It’s time to stop differentiating between entrepreneurs and nonprofit founders

Where tech titan and social good meet.
Where tech titan and social good meet.
Image: Reuters/Gus Ruelas
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Are you an entrepreneur if you launch a nonprofit? When I ask my peers to give me the most notable examples of innovation and entrepreneurship in the last fifty years, most mention a game-changing technology in Silicon Valley. After having spent most of my career as a tech entrepreneur, it seems my friends might have been a little biased.

In the world of technology, I never had to push anyone to say they were tech entrepreneurs. In reality, most people who labeled themselves as “tech entrepreneurs” actually weren’t. Now, I find myself trying to convince social entrepreneurs that they are social entrepreneurs. It’s been surprising to witness the lack of clarity around what it means to be a social entrepreneur. For example, last week I asked a young Brazilian activist if she was a social entrepreneur and she recoiled; for her, “social entrepreneurship” meant “for-profit.”

When talking to peers and friends in other industries, it’s evident that we need to bring social entrepreneurship into the mainstream. Today, there is often a gap in how we think about entrepreneurs versus social entrepreneurs.

In my work as CEO and founder of Epic Foundation, a nonprofit startup that focuses on developing innovative ways to impact the lives of children and youth globally, I have met with many social entrepreneurs around the world. The reality on the ground is that we have true innovation and entrepreneurs leading the next generation of nonprofits and social enterprises.

As a former tech entrepreneur, and a life-long entrepreneur, I see this firsthand. I was recently introduced by a friend as a “former entrepreneur.” Yet, here I am launching my sixth startup. The only difference is that this time, it is a nonprofit.

Entrepreneurship is an approach and a mindset.

We need to be clear that regardless of whether it is technological or social entrepreneurship, it is the same community of entrepreneurs. Breaking through this gap is crucial in fostering more partnerships and collaboration between entrepreneurs across government, business, and the social sector.

We need to build social entrepreneurship into our mainstream history and conversation on entrepreneurship. It has to spread beyond the classrooms of business schools into elementary school textbooks — looking not only to Mark Zuckerberg and Sir Richard Branson, but also Muhammad Yunus and Martin Luther King, Jr.

In our magazines and top 40 CEO lists, we should never differentiate between those who have started private sector businesses versus those with a public interest.

Let’s start changing the narrative now.