D.C. is a great city for social entrepreneurs. So, what does that actually mean?

June 29, 2016
Washington Business Journal

Businesses that set out to change the world might want to start in D.C.

That’s according to a new study from D.C.-based S&R Foundation’s Halcyon Incubator, which calls Washington the best U.S. city for “social entrepreneurs” — startup founders that attempt to solve social problems with scalable businesses, like the Georgetown grads tackling food-waste with their juicing company, Misfit Juicery.

The “Social Enterprise Ecosystems Report” released last week examines factors that encourage social entrepreneurship and identifies cities that best support these factors. Halcyon Incubator teamed up with McLean-based Capital One to survey nearly 400 social entrepreneurs throughout the country, and used public data to determine which cities offer the best environments for them.

The four pillars that social entrepreneurs say define social enterprise ecosystems are funding, which includes seed financing, grants and venture capital; human capital, which refers to mentors, advisers, team members and employees; quality of life, which describes things like cost of living and transportation; and regulation and receptivity, which includes market receptivity and attitudes about social enterprise.

The study finds that D.C. best nurtures social entrepreneurship through these four factors, outperforming eight other cities and “claiming pole position to become the Silicon Valley of impact,” according to S&R. Halcyon’s goal to “help catalyze Washington, D.C., as the hub for social enterprise” led the team to initiate the analysis, which took a year to complete, said Kate Goodall, S&R Foundation’s chief operating officer.

The report also looks at San Francisco (No. 2), Austin, Texas (No. 3), Boston (No. 4), Seattle (No. 5), New York (No. 6), Chicago (No. 7), Los Angeles (No. 8) and Miami (No. 9).

That the District — S&R’s home base — sits at the top of the list might seem like too much of a coincidence, Goodall said, but the team welcomes feedback and wants the report to be “as unbiased as possible” to benefit cities across the U.S. and, eventually, globally.

“It doesn’t surprise us that D.C. came off well,” she added, noting that the city has the overlap of all of the sectors, a “very high percentage of very smart people,” access to embassies, and huge amounts of intellectual capital for mentorship and recruiting, among other qualities. Its weakest area is privately available capital, the study finds.

Halcyon plans for the study to be ongoing, and is already starting work for next year with funding from Capital One, adding cities like Detroit and New Orleans.

“What I personally would like to come out of the report is that we can start to look at the areas that are either Washington’s strengths, in terms of branding ourselves collectively to the outside world, and making sure that we maintain those strengths,” she said, “but also so that we can work together, perhaps, to pull resources and energy toward some of the areas where we’re more challenged.”

The nonprofit supports individuals pursuing the sciences, arts and social entrepreneurship. It was created in 2000 by Sachiko Kuno and Ryuji Ueno, founders of Sucampo Pharmaceuticals Inc. and the Washington Business Journal’s Philanthropists of the Year.

Halcyon Incubator, which resides in the historic Halcyon House in Georgetown, provides residency fellowships for social entrepreneurs. The organization recently named the program’s fifth cohort.

Sara Gilgore produces content for our digital operation.