There has been plenty to be gloomy about in New York, this gridlocked, rainy week of United Nations/Clinton Global Initiative summitry. Yet there have also been plenty of bright spots, especially at the Social Good Summit hosted by the 92nd St Y and Mashable.
The final of the StartUps for Good Challenge was a case in point, featuring eight entrepreneurial young organisations each of which has considerable potential to make the world a better place. Matthew was a member of the panel of judges (gamely trying to impersonate Simon Cowell), along with legendary Israeli venture investor and connector extraordinaire, Yossi Vardi (watch his hilarious Ted talk here), Aaron Sherinian of the UN Foundation and Mashable tech reporter Sarah Kessler.
Yossi spoke for all the judges when he said that the eight finalists were all excellent. Awaaz.de (“give voice”) is a help service for people who are now technologically connected, but primarily through voice not text (which due to illiteracy is a lot).
Catchafire is a service that connects professionals wanting to do pro bono work with non-profits needing their professional skills. The goal is to make volunteerism more useful for those non-profits by tapping into the genuine professional expertise of the volunteers (rather than just have a bunch of volunteering lawyers or accountants paint walls, say, which whilst no doubt fun is probably less valuable to the non-profit than their expertise).
Kopernik is a site where donors can buy innovative life saving products and get them distributed to poor people who need them. These products include the Q-drum, which greatly reduces the burden of carrying water, Drip-Tech micro-irrigation systems and bio-mass stoves.
Em(Power) Energy is a company that helps organise people who live by finding valuable resources on waste dumps into mutual organisations that use waste to create electricity that can be used for schools, clinics and so on.
Prove My Concept is a site where young people can share entrepreneurial ideas with older experts, who can help them figure out how to turn these ideas into reality.
Sparked is a micro-volunteering website where anyone with a few spare minutes can go to carry out useful tasks online for non-profit organisations.
SimpleEnergy aims to use online gaming to motivate people to become more energy efficient. Fun, and effective.
And the winner? SunSaluter, a firm that aims to improve the efficiency of solar panels by moving them during the day through the clever use of weight and metals that naturally expand and contract with changes in temperature. This is the brainchild of a 19 year-old Canadian entrepreneur, Eden Full. She wowed Yossi in particular, who already looks to be a potential investor, by explaining that she built a solar car at the age of nine. But he is not the only superstar tech investor to be impressed: Eden is one of the students enticed to drop out of college (in her case, Princeton) by a $100,000 ’20 Under 20′ grant from Peter Thiel, who has made fortunes from PayPal and Facebook.
These organisations provide an excellent flavour of the best of what is going on currently in social entrepreneurship: a mixture of for-profits and non-profits, with an emphasis on social media and clean energy, some as stand alone operations, some in partnership with existing firms or non-profits, all of them focused on leveraging maximum bang for the buck. We wish them all well. Sure, some will do better than others, but they are all worth a look for anyone in need of some inspiration in these tough times.