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Top 5 Tips for Social Entrepreneurs from Van Jones

22570457552_c5d63523d5_oThanks to Portland State’s Institute for Sustainable Solutions, we recently had the honor of co-hosting Van Jones for a student seminar, dinner and keynote at Portland State University. With experience as a serial social entrepreneur, social justice leader, NY Times best-selling author, CNN commentator and former Green Jobs advisor to President Obama, he has positively impacted millions of lives and changed social and political systems through his work.

In his student seminar, Van Jones addressed the intimate group as a friend. “You all seem kind of weird,” he said. “I feel right at home.” Jones responded to questions and quandaries that ranged from fundraising advice to pedagogical theory, the whole time speaking from the heart. It was an inspiring afternoon with a lot of laughs and even a few tears.


“You can’t learn to swim [from a lecture.] You have to get in the pool.” Van Jones, Portland State University, October, 2015

Here are the top 5 social entrepreneurship tips we got from his talk:

  1. Do Something: Making a difference is harder than you think, but not as complicated as it seems. The way to make a difference is to do something. If you want to do something big, start small. If you start too big you will get paralyzed by it. For example: If you want to revolutionize education, start by teaching five kids something you know how to do.
  2. Salute Setbacks: Once you start doing something, if you do it long enough you will make a lot of mistakes. Everyone does, but you only ever hear about the successes. You will learn the most from the stuff that doesn’t work. Successes are important, but setbacks build character. Keep doing it over and over and you start to get results, staff and money. The next time around it will be easier.
  3. Get Out of the PC Thing: You can never be politically correct (PC) enough. No matter how much you are doing, people will attack you for what you don’t do. Focus on doing. If you try to do everything and help everybody, you will get paralyzed.
  4. Don’t Impress Yourself out of a Mentor. Competition is not the biggest motivator for people. Our strongest impulse is to nurture. Sometimes when seeking help, social entrepreneurs impress themselves out of a mentor. If you make yourself sound too successful or prepared, your potential mentor may not think you need their help. Share your successes, but also be willing to share your struggles. When someone helps you, they will want to keep helping you…for life.
  5. Know What Funders Want: You will need money. Other people have it. You need to know what they are looking for so they will give it to you. Funders are trying to identify three things: 1. That the problem is worth their time; 2. That your solution is plausible; 3. That you are the best person/team/organization to solve it.

Final thought: Our education system has taught us to be deconstructionists. We have become experts at breaking things apart and criticizing everything and everyone. We have forgotten how to bring people together to create and initiate solutions. We have to change this. Social entrepreneurship done correctly is about reconstructing, but we have to be willing to let all kinds of people in, find common ground and build together.

Do some of these ideas sound familiar? Helpful? What are your top 5 social entrepreneurship tips?

Check out more photos from our visit with Van Jones on our Facebook page:

Check out Van Jones’ keynote from later that evening.

November 4, 2015 at 11:13 am Leave a comment

PSU Student Consulting Program Launches to Support Local B Corps


The Portland State University chapter of Net Impact, in conjunction with PSU’s Impact Entrepreneurs, is offering free consulting services for Oregon companies engaged in the B Corp certification or recertification process. This program will give graduate students valuable, hands-on experience working with mission-driven businesses, while providing companies with affordable assistance in improving their social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency, or achieving recognition for their current efforts.

The program will select teams of two to three PSU graduate students to work with the client over the course of a 10-week school term, providing up to 25 total hours of work (an estimated value of $3000) free of charge. The work can focus on the assessment portion of the process (assistance with answering the assessment questions, compiling or analyzing results, providing recommendations for next steps), or on tasks aimed at increasing the client’s assessment score, whether they are certifying for the first time or going through the recertification process. Students will be trained in B Corp Assessment methodology, and all work will be supervised by faculty.

Interested PSU graduate students should fill out this form to indicate their interest, or email Emma Ingebretsen ( and Rich Schwartz ( for more information. An informational meeting will be scheduled for the 2nd week of the fall term.

Interested companies should contact the PSU Net Impact project coordinators, Rich Schwartz ( and Emma Ingebretsen ( The project coordinators will work to match the company with a student consulting team.

Want to learn more about B Corp Certification and Oregon B Corps? Attend B Inspired on October 15, 2015, to see B Corp leaders speak, join a street fair of local B Corps, and enjoy a concert and celebration.

About B Corps (from the B Corps website)

“B Corp is to business what Fair Trade certification is to coffee or USDA Organic certification is to milk. B Corps are certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. Today, there is a growing community of more than 1,000 Certified B Corps from 33 countries and over 60 industries working together toward 1 unifying goal: to redefine success in business.”

About Net Impact – Portland State University Chapter

Net Impact is a global community of more than 60,000 students and professionals creating positive social and environmental change through their careers. Individual chapters are volunteer-led and self-directed. PSU’s Net Impact Chapter works to create opportunities for PSU graduate students to gain experience with mission-driven businesses and interact with sustainability-minded professionals. For more information on PSU’s Net Impact Chapter, or to get involved, follow us on Facebook or contact Emma Ingebretsen (

About Impact Entrepreneurs

Founded in 2010 in Portland State University’s School of Business Administration, Impact Entrepreneurs is unleashing the promise of business for social impact. We are a network of individuals and organizations committed to fostering economic, social, and ecological prosperity through entrepreneurial action.

Working with partners locally and globally, we deliver initiatives that strengthen organizations, build entrepreneurial impact-focused leaders, and catalyze social innovation. PSU’s School of Business was selected as the best small MBA program in the world by the Aspen Institute’s Beyond Grey Pinstripes rankings for integrating sustainability in business. PSU is also a member of the prestigious Ashoka U Changemaker Campus consortium.

September 28, 2015 at 10:05 am Leave a comment

PLACE: Working with Youth Changemakers

Impact Entrepreneurs Director talks about her social enterprise, Speak Shop, to the students of PLACE.

Impact Entrepreneurs Director Cindy Cooper talks about her social enterprise, Speak Shop, to the students of PLACE.

“Follow your curiosity.” — Qiddist Hammerly

At PSU’s Impact Entrepreneurs, we’ve learned that there’s no best age for someone to become a changemaker. From early childhood to encore careers, changemaking and social entrepreneurship can be taught—and realized—at any age. As we expand our university and professional programs to younger members of the community, partnering with Catlin Gabel’s remarkable PLACE program was a natural fitThis year, we worked with PLACE to provide a series of workshops on developing key skills and mindsets for changemaking, including resilience, empathy, optimism, and curiosity.

These skills, linked to successful social entrepreneurs, are also highly desired by employers around the world. We worked with PLACE students using tools including the Business Model You framework and activities from the Transformative Action Curriculum. The students were also treated to a panel of youth changemakers, including the inspiring founders of menstrual hygiene nonprofit Camions of Care, rural clinic Orchid Health, youth prison book provider Liberation Library, and low-cost prosthetic device firm GO Prosthetics.

Students were asked to explore and outline their goals in life. By tying those to the social and environmental problems they care about, as well as the skills they need to create positive change, we hoped guide them to a better understanding of their purpose and how to follow that passion. The results were truly inspiring, from plans to run a community education session on sex trafficking at the new PLACE Center, to help immigrants pass the citizenship test, or simply to explore a newfound passion for changemaking.

When Qiddist Hammerly, a Catlin Gabel alumna and university student involved in Liberation Library, was asked where to start in making positive change, she suggested that students simply “follow their curiosity.” We’ve done the same as we work to teach social entrepreneurship to a younger audience than that of our typical adult workshops and university courses. Along the way, we’ve learned what to adapt (shorter lectures!), but more importantly, we’ve learned how much of what we teach is applicable for changemakers of any age.

Want to follow your curiosity? Learn how to run a program like PLACE using their free curriculum guide, or contact us to discuss how we can provide changemaking workshops for your organization.

July 30, 2015 at 12:38 pm Leave a comment

Our Award-Winning Social Entrepreneurship and Sustainability Cases

For several years, Portland State University’s (PSU) School of Business Administration (SBA) has managed a case writing program for students, faculty, and staff to create original business cases showcasing sustainable businesses or social enterprises from the Portland area. The cases have been used in courses at PSU and other universities, provided valuable learning opportunities in academic writing, and given innovative local organizations international exposure.

The program has enjoyed global recognition: previous PSU SBA cases, all available for free online, include two winners and three finalists of the prestigious oikos Case Writing Competition.

We are delighted to share that Impact Entrepreneurs was involved in developing two award-winning cases in 2015, both planned and co-authored by Impact Entrepreneurs Program Manager Jacen Greene.

Grameen Intel Social Business, written by Jacen Greene, Impact Entrepreneurs Director Cindy Cooper, and PSU Professor Ted Khoury, won 2nd Place in the Next Billion Case Writing Competition. Based on content created for PSU’s Business of Social Innovation Certificate, the case details a unique joint venture between Grameen Trust and Intel Corporation to deliver technology solutions that enable some of the world’s lowest-income people to earn more money, increase early childhood education, and improve maternal health. The prize money was donated to PSU to be used by students for opportunities to learn about social enterprise and sustainability. The case can be purchased from the GlobalLens archive.

Hopworks Urban Brewery, written by PSU Professor Madeleine Pullman, Jacen Greene, PSU employee Xan Pedisich, and PSU MBA students Devin Liebmann and Nga Ho, won 1st Prize in the oikos Case Writing Competition. Building on material from PSU’s Business of Craft Brewing Certificate, the case details the sustainability initiatives of Portland, Oregon brewpub Hopworks, one of the greenest breweries in the nation. The prize money was split between the student and staff co-authors. The case is available for free at the oikos Case Collection.

If you’d like to see a review copy of either case and teaching note, or if you’re interested in having your own organization featured in a future case, please email Jacen Greene: jacen (at)

July 7, 2015 at 3:39 pm Leave a comment

Partnering with Youth in 2015

By Cindy Cooper, Co-founder & Director, PSU’s Impact Entrepreneurs


One of my favorite quotes from our 2013 Elevating Impact Summit was when Eric Dawson, Co-founder & President of Peace First, said, “Children aren’t the future. Children are the present.”

I’ve since thought a lot about the opportunity Eric laid out before us.

An Ashoka U Changemaker Campus, Portland State University is considered one of the world’s leading universities for making changemakers and inspiring action for a better world. I wondered how Impact Entrepreneurs, as a program in a university, could situate youth in our efforts to inspire, incubate and accelerate impact through the promise of business.

Then, I met George Zaninovich who knows a lot about tapping into the power of youth. George created PLACE: Planning and Leadership Across City Environments. A program of Portland’s Catlin Gabel school, PLACE provides high school students and recent graduates from any regional school with an opportunity to lead civic and urban planning projects that create positive change in Portland. For example, designing solutions to food insecurity in outer SE Portland in partnership with Zenger Farm, and developing transportation solutions and enhancing the safety on the Powell corridor with the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability.

In its seventh year, PLACE has engaged thousands of Portlanders in its projects and worked with hundreds of students from 18 high schools. PLACE has even made its program open source by creating a comprehensive curriculum guide that has been downloaded in more than 50 cities across the world.

Talking with George, we found shared learning goals and beliefs with one big difference: Where PLACE’s experiential projects are defined by the needs of community leaders and urban environments, Impact Entrepreneurs roots its hands-on learning in identifying and pursuing personal purpose for social change. This is the type of complementarity that collective impact is made from!

The decision to work together was a no-brainer, and over many months we co-created an approach that integrates Impact Entrepreneurs’ into PLACE’s 2015 summer program. The collaboration means that 24 PLACE students will explore personal changemaking through the lens of social innovation. They will meet inspiring innovators, examine best practices, and engage in activities to develop their own purpose and pathways toward making a lasting difference.

PLACE’s 2015 program starts July 6th. We’ll bring you updates as we go. Let the changemaking begin!


 Jacen Greene, Impact Entrepreneurs, & George Zaninovich, PLACE



June 9, 2015 at 4:53 pm Leave a comment

Meet Our 2015 Social Innovation Incubator Members!

The Impact Entrepreneurs Social Innovation Incubator has emerged from hiatus! After taking a year off while we created our online certificate in the Business of Social Innovation, we are thrilled to be back.

We are excited to be working closely over the next year with four amazing new members. Check them out:


ConstructFoundationLogo136x46Construct Foundation is building a portfolio of partners and mutually reinforcing education initiatives to identify and support new models for teaching and learning, prioritizing K-12 students in Portland Metro’s underserved communities.


GGY_Logo_Red_White_400Gender Gap Year is closing the gaps in women’s representation, leadership, power and pay through an innovative gap year program in Portland Oregon.  Through badging, boldness, action, and self exploration, the year long program empowers women between 18 and 22 to live authentic, connected, and strategic lives of equity.

LanyiFan_0Lanyi Fan incubates locally-generated solutions and facilitates international relationships to address the high unemployment and environmental problems encroaching on existing livelihoods in West Africa.



The Pathways to Prosperity Initiative, an intrapreneurial program of nonprofit Self Enhancement Inc. (SEI), provides at-risk urban youth and their families in the Portland area “with the knowledge, skills and support needed to leverage economic opportunities and increase financial capability.”



Meet past members, find out more about the Social Innovation Incubator, and stay tuned to this blog for upcoming interviews with the inspiring founders from the 2015 class!

March 2, 2015 at 12:34 pm Leave a comment

Research Shows that Employers Want to Hire Changemakers link

Employers increasingly want to hire more entrepreneurial, more ethical, more impactful employees. And it’s no coincidence that the skills taught in Portland State University’s online Certificate in Social Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship (a “changemaker certificate“) match those most desired by employers. As work becomes more complex and demand for creativity and flexibility grows, the skills linked to creating positive social and environmental impact — those of a “changemaker” — increasingly overlap with those that help organizations succeed financially.

The influential economist Michael Porter argues that businesses succeed when they create value not just for owners, but “shared value” for society as well. A similar approach is embraced by nearly 1200 sustainable businesses that have obtained B Corp certification, and by the 27 states that now allow Benefit Corporations as a distinct legal entity. The social entrepreneurs recognized as Ashoka or Skoll fellows have been pursuing transformative approaches to creating value for society, around the world, for decades. But it’s not just triple-bottom-line businesses, social enterprises, and nonprofits that want changemakers as employees; traditional businesses do as well.

How do we know? We looked at five recent surveys of in-demand job skills covering more than 4000 employers and 5600 individuals both in the United States and around the world (from MckinseyGeorgetown University; the National Association of Colleges and EmployersGallup/Lumina Foundation; and a consortium of employer organizations). We then looked at the top 10 human skills listed in each survey, separating out training in specific technical skills such as math, English fluency, and computer literacy. What we found is that the remaining skills line up neatly with the attributes of successful changemakers identified across studies summarized by faculty at the University of Northampton (an Ashoka U Changemaker Campus, like Portland State University).

For example, the top job skills demanded across all five employment surveys — oral communication, written communication, and critical thinking/problem solving — were also identified as critical attributes of successful changemakers in a number of research papers. Work ethic and teamwork, the next most desired skills, were likewise shared across both sets of research. Creativity, leadership, and self-management are key to both employability and successful change creation. Even skills like ethics and initiative, essential for social entrepreneurs, are highly desired by employers.

Our students explore each of these top skills in our certificate program. Experiential assignments and applied learning prepare them to launch a venture or to work effectively for an employer. Each student creates and refines a solution to a social or environmental problem of their choice, using best practices from design thinking, lean entrepreneurship, and leadership. Whether or not they decide to make their social venture a reality, they’re learning the most in-demand skills to be successful wherever life takes them. And we’re glad to know employers increasingly believe that employees who create shared value are also the most valued.

Changemakers on the Portland, Oregon field study option of PSU's Certificate in Social Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship.

Changemakers on the Portland, Oregon field study option of PSU’s Certificate in Social Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship.

By Jacen Greene, Program Manager for Social Enterprise Initiatives, Impact Entrepreneurs at Portland State University

January 7, 2015 at 10:49 am 3 comments

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