Incubating and Accelerating

Social Enterprises

January 20, 2020

By Tom Manning

Societal issues are of great concern to a majority of Americans, but conventional approaches to change are falling short. 

Income inequality, immigration, education, democratic representation, climate change, and gun violence are among the many issues that remain unresolved and largely unaddressed.  Political polarization has slowed progress in finding broad solutions, allowing the issues to fester while politicians continue to squabble.


In lieu of government leadership, more citizens are heeding the call to action as they seek ways to become more involved in specifying the depth of their concerns and possible solutions.  Philanthropy and social enterprise entrepreneurship represent alternative methods of addressing such issues but remain largely inefficient and only occasionally effective.

Social enterprises offer potential solutions but must be organized and developed in more systematic ways in order to achieve their full potential.  We should apply much more effort to ideas and projects that are fully vetted and offer true, scalable possibilities for adoption by larger organizations or eventual sponsorship by government at various levels. 

Many of the techniques used by Silicon Valley and tech startups can be transferred and applied to social enterprise.  By establishing a formal methodology for developing new solutions – including the validation of needs, conceptualization of distinctive value, estimation of feasibility, specification of metrics, and adequate seed funding  – we can achieve higher rates of success at the project level and also improve social entrepreneurship on the whole.


We at Harvard Square Lab are pursuing a rigorous method for incubation and acceleration.  We utilize a standard standard methodology to review and strengthen ideas and projects.  Some projects enter in idea form and others enter the Lab with a partially proven model.  Both benefit from careful attention and additional design.  The process ensures that concepts are fully vetted to a professional standard that will impress other collaborators and potential funders.