Social Incubation: How to Manifest 15,000 Great Ideas

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We should all agree on one simple fact: capitalists can do more. Access to education, environmental cleanup, healthcare improvement, wildlife welfare, famine eradication: we can do more.

So significant is this concept in fact, that it was touted "The Big Idea" by Harvard Business Review in its January 2011 issue. Michael Porter, renowned Harvard Business School strategist, states that "Capitalism is under is caught in a vicious circle...the purpose of the corporation must be redefined around creating shared value."

Easier said than done for established companies, who have been answering to their shareholders for years. Required to report on metrics such as earnings, cost of goods, operating expenses and overhead, they can throw a charitable benefit bone here and there, but not so much that it infringes on the dynasty of continued bottom-line profits. So, the question becomes, how do we drive this forward.

The answer could be social incubation.

Schoolbags for Kids is a socially responsible start-up (certified B-Corp), built upon the mission that for every bag sold, one schoolbag with supplies will be given to a child in need. Though the company was created by fellow co-founder Luis Garcia and me, the space we work in is not ours. It was in fact donated by Venables Bell & Partners, a top-flight $40 million/yr advertising firm, with a client shortlist that includes eBay, Google, Audi and Intel. The firm ran a contest offering office space and support for a year, receiving hundreds of entries, from which ours was selected.

What's more interesting, is that ten years ago, Venables Bell & Partners started with a single client and a big idea, supported by a larger advertising firm. A decade later, founder Paul Venables is now employing over 170 people, creating unique content for today's market leaders. And he's also returning the favor.

Indeed the concept of incubation is not new. First made famous by Bill Gross, Founder of Idealab, the idea reared its head in 1996, and continued on through the dot com boom: CMGI, eDevelopments, Benchmark Capital, and Kleiner Perkins all followed suit; even IBM and Dell played a hand. Then came the bust.

But as we recover from market crash round two, perhaps incubation has taken on a different form. Whereas the incubator of yesteryear was solely focused on building a billion dollar whim-of-an-idea IPO, such as eToys, and NetZero, Venables Bell & Partners is leading a new charge, one that creates lasting social value. And whereas the incubator of the last decade may have taken a significant equity stake of one's company, our fee was $10. For the entire year. Oh, and a requisite smiling face in the morning.

Which brings us to the second big idea that Venables Bell & Partners hit upon: that lasting value may be defined by the breadth of ideas housed inside of a company's walls. Our start-up, in-fact, is being incubated alongside two others. One is Amundson Films, led by Christian Amundson, an international documentary filmmaker, and the other DayOne Response, innovator of a sustainable bag capable of recycling local water into clean drinking water in global disaster-stricken areas.

Different perspectives provide alternate views, spurning new breakthroughs and varied trains of thought. They also incite reinvention, a critical component to lasting success. Just ask Madonna.

There are over 5,000 public companies in the United States alone. Imagine if each of those companies took the initiative to incubate just one socially conscious enterprise. Imagine if they took the Venables Bell & Partners challenge, and incubated three. That's over 15,000 new ideas incubated each year, in the United States alone.

And who knows...those new tenants just might inspire their incubator's next major breakthrough.

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