by Lauren Drell
In our social entrepreneurship series, The World at Work, Mashable interviews the faces behind the startups and projects that are working to make a global impact.
By harnessing the power of the web and digital technology, these companies have offered resources to women-founded startups, funded socially conscious ideas and used competition to inspire innovation. And one has applied agricultural science to help tech companies lessen their carbon footprint. While the companies are diverse, they share a common thread: a passionate leader who’s devoted to improving lives and the world at large.
Here’s a roundup of featured projects from the last week, including exclusive video interviews with the founders of these innovative startups. To read more and watch the videos, click through to the full story, and follow the series to learn about more breakthrough companies.
Big Idea: NewME Accelerator guides and mentors minorities and women — two groups underrepresented in the tech space — by working to lower industry’s barrier to entry.
Why It’s Working: Today’s tech industry is comprised of only 25% women, and a paltry 1.5% African-Americans make up Silicon Valley’s tech workforce. NewME’s 12-week immersion programs nurture startup founders’ ideas, foster discussion, encourage co-working and offer mentorship from some of the industry’s most prominent leaders. Each program concludes with a “demo day,” during which NewME participants present their ideas and products to influential tech attendees.
Big Idea: For “Movember” every November, men around the world grow a mustache — a “Mo” — to raise funds and awareness for men’s health issues, such as prostate cancer. The global campaign is driven largely by social media, online awareness platforms and a mobile app.
Why It’s Working: “We as men don’t feel comfortable talking about our health,” says Garone, explaining why he and a few friends launched Movember in 2004. For the 30 days in November, men are asked to grow a “Mo” — the oft-awkward facial hair “generates so much conversation” that it raises awareness and millions of dollars for men’s health. At launch in 2004, social networks were minimal, but the rise of the social web has led to a snowball effect online. Movember dominates social media chatter during November, and mentions of “prostate cancer” and “getting checked” increase, suggesting that Movember does in fact mobilize men to see a doctor. Aside from encouraging men to be proactive about their health, the 2011 Movember campaign raised more than $120 million for men’s health research.
Why It’s Working: ChallengePost was an idea hatched by its CEO, Brandon Kessler, after discovering a blog post that promised $100 to anyone who made a program that would run Windows on a Mac (at the time, Apple didn’t make this easy). Other frustrated Mac users added to the prize money until the pool was up to $14,000. After the New York Times had run a story about it, a programmer submitted a successful solution after just three days. So Kessler decided to make “an eBay around collaborative problem solving.”
4. Collaborative Fund
Big Idea: Collaborative Fund provides angel or seed funding to companies that are not only creative, but also are aiming to move the world forward in meaningful ways.
Why It’s Working: Skillshare. TaskRabbit. Kickstarter. Codeacademy. What do all of these startups have in common? Aside from their popularity, all of these companies have received an investment by the Collaborative Fund, which makes a huge impact by funding companies working towards change.
5. Ecovative EcoCradle Mushroom Packaging
Big Idea: Ecovative EcoCradle Mushroom Packaging is replacing polystyrene packaging with a compostable alternative made from agricultural waste and bio materials.
Why It’s Working: Ecovative’s disruptive technology could make a huge impact on the amount of polystyrene packaging that ends up in landfill. Plus, it won’t cost businesses any more money to adopt it at scale. Dell is currently running a high-volume pilot scheme with Ecovative to supply the Dell PowerEdge R710 server multipacks safely encased in packaging that has been grown, rather than manufactured, and other big brands, like Puma, are also getting in on the action.