PhillyInc: Program polishes social entrepreneurs

Posted: September 19, 2011

Garrett Melby acknowledges that many believe "social entrepreneurship" is a good way to lose money slowly.

He is not one of them.

Melby is the CEO of GoodCompany Ventures, which has run a summer incubator program for the last three years for start-ups that address significant social issues.

Last Wednesday was graduation day, and the 10 pitches that I heard were as polished as any made by capitalists focused on just profit as opposed to the "triple bottom line" of people, planet, and profit prized by the sustainable-business movement.

That gets at the heart of what Melby and his team have been striving to do: help those seeking social change use business and financial strategies to attract enough investment to make a difference.

That's how a Philadelphia School District employee comes to pursue a business to help autistic teens learn digital media skills, and an artist assembles an online service to help other artists manage the business drudgery that can consume time better spent more creatively.

It's really not enough to want to change the world. You need a good tagline, and several of the presenters at Blank Rome's Marvin Comisky conference center on the ground floor of One Logan Square showed some flair.

Lev Davidson, chief executive officer of pureNano Technologies, expressed his ambition to become "the Intel of clean technology."

Kenneth Salim, a founder of Persistence Plus, said he hoped to turn the mobile-phone student-support service into "the Weight Watchers of college completion."

Keya Dannenbaum, CEO of ElectNext, called the online platform she and her partner are building "eHarmony for politics."

Unlike other incubator programs, GoodCompany Ventures doesn't award any cash prizes or take any equity in the firms it helps. But several of the companies have already raised money from a variety of sources.

After being accepted into the GoodCompany program, RoseiCollis Technologies founder Eden Full won a $100,000, two-year fellowship from the Thiel Foundation (founded by one of PayPal's founders) to develop her SunSaluter solar-panel rotating system.

The 19-year-old former Princeton University student didn't present her business plan in Philadelphia because she'd been invited to compete in the fifth annual Post-code Lottery Green Challenge on the same day. She wound up as its runner-up, garnering a prize of 200,000 euros, or about $277,000.

Salim and Persistence Plus cofounder Jill Frankfort participated in and received a stipend from an education-ventures program funded by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation this past spring.

Also last spring, pureNano Technologies won $125,000 in cash and services in Temple University's Be Your Own Boss Bowl to develop technology to produce ultrapure carbon nanotubes that cost less, have higher quality, and can be delivered faster than current methods.

Finally, ElectNext has already segued from the non-profit GoodCompany program held at the University of the Arts this summer to the for-profit DreamIt Ventures boot camp going on at the University City Science Center this fall.

Contact Mike Armstrong at 215-854-2980,, or @PhillyInc on Twitter. Read his blog, "PhillyInc," at

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