From the Wall Street Journal:
GUEST MENTOR, Michael “Luni” Libes, founder and managing director of Fledge and entrepreneurship instructor at the Bainbridge Graduate Institute: The better question is not how can startups incorporate social good, but why don’t more startups do this already? Out in the market of ideas, the vast majority of entrepreneurs focus on products or services that save the customer a little time or money. Meanwhile, the world is full of big, complex problems, many of which can be tackled by startups, many of which will come with profits when doing so.
The basics of starting a socially conscious or environmentally conscious business are no different than any other. Find a problem, solve it, and do so in a way where customers pay you more for the product or service than it costs you to provide it.
Take an app like Google Maps. It saves users time vs. the yellow pages. (Anyone remember those?) Why not a similar app, but which lists organizations in need of volunteers (see Personify.it) or stuff (see AlchemList.org).
Take banks. Once upon a time, banks used to provide loans to small businesses, helping grow local jobs, helping foster community. A few trillion dollars of AAA-rated mortgage back securities later, and that corner of the financial world is history. Find a way to do this again (within the mass of regulations), and you have a socially conscious, community-conscious business (see CommunitySourceCapital.com).
Or let’s take the bottom billion — people living on less than $1.50 per day. But note that $1.50/day is more than $500/yr. All those people eat. All that food is cooked. Produce a well-designed, efficient stove that saves those people more than $100/yr in fuel, and you can sell hundreds of millions of stoves (see BurnManufacturing.com).
The problems in the world are vast. Billions of people would love these problems solved. The challenge for entrepreneurs in solving these problems, and bringing something to market at the right price is certainly more difficult than writing the millionth iPhone app, but far more fulfilling for both entrepreneur and customer.
If you are going to take the crazy step of starting a company, make it one that matters.