclables into rocket ships, pianos and fire trucks — all toys that could return to the recycling bin once they received enough bumps and bruises. An idea had been born. Next, the question was how to start the business that would become Box Play for Kids.
Enter Courtney Klein, who in 2012 launched Seed Spot, her second endeavor to empower others to make a difference.
“Social programs can change the world,” Klein told us. “But so can social entrepreneurs — those blending profit with social impact. I couldn’t help but wonder what could be possible if there was a nonprofit incubator for early stage social entrepreneurs.”
Already gaining attention from the entrepreneurial community and major media, and being seriously congruent with many of the findings we culled from O.C. Tanner Institute’s Great Work Study, we wanted to sit down and talk to Klein, to understand the way she thinks, and learn more about some of the ventures being supported by Seed Spot.
David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom: Exactly what criteria define a social entrepreneur?
Courtney Klein: There are a lot of definitions floating around about what makes a social entrepreneur. We developed a “Social Impact Scale” to determine whether or not a business is right for Seed Spot. First, is there a need? Is there a real problem in the world that can be backed by research and data that the company or the product is focused on improving? Second, what is the impact of the problem? Does the problem being addressed affect a significant number of individuals or communities? Third, is it fresh? We want to see innovation and creativity in products or processes. Next, we want to know that a company isn’t producing bandages for problems, rather solving it at the root cause.
Sturt and Nordstrom: So, if an entrepreneur meets all these criteria, they’ve got a good shot at becoming incubated?
Klein: Well, remember, we’re talking about social business, not a social program. The ideas need to be sustainable with a clear revenue model. As entrepreneurs apply to our program, we look for a complete package.
Sturt and Nordstrom: There’s a lot of talk in the corporate world about the millennial generation and their desire to feel connected to a purpose of an organization. From your perspective, is the new interest in social movement largely from millennials?
Klein: Every generation has individuals that want to create change, build new models or disrupt the status quo. Nikola Tesla wanted to bring free electricity to the whole world — the sentiment and belief that change is possible is innately human regardless of generation. We have worked with entrepreneurs from the age of 21 to 65 and believe that passion and purpose to create change can come at any age.
Sturt and Nordstrom: Overall, do you think social consciousness is becoming more of a focus now than it ever has before?
Klein: It is. Numerous studies show that today’s consumers are more willing to buy, and feel better about, socially conscious purchases. Universities have increased their coursework in social entrepreneurship. The Benefit Corporation legislation is taking shape across the nation. But I think the reason we’ve been able to generate so much attention is the marriage of social consciousness with the entrepreneur. There’s something innately human about being an entrepreneur. Like your study, in the book "Great Work," people want to make a difference. They want to see the impact they can make on the world. There’s something very attractive about that to the human psyche.
Sturt and Nordstrom: For those readers with an entrepreneurial spirit, what one piece of advice do you have?
Klein: Get out of your own way. Stop poking holes at all the reasons why you can’t start something. Surround yourself with people who help plug the holes. At Seed Spot, we are on a mission to expand our work to communities that want to support their own local social entrepreneurs.Comment on this story
Our conversation with Klein continued — with story after story of people who wanted to make a difference and built a business around making that difference. And, although we pried to find out if the desire to become a social entrepreneur was segmented to a specific age group, as so many columnists have alluded, the stories continued to prove otherwise — that the desire to make a difference is a human trait.
Oh, and just in case you’re curious, Box Play for Kids, with Seed Spot’s help, was born and has grown into a very successful business — not only at keeping kids everywhere happy, but also by redefining the words recycle and reuse.
David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom work with the O.C. Tanner Institute. Learn more about The New York Times best seller "Great Work: How to Make a Difference People Love" (McGraw-Hill) at www.greatwork.com.