America's Most Promising Social Entrepreneurs 2011

  1. For-Profits Fixing Social Ills

    For-Profits Fixing Social Ills

    Back in February, we asked readers to tell us about entrepreneurs building promising businesses that tackle social ills. Over the past three months, Bloomberg reporters and editors narrowed the more than 200 suggestions we got to 25 private, for-profit social enterprises. We selected companies by examining their impact, innovation, and business success. Some are multimillion-dollar enterprises; others are startups with big ideas, from affordable housing for senior citizens to apps to aid health-care workers in the developing world. Read through the profiles of these social ventures—then vote for the most promising before July 12 (the voting page is also available at the end of the slide show). We'll announce the top five vote-getters on July 19.
  2. AllEarth Renewables

    AllEarth Renewables

    Williston, Vt.
    Founded: 2005
    Employees: 26
    Revenue 2010: $10 million
    Revenue 2011 (projected): $22 million to $25 million

    After several years selling small-scale wind turbines without making a profit, founder David Blittersdorf, 54, realized that current policies and government incentives make solar a more viable business, especially as more businesses, government entities, and residential communities invest in the sector. The company manufactures and installs solar panels that move with the sun using GPS to maximize the amount of the sun's energy reaching the panels. A home system costs about $33,000 up front or can be leased with the choice of buying the system after five years for about $10,000. Blittersdorf—who in 1982 founded NRG Systems to make tools to measure wind for the wind energy industry—says AllEarth Renewables has been profitable since 2010, when sales reached more than $10 million. Blittersdorf has focused on the Vermont market but plans to expand throughout the Northeast this year. "I believe we can create an energy future that does not rely on fossil fuels or dangerous nuclear power," he says. —VW
  3. Azavea


    Founded: 2000
    Employees: 25
    Revenue 2010: $2.3 million
    Revenue 2011 (projected): $3 million
    Photo: Esri, Kris Krug

    Azavea creates software that uses geographic data to improve civic life. Working mostly for governments, nonprofits, and universities, the company "looks for a social value aspect to every project we take on," say founder Robert Cheetham, 42. That means data-based apps that help communities understand and solve civic or environmental problems. Cheetham, who grew up in Michigan, worked in local government in Japan in the early 1990s and later in Philadelphia, where he started a crime analysis unit for the police department. He launched Azavea in 2001. Azavea's projects include a crime analysis system intended to be an "early warning system" to help law enforcement identify emerging patterns; an "open tree map" to help volunteers and cities collaborate to track and care for street trees and parks; and an app designed to let citizens participate in the traditionally back-room process of redrawing legislative districts. Azavea has between 50 and 60 active clients and releases source code for selected software projects so businesses and individuals can replicate them. —JT

  4. BioLite


    Brooklyn, N.Y.
    Founded: 2009
    Employees: 7
    Revenue 2010: $24,000
    Revenue 2011 (projected): $250,000
    From left to right: Matt Nowicki, Alec Drummond, Clay Burns, Whitney Goodwin, and Jonathan Cedar

    Half the planet cooks on wood fires that give off smoke responsible for about 2 million deaths a year from respiratory disease, says Jonathan Cedar, 30, founder of fuel-efficient cook stove maker BioLite. Its $40 stoves use cogeneration technology to capture waste heat to generate electricity. The electricity powers fans that cut toxic smoke emissions by 95 percent, Cedar says. It can also charge cell phones and LED lights. He says production at BioLite's contract manufacturer in China is scheduled for April 2012 (the stoves are being tested in India now). Cedar plans to introduce two higher- margin camping versions for around $100 and $120 targeted at outdoor enthusiasts in the U.S. around the same time and use profits to offset research and development costs for the developing markets’ stove. The business was conceived with Alec Drummond while working together at New York product development firm Smart Design. "While indoor air pollution reduction is obviously why we're doing what we're doing … we also want a product that delivers what users really want: fast, easy-to-use cooking," says Cedar. He says BioLite raised $1.1 million in venture capital in April and expects $1.5 million in revenue in 2012. —NL


    San Francisco
    Founded: 2007
    Employees: 44
    Revenue 2010: $2.5 million
    Revenue 2011 (projected): over $5 million has adapted an old tool of activism—the petition—for the digital age, letting anyone with Internet access start a campaign around a cause and recruit their friends to join. Its innovation is rallying online activists to individual cases of injustice rather than broad, abstract problems. For example, members frequently champion the cause of people who have lost their jobs for being gay, petitioning employers to add sexual orientation to their nondiscrimination policies. Those actions are more engaging than broad campaigns for gay rights, because "people see the issue through the lens of a personal narrative," says founder Ben Rattray, a 30-year-old Stanford grad. Visitors drawn to the site for one cause see sponsored links from such groups as CARE, Oxfam, Amnesty International, and Greenpeace, which pay when members sign up. Rattray says the site has 250 nonprofit clients that pay anywhere from $5,000 to $1 million per campaign, depending on how many people they seek to recruit. Rattray raised $2 million from angel investors and became profitable six months ago. In the past 18 months, has grown from a staff of three to 44 in San Francisco and Washington. Rattray says the site has more than 3 million members, 1,500 new causes each month, and at least one campaign each day, on average, that achieves its stated goal. —JT

  6. Dalberg


    New York
    Founded: 2001
    Employees: 120
    Revenue 2010: more than $15 million
    Revenue 2011 (projected): more than $15 million
    From left to right: Andrew Stern, James Mwangi, and Henrik Skovby

    When Henrik Skovby did a stint at the U.N. Development Programme, he thought the organization could benefit from the kind of management consulting he learned about during his time as a summer associate at McKinsey in 1998. After returning to work for McKinsey, he and colleague Søren Peter Andreasen left in 2001 to start their own consulting firm focused on solving social and environmental problems worldwide. Today clients include businesses, governments, and nonprofits tackling economic development, climate change, and governance. The firm, which has 10 offices around the world, recently helped the U.N. Foundation's anti-malaria initiative in Zambia revamp its financing system to get health supplies to aid recipients faster. It also helped the Haiti Private Sector Economic Forum develop a road map for Haiti's development immediately after the 2010 earthquake and advised the U.S. government on its strategy for agricultural aid to Afghanistan. Dalberg director Daniel Altman says the company "only works on projects with a social impact." Its major practice areas include helping clients with strategy, efficiency, and financing. Skovby says it's important that Dalberg grow and remain profitable but not maximize profits at the expense of its mission. —VW
  7. Dimagi


    Charlestown, Mass.
    Founded: 2003
    Employees: 20
    Revenue 2010: $1.7 million
    Revenue 2011 (projected): $2.1 million

    Dimagi—"smart guy" in Hindi—is a software development business that makes open-source software to improve health care in developing countries and underserved populations in the U.S. Its projects range from creating mobile apps for clinicians treating tuberculosis patients to a national medical record system used in Zambia for HIV care (now led by the Zambian Ministry of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control). Clients and backers include the National Institutes of Health, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the U.S. Agency for International Development, according to co- founder Jonathan Jackson. Dimagi's latest major effort, CommCare, processes information from health workers in the field, giving them a workflow management tool. (For example, a user can add patients' information via a mobile device, get a supervisor to analyze it, then refer at-risk patients to clinics—and track follow-through.) So far the application has collected more than 90,000 forms in 10 countries, says Jackson, 30, who holds a master's degree in computer science from MIT. Dimagi was close to profitable in its first year, he says, noting 40 percent annual revenue growth for the past five years. It is completing construction on an office in New Delhi, India. —NL
  8. Drop the Chalk

    Drop the Chalk

    New Orleans
    Founded: 2009
    Employees: 1
    Revenue 2010: $30,000
    Revenue 2011 (projected): $210,000

    Too many teachers are still stuck in the age of recording grades in notebooks, says Jennifer Medbery, founder of educational software company Drop the Chalk. She was given notebooks to record grades during a two-year stint in the Mississippi Delta teaching for Teach for America. Armed with a degree in computer science from Columbia University, Medbery set to work building software that would make it easy for teachers to record students' progress steadily. The product, called Kickboard, gives teachers a central location to record traditional data, such as grades on tests and quizzes, while also providing space for behavioral notes and discipline logs. "Our philosophy is to equip teachers with more real-time data so teachers can track their own progress and student progress throughout the year," Medbery says. Drop the Chalk is finishing a pilot with 15 schools and expects to expand to around 50 schools in cities around the country this August. —JS
  9. EcoScraps


    Salt Lake City
    Founded: 2010
    Employees: 14
    Revenue 2010: $73,015
    Revenue 2011 (projected): $1.5 million
    From left to right: Craig Martineau, Dan Blake, and Brandon Sargent

    EcoScraps recycles food waste bound for landfills from groceries, produce wholesalers, food banks, and other suppliers, turning it into fertilizer for home gardeners. The company, which has two plants, one in Salt Lake City and another in Tempe, Ariz., pays nothing for the waste it collects. "The incentives are in place to sell more and help the environment," says Dan Blake, 23, who started EcoScraps last year with $18,000 of his own savings, $14,000 won in Brigham Young University's Social Venture Competition, and a $1,000 grant from Sparkseed, a nonprofit that supports social entrepreneurs. Blake says the company's composting method reduces the time it takes to turn food into fertilizer from three months to three weeks. EcoScraps sells 40,000 to 50,000 20-lb. bags of soil each month through local nurseries, garden centers, and grocers. It also has pilot programs to sell to retailers, such as Costco. Blake, who is taking a hiatus from school, plans to add two new composting facilities this year and raise money to build eight more around the country next year. —VW

  10. Ecovative Design

    Ecovative Design

    Green Island, N.Y.
    Founded: 2007
    Employees: 25
    Revenue 2010: $400,000
    Revenue 2011 (projected): $600,000 to $800,000
    Eben Bayer, left, and Gavin McIntyre

    Many attempts to replace plastic packaging use food stocks like corn and require burning fuel in manufacturing. Ecovative Design found an alternative made from industrial food waste and mushrooms that takes less energy to produce as well. It makes and sells bowls, insulation for houses, and shipping packaging. "We compete directly on a price-parity basis with toxic plastics like Styrofoam," says co-founder and Chief Executive Eben Bayer. As Bayer pointed out in hi s recent TED Talk, Styrofoam takes thousands of years to biodegrade. Ecovative’s products, by comparison, are compostable in the backyard. The process is simple: Agricultural waste (such as seed husks from cotton) is added to mushroom cells, put into molds, and stored in a warehouse for just under a week. It is then dried and dehydrated to become a material that feels something like a cross between Styrofoam and wood. The material is being tested to ship Dell servers, Bayer says. He and co-founder Gavin McIntyre both earned dual bachelor degrees in mechanical engineering and product design and innovation from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Before founding the company, Bayer worked at engineering giant Applied Research Associates and McIntyre worked for the U.S. Energy Dept. at Brookhaven National Laboratory. "Our vision," Bayer says, "is to become a material science leader for the next 100 years or more in sustainable materials." —JS

  11. Emory Knoll Farms

    Emory Knoll Farms

    Street, Md.
    Founded: 2004
    Employees: 11
    Revenue 2010: $815,000
    Revenue 2011 (projected): $850,000 to $1 million
    Ed Snodgrass, left, and John Shepley

    Ed Snodgrass, a fifth-generation Maryland farmer, had abandoned farming for management consulting in the late 1990s when he found a reason to go back to the farm: green roofs. Putting soil and plants on rooftops reduces storm runoff and lowers the negative environmental impact of buildings. At that time, however, few nurseries stocked the types of plants best suited to green roofs, which are typically hotter, drier, and sunnier than the garden. With former consulting colleague John Shepley, Snodgrass founded Emory Knoll Farms to supply the green roof industry with hardy plants native to the Mediterranean, Africa, and Asia that can thrive on urban rooftops. "These are plants that evolved to grow literally in these rock fields," says Shepley. The nursery raises plants year-round in greenhouses and sells to roofing contractors across the U.S. and as far away as Japan and Singapore. Many customers are working on government or educational buildings that seek LEED certification. In 2010, the farm became one of the first benefit corporations under a Maryland law that creates a new legal designation for social enterprises. So far the farm has covered 102 acres in 703 green roof projects. —JT
  12. Freelancers Insurance Co.

    Freelancers Insurance Co.

    New York
    Founded: 2009
    Employees: 60
    Revenue (2010): $85 million
    Revenue 2011 (projected): $96 million

    The self-employed (freelancers, contractors, and other contingent workers) account for roughly one-third of American workers, according to the Government Accountability Office. They need health insurance just as much as employees, but their options are generally limited and expensive compared with what employee health plans cost. The Freelancers Insurance Co. has stepped in to provide better options for benefits that have traditionally been provided by employers. "Sometimes when people hear freelancer, they hear slacker dude with their jammies on," says Freelancers Insurance founder Sara Horowitz. "It’s really your parent and your former co-worker. We cover nannies, we cover programmers, and we cover nutritionists." The company insures 25,000 people in New York State. The for-profit insurer is wholly owned by the nonprofit Freelancers Union, which is also led by Horowitz, a winner of the MacArthur "genius" award in 1999. She says the $3 million in 2010 profit was reinvested in the nonprofit to create other benefits, such as recently launched retirement plans. —JS

  13. Greyston Bakery

    Greyston Bakery

    Yonkers, N.Y.
    Founded: 1982
    Employees: 50
    Revenue 2010: $7.8 million
    Revenue 2011 (projected): more than $8 million
    Greyston employees Ernest Mack (left) and Jose Molina

    Greyston Bakery got a big break in 1988 when it landed a contract to supply brownies to Ben & Jerry’s, a relationship that has endured through Unilever’s acquisition of the Vermont ice cream maker in 2000. Today Ben & Jerry’s accounts for roughly 90 percent of Greyston’s business, says Greyston Foundation President Steven Brown, though he’s pushing to diversify with online sales, contract manufacturing, and a gluten-free line. Unlike most commercial bakeries, Greyston doesn’t hire experienced kitchen workers. Instead, it takes disadvantaged individuals from the local community and trains them in a yearlong apprenticeship program—completion of which makes them eligible to join the bakery’s union and receive benefits. (Its tagline is, "We don't hire people to bake brownies. We bake brownies to hire people.") Greyston Foundation, which owns the bakery, reinvests its profits and uses them to support housing and health-care services for homeless individuals and people living with HIV/AIDS, among other initiatives. "It really is focused on empowering low-income people in southwest Yonkers," explains Brown. —NL

  14. Intuary


    San Francisco
    Founded: 2010
    Employees: 5
    Revenue 2010: $0
    Revenue 2011 (projected): $200,000
    From left to right: Ajay Godhwani, Gautam Godhwani, and Anil Godhwani

    Released in March as an iPad app that speaks typed sentences and words for users who are unable to talk, Verbally has been among the most downloaded free apps for the past few months in iTunes’s medical category. Verbally’s backers, brothers Anil and Gautam Godhwani and their cousin, Ajay Godhwani, are planning to release a more powerful $100 version by early July, though they say the free version will remain free. They’re also working on an assistive app for children for release by yearend. Having co-founded two venture-backed startups, AtWeb (acquired by Netscape for $95 million in 1998) and job site Simply Hired, and nonprofit India Community Center in San Jose, Anil says he structured Intuary, the software firm behind the app, as a social venture to make it easier to raise money and attract talent. While other apps and devices exist, the team says the potential market is big. "It’s definitely a fairly large challenge—not just for folks with ALS [amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; also known as Lou Gehrig's disease] but stroke and so many other illnesses. If you look worldwide, millions of people who need something like this," says Anil. He estimates Intuary will have $500,000 to $1 million in revenue in 2012. —NL

    (Corrects spelling of company name.)
  15. Maternova


    Founded: 2009
    Employees: 1
    Revenue 2010: $75,000
    Revenue 2011 (projected): $210,000

    An array of low-cost medical devices and tools can help doctors and midwives deliver babies safely and improve newborn care, but people in the developing world often don't have access to them. Meg Wirth started Maternova with the idea of becoming a clearinghouse for the best and cheapest medical devices. Wirth has a long career in maternal health, including working on the Rockefeller Foundation’s Health Equity team and co-authoring the U.N. Millennium Project’s report on the subject. "There is a huge gap in aggregating all of this in a utilitarian way," says Wirth, "so we decided to create a marketplace for these tools." The company has received funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the antipoverty SEVEN Fund. Maternova’s business plan involves selling to governments as well as globetrotting clinicians in countries that include Haiti, Honduras, India, and Zambia. The products are often simple but necessary, such as a solar-powered headlamp to assist in childbirth and a color- based diagnostic test for anemia in mothers. "We are just making real what already exists," Wirth says. —JS

  16. Mia Consulting Group

    Mia Consulting Group

    Miami Beach
    Founded: 1996
    Employees: 82
    Revenue 2010: $350,000
    Revenue 2011 (projected): $600,000

    Conchy Bretos saw senior citizens living in decrepit public housing when she was Florida’s secretary of aging and adult services in the mid-1990s. Many of those citizens were sent to nursing homes when they could no longer care for themselves. In 1996, after she left government, she asked the city of Miami to let her turn a run-down housing development into a for-profit assisted-living center to give elderly residents enough support to stay out of nursing homes. With $1.2 million in state Medicaid funds, the project, known as Helen Sawyer Plaza, became a national model promoted by federal housing and health authorities. Seniors, most below the poverty line, combine Social Security income with other subsidies to pay for the assisted-living services, such as cooking, cleaning, and oversight taking medication. Mia Consulting has been involved in creating or managing 40 such communities and currently runs two in central Florida. The company also consults with housing agencies that want to adopt the model. Last year Mia raised $25 million to buy struggling private assisted-living homes and remake them for low-income seniors. "It’s a neglected market," says Bretos, because most private operators don’t want to deal with the paperwork needed to help low-income residents. "Our mission is to produce as many affordable assisted-living beds as we can." Bretos, 65, was named an Ashoka fellow last year. —JT
  17. Nest Collective

    Nest Collective

    Emeryville, Calif.
    Founded: 2007
    Employees: 36
    Revenue 2010: $15 million
    Revenue 2011 (projected): $38 million

    Neil Grimmer, a veteran of design company IDEO, and Sheryl O'Loughlin, former chief executive of Clif Bar, started Nest Collective in 2007 to build a group of consumer packaged goods companies aimed at improving children's health and nutrition. They partnered with Revolution Foods, which supplies healthy food to school cafeterias, to develop a line of healthy lunchbox snacks using whole grains and organic ingredients under the Revolution brand. Then they acquired Plum Organics, a leading maker of organic baby food, in 2009. The goal is to deliver healthy food that's as convenient as junk food alternatives, says Grimmer, who used his background in designing packaged goods to revamp the brands. "It’s about creating a system of healthy offerings that can reach them throughout the day," he says. Getting healthy food to children at a young age can set the stage for lifelong nutrition: "What you feed your child from zero to 2 years old sets their eating patterns for life," he says. —JT
  18. Next Street Financial

    Next Street Financial

    Founded: 2005
    Employees: 40
    Revenue 2010: Over $4 million
    Revenue 2011 (projected): Over $8 million
    Tim Ferguson (left) and Ron Walker

    Convinced small businesses in inner cities lack access to growth capital and high-quality advice, longtime bankers Tim Ferguson and Ron Walker created Next Street Financial in 2005. The merchant bank focuses on for-profits and nonprofits with $4 million to $60 million in annual revenue in inner-city locations in New York and Massachusetts. Next Street was certified by the U.S. Treasury Dept. as a Community Development Financial Institution in April. The certification makes it easier for the bank to raise money to lend its clients because investments in its fund will be eligible under the Community Reinvestment Act, which rates bank holding companies on their lending in underserved communities. Having worked with about 85 clients, Walker and Ferguson say the bank is expanding its practice areas: It recently added a recruiting arm and hired a team with expertise in Treasury’s New Market Tax Credits Program. "We did quite a lot of transactions last year in helping to revitalize neighborhoods," says Ferguson, adding that Next Street is being tapped by state governments and development groups to train small businesses to help them prepare to access public and private procurement programs. —NL

  19. Preserve Products

    Preserve Products

    Waltham, Mass.
    Founded: 1996
    Employees: 12
    Revenue 2010: Close to $5 million
    Revenue 2011 (projected): Close to $6 million
    Eric Hudson (standing) with employees

    After six years at Fidelity Investments, Eric Hudson earned an MBA at Babson College, then worked for a few years as a management consultant. A native of Lenox, Mass., in the scenic Berkshire Mountains, Hudson always had green aspirations. "I wanted to have a business that was more tangible, that made something here in the United States of America, that reused our earth's resources, that I could feel great about going to work for every day," he says. The result is Preserve Products, one of the first businesses in the U.S. to make toothbrushes, shaving razors, and tableware entirely of recycled plastics. Hudson, 48, says Preserve reuses waste from such brands as Stonyfield Farm and Seventh Generation and collects recycled materials from retailers such as Whole Foods, then uses domestic contract manufacturers to fashion products. With its products now available in more than a dozen countries, Hudson projects 50 percent annual revenue growth. —NL
  20. Promethean Power Systems

    Promethean Power Systems

    Founded: 2007
    Employees: 4
    Revenue 2010: $12,000
    Revenue 2011 (projected): $36,000
    Sorin Grama (left) and Sam White

    Betting poor dairy farmers in developing countries would benefit from a cheap way to keep their milk cool, the four-year-old business designs, builds, and installs industrial refrigeration systems that run on solar or traditional power. Right now it's selling its $3,000 to $12,000 systems to dairy processors in India, with plans to expand in Southeast Asia in the near future, and eventually Africa and Latin America. It has sold one system so far to a private dairy processor in Tamil Nadu in southeast India that collects and sells milk from villages. With Promethean's systems it can store milk for longer periods in remote locations, reducing farmers’ expenses. "We saw the opportunity to build a profitable business in India and at the same time do good," improving the market so individual dairy farmers could charge more for their milk, says co-founder Sam White. Promethean took second place in MIT’s $100K Entrepreneurship Competition in 2007, has raised around $1 million from investors, and could have up to $1.5 million in revenue in 2012, according to White and co-founder Sorin Grama. In June, the National Science Foundation awarded Promethean a $150,000 Small Business Innovation Research grant to "optimize the efficiency of its cold-energy-storage battery," White says. —NL
  21. Rethink Impact

    Rethink Impact

    New York
    Founded: 2010
    Employees: 5
    Revenue 2010: $0
    Revenue 2011 (projected): $100,000
    John Andrews, far right, and Tanuja Prasad, holding sign, with employees

    During his free time as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs in New York, Detroit native John Andrews volunteered in area nonprofits. He was dismayed to find many sacrificed time or money when trying to win grants because of onerous applications: "They had to choose between the lesser of two evils. They'd take away a staff person from serving the mission to go research and write a grant," Andrews says, "or they'd take away money from serving the mission to hire a grant writer." Co-founded with a former Goldman Sachs vice-president for technology, Tanuja Prasad, Andrews says Rethink Impact is trying to streamline the process, connecting grant-seekers to foundations and other grant-makers online. The 26-year-old expects to launch its website by mid- July. Right now, users call or go to his Manhattan office. The underlying software will be simple, similar to a dating site: Users fill out a short questionnaire and upload a two-minute video via partner RocketHub's platform. Using algorithms, they're matched with institutions that can invite them to apply, eliminating the need to waste months working on an application that's unlikely to pay off. Rethink doesn't charge nonprofits for its go-between service; grant-makers can pay $90 a month to search for grant-seekers who meet specific criteria. —NL
  22. Re:Vision Architecture

    Re:Vision Architecture

    Founded: 2001
    Employees: 15
    Revenue 2010: $1.5 million
    Revenue 2011 (projected): $1.6 million

    When urban planner Jenn Rezeli and architect Scott Kelly started a "green architecture" firm in 2001, people would ask, seriously, whether that meant they designed buildings painted green. Much has changed in the decade since, with environmental standards such as LEED certification now coveted by building owners who want to flaunt their green credentials. Through Re:Vision Architecture, Rezeli and Kelly want to come up with new designs for buildings that are better for the environment, rather than incrementally improve on existing designs. They split their work between their own design projects and consulting with other architects, engineers, and developers. "We’re very much about having people rethink the whole architectural process," says Rezeli. That means evaluating fundamental choices such as how a building sits on a site and where the windows are placed rather than tweaking existing designs with bamboo floors. The company has completed dozens of projects, from private homes to commercial buildings. Clients include companies such as Liberty Property Trust, a real estate investment trust with a $3.7 billion market cap, and the University of Pennsylvania. —JT
  23. Social Imprints

    Social Imprints

    San Francisco
    Founded: 2008
    Employees: 7
    Revenue 2010: $2 million
    Revenue 2011 (projected): $3 million
    Kevin McCracken, left, and Jeff Sheinbein

    It’s hard to get a job in this economy, and a criminal record often makes it impossible. Kevin McCracken, co-founder and chief operating officer of Social Imprints, knows this from firsthand experience. After serving time for convictions of theft and possession of heroin, he found that the programs for employment helped him for six months or so and then spat him out. He and co- founder Jeff Sheinbein designed a company with the goal of helping at-risk adults for the long term. The result is Social Imprints, a full-service printing and graphic design company that has already attracted such clients as JetBlue and the hipster band She and Him. McCracken expects to lease a warehouse in Sacramento this year and hire at least three employees. New employees often have a past conviction or two, and those recovering from addiction must have logged at least a year of sobriety. "Our clients have an 80 percent reorder rate," McCracken said. "It’s great to support a social company, but if we don’t get it right, they don’t come back." —JS
  24. StayClassy


    San Diego
    Founded: 2005
    Employees: 12
    Revenue 2010: $250,000
    Revenue 2011 (projected): $1.5 million to $2 million
    Pat Walsh, left, and Scot Chisholm

    In 2005, Scot Chisholm wanted to raise money for cancer research after his mother was diagnosed with the disease. So he and his business partner, Pat Walsh, started a charity pub crawl that raised about $1,000. Friends and colleagues began asking them to organize more charity events, and the pair started consulting with small nonprofits but were dissatisfied with the software they were using. The pair launched StayClassy to make online software that helps nonprofits with less than $5 million in revenue raise money and organize supporters. More than 2,000 nonprofits have raised a total of $5 million on the site, including a group called Invisible Children that raised $1.7 million in two months. The company takes a cut of 4 percent plus 99¢ per donation, which includes the cost of credit-card processing. Now seeking a first round of venture capital funding after raising $1.3 million from angel investors, Chisholm says he expects major growth in 2011 and 2012. "We took our time to figure out the customer and did it slower than many other companies might. Now it’s starting to get some visibility." —JS
  25. World Centric

    World Centric

    Palo Alto, Calif.
    Founded: 2004 (incorporated as a for-profit in 2009)
    Employees: 19
    Revenue 2010: $9 million
    Revenue 2011 (projected): $11 million

    Aseem Das, a former programmer for Boeing and NASA, started World Centric as a nonprofit educational group in Palo Alto in 2004. He wanted to host films and speakers to educate the public about "the social and environmental implications of the things people are consuming." Rather than taking donations, the group looked for products it could sell to support itself, like fair-trade food and disposable cups and plates made from compostable material like corn starch and sugar cane rather than plastic. The so-called bioplastics were a hit. "The technology was available but nobody was really selling them in the market," says Das, 48. Through word of mouth, the business grew to $7 million in sales in 2009, when World Centric converted to a for-profit company focused on selling compostable alternatives to plastic and styrofoam. Now it contracts with manufacturers in China, Taiwan, and Korea and sells to large distributors such as Sysco. Its plates, cups, and utensils are also in more than 1,200 natural food retailers, Das says. -JT
  26. YouRenew


    New Haven
    Founded: 2008
    Employees: 21
    Revenue 2010: about $2 million
    Revenue 2011 (projected): more than $2.5 million

    When Robert Casey first learned that the average lifespan of a cell phone is only 15 months, the then-Yale undergrad imagined that refurbishing working phones could keep them out of landfills—and be more profitable than recycling them for metal and parts. With less than 20 percent of electronic waste recycled, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, "We’re competing against the trash can," says Casey, now 23. From his dorm room, he and Rich Littlehale started in 2008, paying consumers for used electronics, such as cell phones and laptops, and reselling them (a customer can get $130 for an iPhone 3GS 16GB in good condition). Data is cleared from devices, which are tested, refurbished, repackaged, and resold to small retailers and independent authorized dealers. YouRenew later began servicing corporate clients, such as Chicago law firm Jenner & Block. Companies that need to dispose of large volumes of phones, computers, and servers securely now make up most of its business. Led by Chief Executive Guy Minetti, 60, YouRenew has processed 91,000 orders to date, some involving hundreds to thousands of items. Casey expects the company to handle more than 100,000 devices this year. —VW
  27. Time to Vote!

    Time to Vote!

    Now that you've browsed the finalists in our third annual roundup of promising social entrepreneurs, vote for the business you think holds the most promise. Voting ends July 12. We'll announce the top five vote-getters on the Small Business channel on July 19.

    Click on this link to vote.