“Pasos cortos, vista larga.” I heard this saying, which translates to “short steps, long vision”, straight from hip hop star, investor, and entrepreneur Pitbull at his recent concert at Shoreline Amphitheater. A quote his mother would often repeat became his mantra for creating his own path. It was timely, because it eloquently and succinctly describes my thoughts […]

As social innovators focus on ways to create, optimize, and measure impact, a natural question arises as to what kind of impact should be pursued. Should you set goals that are attainable and within reach? Or should you strive for impact that is far-reaching and is perhaps beyond what your startup or organization even has capacity to meet with its current resources?Darcy Winslow, a systemic change expert and visionary who introduced key sustainability measures within Nike, explained the nuances between planning for change and designing for transformation. She spoke at the inaugural Strategic Execution Conference hosted by IPS Learning and Stanford University on April 24, 2013.Her talk was impassioned, intimate, and impactful in sharing her personal narrative in sustainability as well as her commitment to creating a culture for sustainable innovation within organizational infrastructure.


Darcy’s experience at Nike & the Shambhala Initiative

Darcy spoke about her 20 year career at Nike, which included a number executive roles. When her team was approached to define the impact Nike shoe production was having on the environment and landfills—she was surprised to hear that the equivalent of one shoe of waste was created with the production of each pair of shoes, and that over the course of a year millions of gallons of oil were used to produce Nike’s various lines of athletic gear.

She set forth to shift the company from the inside. Forming a team to address social impact, they established the Nike Shambhala Initiative–an ambitious strategy to re-think Nike operations centered around aspirational sustainability goals.

The goals that Nike set were not intended to reward or recognize themselves for picking low-hanging fruit. They demanded 0 waste, 0 toxics, 100% closed loop systems and other key sustainability deliverables by 2020.

I found myself noting that the plan was markedly ambitious, increasing the chance of failing to reach those high-level goals. Darcy reframed the issue as she explained the power of transformational change.

What is makes change transformational?

Darcy shared her view that any change that seeks less than an all-or-nothing results is not transformational–and is just a matter of degree. For a leading company such as Nike, she knew that a change of degree of impact was not enough. If Nike was going to get into the corporate social responsibility (CSR) movement, it would have to do so in a transformational way.

How social innovators can incorporate transformational change goals

Darcy’s talk introduced the concept of a transformational change mindset.
When we seek to transform, rather than just gradually alter ourselves or our ventures there is a different approach, mindset, and energy that is employed. It is as though we must change from within to create change in results—and the process can be transformational at an individual as well as organizational level.
The goal of creating zero waste rather than reducing waste by 50% creates a different purpose, easy measuring stick, and clearly-defined goals. These can trickle down throughout the organization. If the goal was instituted in manufacturing setting, each team of engineers would be clear that their stage of production should yield 0 waste versus and intermediate amount of waste.
Of course, sustainability is often a product of evolution and iteration. So in addition to setting transformational change goals, it is essential to provide enough time to work to that change. When the Shambhala Initiative was introduced, the goal set was 2020–giving two decades to evolve innovation and internal practices to meet the aspirational milestones.

Video of Darcy Winslow, Nike Foundation

You can take a look at Darcy speak briefly at her role with Nike in this short video.

Dear Mom,Today you would have turned 60. I couldn’t miss the opportunity to wish you :) I’m sure we would have organized a big get-together. You would have overseen the food and decorations with your characteristic good taste and attention to detail.  Let’s be honest,  there would have been some stress in making sure the event met your vision—but once it was in full swing laughter, great food, and the company of friends and family would have been in abundance.  Maybe we would have tried to surprise you (i.e. circa your 52nd bday—we had you pretty well that time).  Or, maybe you would have leveraged your birthday to plan a family trip or cruise—turning a multiple of 10 gives you a mega bargaining chips, which come in handy when negotiating busy schedules and noncommittal planners.Best of all, you and Mina Aunty would have put together a fun aunties’ event.  You know the ones where you all get together, dress to the nines, and basically take over a poor, unsuspecting establishment with your laughter, jokes, and vibrant stories.


paper heart

There are so many things that I think you would have loved. Like the iPhone and iPad. Whenever I taught workshops on how to use them at the Apple Store, I always imagined what you would have thought of them. I have a feeling you would have taken to them like a fish to water. They are absolutely incredible. You would have used them to look up recipes, check out the latest kitchen gadgets, and maybe even FaceTime across the world.

I asked you once, between the time things were serious and very very serious, about whether I should practice law. You were steadfast in supporting my own vision of my connection to the field. I think of your belief often and feel it in the family’s unconditional support.

I wonder what you would have thought of my journey and of Innov8Social. I would have loved to share with you the amazing experience it has been, the people I have met, the ideas that continually expand my mind, the innovation I have seen in action, and the possibilities to improve the world in ways that we had never imagined before.

We all think about you, and love you always.

Happy birthday Mummy :)


Attending events and writing about them for Innov8Social planted a seed to organize an unstructured event on social innovation. Having been to StartUp Weekend a couple of times I noticed that a hackathon-style gathering can lead to great ideas, teamwork, and empowering ways to think bigger.

social innovation unconference hackathon at legalforce


the idea

After interviewing Nathan Pham from Goodjoe I noted his passion for bringing together people and creating new forums for ideas. I pitched him the idea for an unstructured gathering of social innovation thinkers and doers. He was (thankfully) enthusiastic and interested. We worked together to plan an informal “social innovation unconference” involving a relatively small group of people immersed in different disciplines, with a knack for creating impact.

social innovation unconference hackathon at legalforce

social innovation unconference hackathon at legalforceIt was a grand experiment to see what happens when you put people with different life/work experiences, who are passionate about creating a positive impact in a room together with the premise of identifying local problems and brainstorming solutions.

the first group

Our initial group included: a youth services professional, founder of social enterprise GoVoluntr, graphic designer with a passion for virtual currencies, a pediatrician with international relief experience, founder of social enterprise Goodjoe (Nathan), and founder of a blog on social innovation (myself).

the first venue

The event was held at the beautiful, hip storefront LegalForce BookFlip—which is a sizeable experiment of its own. The Founder of Trademarkia and LegalForce, Raj Abhyanker, founded the swanky concept store as a retail location for law. Nestled in the heart of bustling downtown Palo Alto, across from the new Apple Store, LegalForce is what you might imagine an Apple approach to law to look and feel like. Bold bursts of orange draw the eye and the modern, design-centered theme carries through to every corner of the shop. Attorneys are on hand to answer questions and there is an array of legal and leadership books available for browse and buy.

Raj and his team welcomed us to use their lower level conference room for our un-event. Against the creative backdrop, we sat down and begun to explain our backgrounds and what experiences have shaped our desire to use our careers to create change in addition to generating value.

a social innovation unconference/hackathon

It was a fascinating few hours. The congenial atmosphere led to an abundance of humor and joking, as well as serious dives into pressing issues.

At the end of the session we whiteboarded our options for issues to address, what we wanted from the experience, and solutions to begin exploring. One local issue that came up was the lack of youth resources in the county. While a number of organizations serve youth, there didn’t seem to be many centers or creative learning spaces for youth to seek mentorship, build skills, and just hang out.

social innovation unconference hackathon at legalforceThe idea to address the youth issue through building some kind of youth accelerator program emerged. It could be a way for professionals to mentor youth, and for youth to drive their learning and interests. We have informally continued exploring the idea, even ‘validate’ the concept by pitching it to local youth.

The day for me sparked something amazing. It was an opportunity to attend an event—and be transported from the audience to the speaker panel on stage. It was empowering to share some of the high-level concepts I have gleaned from writing and thinking about these issues for a long time with others who have also been exploring social innovation through their own lens.

We are hoping to test out this social innovation hackathon unconference concept out again in the near future.


We have talked a lot about social innovation together. We’ve looked at bills that have passed that give social enterprise new legal structures, fellowship programs for the field, and tools social entrepreneurs can use as they climb the proverbial mountain where money meets meaning. 

the importance of staying grounded

One thing we haven’t covered is the importance of staying grounded.

When you’ve chosen  impact-driven goals, where your actions pursue profit but are not driven by them, and where risk of failure is incredibly high—it might be easy to feel a sense of self-righteousness about the cause you are addressing, the expertise you are developing, or the kinds of people you prefer to associate with.
This is a friendly note to say, resist giving in.
However understandable it may be to develop a sense of overconfidence about your expertise or social innovation knowledge, it is potentially dangerous in a field that demands creative thinking, endless collaboration, and a good listening ear.  Forgetting the inherent “we” of social innovation could interfere with your efforts to create a positive impact.Avoid developing a social innovation ego, and recognize it when you see it in others.


The sliver lining, is that humility reminds us to stay grounded.

Just about as often as a room can be crowded by social innovation egos, you will meet someone who is humble, genuinely curious, and generous with their time, knowledge, and experience.  Through interviewing various leaders in the field I have seen and experienced it.

Take for example, Nathan Pham of GoodJoe. While interviewing him about his social enterprise I shared an idea I had been thinking about hosting a social innovation unconference (that post will be out soon). Instead of politely smiling and nodding and reminding me how busy he is, he began brainstorming on how we could make the grand experiment happen.

Or, Gene Takagi of Neo Law. Though we have met in person exactly twice, he has been incredibly supportive and generous over all modes of social media. He exudes genuine dedication to the field and support for those exploring it.

Another snapshot of humility is Kim Meredith of Stanford PACS. (her interview will be out soon). She heads the department that oversees philanthropy and that is home to the Stanford Social Innovation Review.  In interviewing her I was absolutely struck by her warmth and genuine passion for the field.

There have been countless others who I have met once or regularly stay in touch who remind me to stay grounded through their own energy and poise.

So, what do you do when you encounter egos in the field?

One line of thinking is to first start by checking your own behavior. That is, just like you check your phone to make sure it’s off silent when someone else’s rings at a movie theater; when you observe ego creeping into a social innovation effort, it can initially be the perfect reminder to make sure you’ve checked your own at the door. By reframing the situation and choosing not get caught up in a battle of might, you may provide just the gentle reminder and space to help others stay grounded.

After that, however, the water becomes murkier.

If a certain viewpoint or personality is overtaking a social innovation effort, do you back out or dive deeper? A great deal likely depends on personality. If you work best in a collaborative state, you might do better to find like-minded collaborative-thinkers. If you, instead, thrive in banter and don’t mind the debate then stay, challenge, and fight it out until a resolution is reached.

Lose yourself in service…

Some may say that the social innovation seeks to disrupt traditional business, law, and finance precisely because they have been driven by over-zealous egos. To that end, we may need to check ourselves to ensure that while doing so, it is for the purpose of serving a greater good. Then we can measure our own involvement by how we can best serve the greater cause.

Gandhi once said, “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” And perhaps the best way to find the path for social innovation is to remember that its essence lies in service.

Why is Social Enterprise Gaining Traction Now?

Fourteen states have passed new laws that recognize new legal structures for social enterprise. Social enterprise could account for as much as 3-5% of the US GDP. Based on the first ever census for social enterprise, the for-good, for-profit entities have created over 14K jobs and generate of $300M in revenue. And those are the conservative numbers.

So, why now?


city at twilight
It’s the Millennials.

The millennials, born in the early 1980’s up to the early 2000’s, are coming of age now and may have something to do with the social enterprise boom. They are finishing up college and graduate school, entering the workforce, getting married, having kids, starting companies—and doing things in their own distinct style.

Generational research weaves fascinating narratives of trends of individuals over time. By looking at a stretch of years, historical context, lifestyle norms, economic trends, and other factors you can actually begin to paint broad brushstrokes of what defines a generation and see how that generation, in turn, impact the ones that follow.

In case you find yourself skeptical look at these descriptions of past generations, compiled by Auburn Mountain Consumer Education. They each tell a story about the values, attributes, and motivations of people born during a range of years.

The Lost Generation (1880’s-1900)
The Greatest Generation (1900-1920’s)
Silent Generation (1920’s-1941)
Baby Boomers (1940’s-1950’s)
Generation Jones (1950’s-1960’s)
Generation X (1960’s-1980’s)
Millenials (1980’s-2000’s)

6 Attributes that Make Millennials Prone to Social Enterprise

There are specific characteristics of millenials that make them suited for impact-oriented enterprise. Here are a few of the

1. Connected & Collaborative. Millennials are remarkably collaborative. If it’s not worth doing together, it’s not worth doing–seems to be the attitude. Collaborative consumption has seen a huge lift as millennials not only lead the way with new peer-to-peer sharing startups but also use them extensively.

2. Open to Change. Millennials are not as bound by tradition. Their lives have been marked by arrays of traditions, cultures, and religions that have been introduced to them not only by their family, but by neighbors, friends, and through social networks. In any year a person can celebrate numerous world traditions, eat at restaurants that represent far-trotten regions of the world, and share laugh, photos, and tweets with people who are completely different from themselves. They don’t process the world through a single lens, because they’ve only ever seen it through multiple ones.

3. Self-Assured, Confident.  The millennials have each other, and need your approval a lot less than you think. They are not afraid to take a leap of faith or two, even if it means leaving stable structures such as college, jobs, or relationships. They are compelled to satisfy their inner desires—whether to achieve fame/fortune, to create lasting impact, or to do something that has never been done before.

4. Special. Millennials are the children of Baby Boomers and Generation X-ers. They were raised with the belief that they could do anything and to not compromise on their passion. Some may say that this has created a sense of entitlement in millennials and an unwillingness to have their identities tied to a job or position; however, millennials will argue that they feel that they (and everyone else) should be able to customize a work-life balance.

5. Risk-Takers. Not only are millennials not generally averse to risk, they actually seem to embrace it. They have a track road of actively innovating and re-thinking they way things are done and are largely driving emerging fields such as the sharing economy, impact investing, social enterprise, and re-thinking legal structures and policy-making.

6. Witness to the Great Recession. An interesting feature of the millennials is that they have not only been witness to the Great Recession, but have been deeply impacted by its effects. Many have had difficulties in finding their early-career jobs, have had to move back into their homes, and/or have seen their parents become uncertain about their retirement or future. The collapse of the financial system and market economy has taught millennials to be lean and to question the status quo for traditional structures for finance, economy, and medicine.

These features, taken together, give robust support as to why social enterprise and law/policy supporting social entrepreneurs has taken hold at this precise moment in time. Though a number of other factors play into the growth of social enterprise, the Millennial Generation cannot be overlooked as a driving force.

There are some excellent resources we came across in putting this post together. See below for a list of articles.

Millennials: Confident. Connected. Open to Change (Pew Research Social & Demographic Trends)
How Millennials Are Shaping The Future Of Social Entrepreneurship And Technology (Huffington Post)
Characteristics of the Millennial Generation (Millennials Go to College, by Neil Howe and William Strauss)
Generation Sell (The New York Times)
Social entrepreneurship and the millennial generation: all about altruism? (WhyDev)
Social Entrepreneurship Valued Among Millennials (University of Notre Dame)

The Post-Millennial Latest Generation…The Tactile Generation?

The future of social enterprise lies in the hands of the succeeding generation, literally. The post-millennial generation has grown up using smart devices and social networks. They will likely learn to text and browse the internet long before they learn to write in cursive.

And as touch is often related to feel. They will are also the first generation to truly feel some of the impacts of the influx of social media. Cyberbullying seems to already be reaching new highs while simultaneously stooping to unthinkable lows. The new generation is also seeing the impact of their parents and older siblings’ support for new equalities such as marriage equality. They may be the first generation to truly feel the lift of the inequality, prejudice, and stigma previously associated with coming out.

Additionally, they have been born into feeling the effects of guns. Murder-suicide, mass shootings, and epic debates on gun control are not a one-off in this post-millennial generation, they have becoming increasingly and alarming a reality.

For social enterprise, it is an uncertain reception with the newest generation—they already have a great deal on their plate. However, there hope that just as the differences between people of one sexual orientation or another may soon be lifted, that this new tactile generation will also be able to think beyond for-profit, non-profit, and hybrid businesses to create a more universal social enterprise that describes not only a single sector but the whole sector.


Innov8Social is excited to participate in a group blogging event hosted by Meeting of the Minds and urban accelerator Tumml.  It’s an opportunity to delve into a pressing issue from various vantage points, bodies of experience, and perspectives.city life, urban dwellThe question posed in this group blogging session is:

How is technology impacting social and economic divisions in cities?



5 Ways Mobile Technology Impacts the Socio-Econ Divisions in Cities

Cities, large and small, share certain characteristics such as increased population density, parking scarcity, perhaps some form of public transport, usually a higher cost of living, and often rely on sourcing food and water from surrounding areas.  While these characteristics can lead to classic have and have-nots, technology is emerging as a powerful leveling force that can blur socio-economic divisions in some ways, while creating new divisions in other ways.
This post focuses on the far reach and impact mobile technology has on urban areas.

1. Mobile technology provides access. Mobile technology enables access—to resources, news, information, knowledge, and commerce. With a smartphone, app, and network connectivity a person can pay a bill using banking apps, call another country using Skype, FaceTime or Google Talk, expand their vocabulary using edtech apps like Knowji, deposit and transfer funds, make purchases, put in a pickup order for dinner, participate in the sharing economy, share their location, and much more. These kinds of “concierge” services are not allocated based on the communities you engage with or level of wealth—but are broadly available if you know how to use the technology to reach them.

2. Mobile tech creates new channels of distributing products and services.  Gone are the days that a company must budget inordinate sums to reach audiences using traditional channels of media such as billboards, radio ads, television ads, newspaper ads to announce new products and services. Mobile access to social networking apps such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Yelp, YouTube and others along with mobile tech innovations such as geofencing and QR code reading can help alert you of nearby goods and services.

city life, urban dwellPerhaps most interestingly, you can more easily monetize that which was before non-monetizable. Before if you could pick someone’s dry cleaning, it would be hard to find a market and advertise your skill. But now, all that could be required is downloading the right app and creating a profile.

Mobile tech has the potential to really propel the sharing economy. Car-sharing, home-sharing, office-sharing, popup shops, and so many other resource-sharing services are able to be agile and efficient thanks to mobile tech apps. The instantaneous communication creates new platforms for decisions to be made quickly and payment to be tendered instantaneously.

3. Mobile tech provides new forms of payment. Not only does mobile tech offer new levels of access and channels to learn about products and services—but it gives new ways to pay for them too. There are traditional forms of payment (bank transfers, checking, and credit card), new forms (PayPal and mobile banking), and innovative alternative forms (Bit Coin, and other new alternative currencies).

Mobile technology is disrupting the way we pay for things—and creating more dynamic forms of payment. There are also new apps and websites that enable equitable bartering so you can exchange a block of your time and expertise in social media savvy for another’s time and know-how in home contracting work.

4. Mobile tech creates new barriers and concerns. While reducing traditional socio-economic barriers, mobile tech also creates new ones. Smartphones can be costly and the high monthly fees can be prohibitive. And the challenge is that there is no in-between without a smartphone or tablet an individual loses access to all of the benefits. Just as there are homeless shelters there may be a need for mobile tech centers for individuals to access and utilize mobile tech advances, learning, and apps.

Additionally, mobile technology creates new security concerns. A smarphone, logged into all of your email and social media accounts, that contains banking information, all of your contacts, and text message conversations is a prime target.

5. Mobile tech and a new kind of illiteracy. Innov8Social recently delved into issues of literacy in the U.S. and innovative tech responses to address the divide. Interestingly, mobile tech highlights a new kind of illiteracy–technological illiteracy. For the elderly or those otherwise not familiar with how to use mobile technology, the world could become more overwhelming and frustrating.

And with new updates being released regularly, even those who have a basic level of understanding, may feel inundated with advancing technology.

We are in a transformational time for mobile technology. Advances in science are letting us use mobile devices for new purposes—such as monitoring our health, managing our finances, communicating effectively, and participating in the broader economy. With that great potential comes cautious acceleration. We must guard our safety and privacy as we move forward and find new and better ways to address pressing urban issues.
AlphabetLook up literacy rates of countries around the globe and you’ll likely find a near-perfect score for the U.S. However, that 99 percentile assessment is glossing over some key issues regarding the ability of Americans to read, write, and comprehend—and the broad-ranging implications low literacy carries.

DoSomething.org published a list of 11 Facts About Literacy in America. Here are some of the most telling findings:

Findings on Literacy in America

There is a correlation between low literacy and jail time.   Over 65% of students who can’t read competently by the time they finish 4th grade will be in jail or on welfare at some point in their lives. Close to 85% of youth tried as juveniles are functionally illiterate. 7 out of 10 inmates in prison cannot read above a 4th grade level.
There is a correlation between low literacy and welfare. An estimated 75% of Americans receiving food stamps function at the two lowest levels of literacy.
Americans are generationally becoming less literate. In a study done in 2011, America was identified as the only free-market OECD country in which the current generation was less well-educated than the prior generation.
You can be literate, but functionally illiterate.  These statistics defy the 99% percentile of literacy. That is become literacy is a broad term that doesn’t account for literacy that is so basic that it is not functional in daily use.
Low healthcare literacy costs the U.S. millions (if not billions) of dollars annually.  Low health literacy relates to the ability of individuals to grasp basic health information, take medications according to prescriptions, and utilize the healthcare system. An estimated $70M to over $230B is lost annually due to low health literacy.

Literacy, Ripe for Social Innovation

Beginning to understand the truth about literacy calls for action. Social innovators are well-suited to utilize scarce resources to create meaningful impact in the realm of literacy. Though socio-economic conditions can impact the access to education a child or adult has to resources that teach literacy—literacy is, at its essence, a learned skill. It can be taught at any age.

Social Entrepreneurs Tackling the Literacy Divide

There are social entrepreneurs who are addressing this issue. Take a look at Innov8Social’s recent interview with one of the co-founders of Knowji–a mobile app specifically designed to address the country’s literacy divide.
Imagine a room full of inventors, designers, social entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and individuals passionate about water innovation—and you can begin to picture the Water Entrepreneurs Showcase 2013 hosted, fittingly, by Imagine H2O.Innov8Social first wrote about the work of Imagine H2O in 2011, in a video interview of one of its team members, Brian Matthay.Imagine H2O 2013 Showcase WinnersImagine H2O, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, is dedicated to inspiring and empowering people to turn water challenges into opportunities. For its annual gala held on March 19th 2013, the organization gathered diverse constituents together to meet finalists and announce the winners of its startup competition. The event highlighted promising innovative impact-oriented startups in the water sector based on the selected theme of the year. Past themes included: water efficiency (2009), water energy nexus (2010), wastewater (2011), and consumer water innovations (2012).

The Competition

The 2012 competition kicked off in the Fall, with a call for business plans to be submitted between September 1st and November 15th 2012.  Startups worked on pitches, business strategy, and product design and a win based on judge feedback. Imagine H2O Showcase winners receive cash prizes, free software, mentorship and a spot on Imagine H2O’s exclusive Accelerator Program.

The Venue

The Water Entrepreneur’s Showcase was held in the beautiful gallery of Autodesk building in downtown San Francisco. Autodesk is one of the headlining sponsors of Imagine H20 and itself has a vibrant Clean Tech Partner Program within its division for Sustainable Design. The gallery showcases incredible innovations in design (including the crowd favorite, a life-sized motorcycle suspended with cables—that was printed from a 3D printer…see below for a tweeted photo)



Finalists were divided into two broad groups depending on their stage of development and production. The Pre-Revenue track included those startups in their early stages of operations, with a strong business plan, measurable methods of impact, but no operating revenue.

The second broad group, the early revenue track includes startups that are farther along in their product development and sales but still relatively new in the entrepreneurial space.

Below you will find the winners and finalists along with descriptions of the startup ventures, as displayed on the official Imagine H2O finalist page.

Pre-Revenue Track Winners of Imagine H2O Showcase 2013 

Imagine H2O 2013 Winner: Leak Defense Alert
Leak Defense Alert Founder Scott
Pallais holding his award.

Leak Defense Alert combines an easy-to-install sensor and transmitter that automatically identifies home leaks and notifies the homeowner that there is an issue requiring attention – essentially creating a “smoke detector” for water leaks.

Led by a team of Haitian and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and investors, Dlo Haiti offers a market-based solution providing safe drinking water in Haiti at a price average Haitians can afford. Dlo Haiti seeks to replace centralized water purification and delivery by truck with a decentralized approach to lower costs and improve water quality.

By matching the flow of water to lawn outlines, Innogation’s SMARTRotor™ dramatically reduces water used for outdoor irrigation while providing up to 98% distribution uniformity.

Early Revenue Track Winners of Imagine H2O Showcase 2013 

  • Winner: PaveDrain
    PaveDrain is an innovative paving system made up of arched concrete blocks that feature internal store chambers to absorb storm-water runoff while still maintaining a tough rugged exterior able to withstand extreme weather conditions, heavy vehicle loads, and storm downpours. The PaveDrain system is comprised of interlocking paving stones that are visually appealing, water saving, and highly functional. The PaveDrain system can be be used in a multitude of settings including driveways, city streets, sidewalks, and parking lots.


Pre-Revenue Track Finalists
This stainless steel retrofit toilet flapper is designed to address a very basic, yet large, source of lost water. According to the American Water Association, one out of five toilets are leaking today because of faulty toilet flappers.
A biomimicry and nanotechnology company that harvests water from the air, NBD Technologies employs materials science and chemical engineering innovations to create water from the air. ReFresh
A provider of water on the go, ReFresh’s water distribution machines provide bottled water and accept used bottles for a partial refund making drinking water cheaper, more convenient, and more environmentally friendly.Early Revenue Track Finalists

The Jompy water boiler is a simple, easy to use device that allows the user to cook food and boil water simultaneously, so saving on fuel and time spent over an open fire. The Jompy will pasteurize contaminated water reducing the chance of water borne diseases such as diarrhea and cholera.

The HighSierra Showerhead combines a low-profile design that uses 40% less water and a flow control that maintain the feel and experience of a conventional showerhead even at varying pressures.

Tweets, Images, Articles from #ih2o13 made with @Storify

[View the story “@ImagineH2O Water Entrepreneurs Showcase 2013: #ih2o13 Recap, Photos, and Tweets” on Storify]

We may know that one man’s junk is another’s treasure; however, today’s social entrepreneurs are showing us that one industry’s waste can be another’s fuel.  You may arrive at the idea of commercializing waste from different angles, but whatever view you take on the topic, it seems to  make plenty of dollars and sense.This post highlights six startups that utilize and repurpose waste created by other industries to create their core product or service. The industries span biological waste, heat waste, food waste, and–yes, human waste.


Commercializing Waste: 6 Industries that Turn Waste Into Profit

1. Making plastic out of phosphorous and other chemicals from waste water.

Algix, LLC, a startup out of Georgia, started in 2010 when its founders became fascinated with the idea of using algae to scrub wastewater of chemicals such as phosphorous that were deposited into water streams from carpet mills and dairies in northwest region of the state. Their efforts yielded pounds upon pounds of algae. After experimenting with various techniques, they found that blending the aquatic biomass with base resin could yield a durable plastic that can be used in injection molding, compression molding, and thermoforming.

2. Converting wasted heat from a car engine’s exhaust into an adsorption-driven car AC unit.

For the past three years,  Warwick Energy Research Lab at Warwick University has been exploring ways to utilize adsorption of wasted heat to power refrigeration, heat pumps, and air conditioning. An adsorption heat pump essentially uses a chemical rather than mechanical processor and is driven by heat, rather than mechanical rotation.
3. Processing human waste into fertilizer and electricity as part of an urban slum sanitation system. 

While some may hear the statistic of 2.6 billion people around the world lacking adequate sanitation and feel jaded. The founders of Sanergy, saw it as a commercial and social entrepreneurial opportunity. In 2010, nearing the completion of their degrees from MIT’s Sloan School of Management, they developed a sanitation system for urban slums that establishes a pay-as-you-use system of sanitation centers for local use that collects and transports waste to processing plants that converts it into biogas through anaerobic processes. The resulting methane converts to sellable electricity and solid waste that be used as organic fertilizer.

4. Spinning farm waste into biofuel, cellulosic ethanol. 

Canada’s Iogen Bio-Products, recently acquired by Danish enzyme manufacturer Novozymes for $67.3M, has been producing and selling enzymes it generates from agricultural waste to companies dealing in pulp & paper, textile, grain-processing, and animal feed. Iogen is one example of a company that has found a niche in creating cellulosic ethanol, which is a renewable fuel made from farm waste and used to power cars.

5. Upcycling non-recyclable waste into retail inventory. 

For the past 9 years Terracycle has been diverting trash from landfills—to the tune of 2.5 billion pieces. Not only does it reuse and “upcycle” the waste, it has donated over $6M to local charities and schools. All while expanding its revenue growth. In 2012 the company extended its reach to Turkey, Hungary, and Puerto Rico—for a portfolio of over 20 countries. TerraCycle was tarted by a Princeton freshman in 2001 to collect non-recyclable waste such as drink pouches, chip bags, and toothbrushes and use them to create a broad range of consumer products. TerraCycle products are now carried by major retailers including WalMart and Target.

6. Growing gourmet mushrooms from coffee grounds. 

Innov8Social has covered the work of Back to the Roots on a few occasions. Their story bears mention here as well. Started by two Berkeley seniors in 2009, Back to the Roots mushroom kits utilize used coffee grinds to grow 1.5 pounds of gourmet oyster mushrooms in a grow-at-home mushroom kit. The kits have gained an ardent following, and are now carried in over 300 Whole Foods locations as well as at a number of other retail outlets. BTTR is especially proud of the 3.6 billion pounds of coffee grounds it has diverted from landfills and the over 130,000 pounds of fresh produce it has enabled individuals to grow at home. The duo has met President Obama and were named in the Forbes List of Top 30 Under 30 for Food and Wine.