Local firms seek to advance social entrepreneurship in central Indiana

An Indianapolis law firm is hoping to advance what’s known as “social entrepreneurship” in central Indiana by bringing together people who want to both generate a profit and improve society with their business endeavors.

While the term social entrepreneurship might sound like just another buzzword at first glance, central Indiana already has several examples, including RecycleForce, the local firm that helps recently incarcerated people transition back into the workforce, and Farm360, a for-profit hydroponic farm that aims to help people access food in urban neighborhoods.

Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP worked with research and marketing agency Achieve on a study that sought to determine where Marion and surrounding counties stand when it comes to this social entrepreneurship, what people lack in spurring more of the activity and what could help the such endeavors succeed.

The results, released Thursday, show that social entrepreneurs here are struggling for financial resources that prevent them from launching more of these efforts.

Researchers determined that central Indiana needs to create a network of social entrepreneurs and those who want to support them. To that end, Taft and Achieve created a website where people and groups involved in social entrepreneurship can start a network.

“It became obvious that social entrepreneurs rely on themselves for innovative and strategic thinking and enthusiasm for change, but most aren’t in a position to be their own funders, provide or fully grasp their technology needs, run an HR department or market themselves,” said Taft partner Stacia Buechler in written comments. “That’s where a network of support could make a true difference in creating a culture supportive of social entrepreneurs here.”

The concept of social entrepreneurship is becoming more relevant as Millennials take over the workforce. In a 2014 study by Achieve called the “Millennial Impact Report,” 94 percent of Millennials surveyed said they liked using their skills to benefit a cause.

But the study found that the concept locally is an an immature stage “because social entrepreneurs in central Indiana have no established support structures or vehicles for bringing them together.”

“Individuals with a passionate desire to solve social problems are working without the benefit of a network connecting people, resources and ideas,” according to the report. “Events, networking groups, industry awards and overall more discussion about social entrepreneurship in central Indiana can lay the groundwork for a formal structure in which current and emerging social entrepreneurs will engage and thrive.”

The report also called for the business and investor community to start talking about social entrepreneurship—particularly so investors can connect with people who don’t have the capital to get their own ideas off the ground.

“Educating those in the business and civic communities about this rapidly emerging field will help build broader support for the growing community of social entrepreneurs,” according to the report. “This is particularly important for investors, since survey respondents identified a lack of financial support as their single biggest challenge.”

Russell Menyhart, a partner at Taft, said social entrepeneurship is a growing area of interest for businesses and investors.

“The study is based on a hunch that Central Indiana has a special collection of assets that may help it become a regional hub for social entrepreneurship and impact investing,” Menyhart said. “Getting a baseline understanding of the sector helps us drive the conversation going forward.”

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