December 23, 2019

Social entrepreneurs who inspired us in 2019

This year we met some incredible folks whose big ideas are changing the world.

Social entrepreneurs Erin Houston and Emily Kenney founded Wearwell, a personal shopping subscription service that let's people support great causes as they update their wardrobes. Photo via Wearwell

Social entrepreneurs are the folks who develop new ways to help their communities by taking chances and starting ventures that do more than just benefit the bottom line.

“Entrepreneurs focus on a single bottom line: profit,” wrote educator Aaron Sitze. “Social entrepreneurs, on the other hand, focus on a double- or triple-bottom line: profit, social impact, and environmental sustainability.” While there are many brilliant social entrepreneurs hard at work across the country and world, here are a few who we met that truly inspired us in 2019.

[ Read more: Looking to get into the social entrepreneurship space? These six books could help. ]

Brennan Stark, Scope Messenger

College student Brennan Stark wanted to change the college application process. “The core problem I saw was that these two groups—students and colleges—didn’t have an effective medium to connect,” said Stark. After doing some research, Stark realized that most potential applicants just wanted to talk with people with first hand knowledge of these schools: The students! That’s why he built Scope Messenger, an app that lets high schoolers message directly with students at schools they’re most interested in applying to. While the app is still in its infancy, it’s been used by thousands of students to share, learn, and connect.

Kitti Murray, Refuge Coffee Co.

A cup of coffee can be very powerful. That’s what Kitti Murray has discovered over the years. With her husband, Bill, they founded Refuge Coffee Co. in Clarkston, Georgia. The coffee shop provides job training, mentorship, and a network of support for refugees and immigrants in the suburban Atlanta region. “We believe every refugee has a right to the American Dream; we believe that right comes packaged in the opportunity to work hard,” Murray said. Over the years, some of those who have worked for Refuge Coffee have even gone on to become entrepreneurs and start their own small businesses. “Our refugee employees actually teach us a thing or two about how important it is to rise above your circumstances on the steps of your own labor.”

Erin Houston, Wearwell

After the devastating collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh, Erin Houston was inspired to do something. “My eyes were opened to the power my clothing purchases have on communities around the world and here in the U.S,” Houston said. That’s why she co-founded Wearwell. The company helps make it easier for regular women to find ethically and sustainably made clothing. Wearwell acts as a personal styling subscription service, connecting shoppers with the artisans and brands that aim to make a positive impact in the world. “My one piece of advice: just start somewhere. If each of us made one small change rather than striving for perfection, we’d make a world of difference,” said Houston. “Keep it simple and choose to grow your impact from there.

Kevin F. Adler, Miracle Messages

Kevin F. Adler’s first idea for starting an organization was in 2014, when he outfitted 24 homeless volunteers with GoPro cameras. Adler wanted them to capture the world through their eyes and narrate their experiences, in order to find new insights that might shine light on the growing homelessness crisis. Through this, he realized that so many people were disconnected from their social support systems. Following that experience he founded Miracle Messages, which helps to rebuild social support systems by connecting individuals experiencing homelessness with their loved ones. “I started Miracle Messages to make an immediate and tangible impact in the lives of our neighbors living on-and-off the streets,” said Adler. The organization has helped hundreds of families to reunite, all through the power of short videos, social media, and local volunteers. “Our goal is to reach 10,000 reunions by 2023 and, in the process, inspire people everywhere to embrace their homeless neighbors not as problems to be solved, but as people to be loved.”

The Renewal Project

The Renewal Project, made possible by Allstate, tells the stories of individuals and organizations who are solving problems in their communities.