Focus for good


If focused, entrepreneurs can be a singular force for good. We have provided that focus for the first two years of a gathering called 10.10.10, at which 10 successful entrepreneurs come together for 10 days to start companies that address 10 profound social challenges.

“Ultimately the effect of this gathering is to make business more humane,” Andrew Benedict-Nelson said in an interview. “Specifically, it makes it more humane in relation to matters of sickness and life and death.”

In the first two years, 10.10.10 challenges have run the gamut – from toxic stress and childhood obesity to antibiotic resistance and health information security.

We were enlisted in this effort by Tom Higley, 10.10.10’s founder and a collaborator with us on our work on venture democracy. We launch the annual ten-day gathering with training in our original framework for social innovation.

No other organization


Raman Chadha is founder and partner of The Junto Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership, a radically different business school for current CEOs that emphasizes emotional development along with business skills. Previously, he was founding executive director of DePaul University’s Coleman Entrepreneurship Center and a clinical professor of entrepreneurship.

Chadha said of working with us, “We turn to Greenhouse when we need new, original, and creative thinking that challenges the mind and the status quo. There is no other organization I know of that is as innovative and gifted to solve problems.”

We have worked with Mr. Chadha throughout the development of our original framework and methodology for social innovation, including prototyping a preliminary version with participants in The Junto Institute.

Persistent desire to do good

There has been an explosion in programs to support social entrepreneurship. From business schools to design academies to digital collectives, everyone is trying to equip a new generation with the tools and competencies they need to “start something.”

But how do these prospective entrepreneurs know what’s really worth starting?

That was at the center of our project with Echoing Green, a pioneer in the field of social entrepreneurship. We concluded that while startup skills are nice, social entrepreneurs really need a way to discern a clear calling or to develop a coherent theory of change – long before they apply for 501(c)3 or B Corp status.

“Early proponents of the idea of social entrepreneurialism noticed the similarities between the way these folks pursue their dreams and the spirit that animates young companies,” Andrew Benedict-Nelson said in a GOOD Magazine piece about the project. “As a result, nonprofits and universities launched programs that seek to equip young people with similar skills.

“But without a persistent desire to do good, a social entrepreneur is little more than a glorified grant writer. There are plenty of people with strong callings who will never found a nonprofit, but instead realize their desire to do good in some other arena. We need to maximize the number of individuals actively pursuing their callings to do good, no matter what form their careers might take.”

This was a foundation of our work at USC, where we helped launch the nation’s first doctorate in social innovation.

Better than magic

higleyTom Higley is founder and CEO of 10.10.10, a platform to launch new entrepreneurial efforts to solve complex social challenges. He was previously the successful founder and CEO of Service Metrics and StillSecure. Before becoming an entrepreneur, Higley worked as an attorney and professional musician.

Higley said of our work, “GreenHouse’s insight and approach isn’t magic. It’s better than magic. They teach entrepreneurs how to think about wicked problems, complex systems that are home to the problems and insights that might afford the necessary leverage for creating a market-based solution. Who else does this? In our experience, nobody. And it is most certainly true that nobody does it better.”

We have worked with Mr. Higley on our effort with the U.S. State Department to re-design support for emerging democracies, and on 10.10.10 Health.

Place your bets

After years of muddled democratization efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American political class needed a new way to talk about sharing the virtues of representative government abroad. So we set out to concoct one, seeking inspiration in the logic model of venture capitalism.

VCs, we observed, place small, well-timed bets to realize big returns. Working with democracy advocates at the U.S. State Department and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, we identified several key ways in which a new model for democratization could borrow ideas from Silicon Valley.

Andrew Benedict-Nelson laid out the key traits that both democratization and venture investing require in a piece for GOOD Magazine: investing in many different projects with a very long time horizon; investing in ways that help make sense of failure, particularly by recouping non-traditional returns like relationships and knowledge; and investing in ways that advance the state of the art, incorporating those advances into future efforts.

We further concluded that the proper place for those investments was civil society. Within a week, the idea was being considered at the White House as a way to guide future U.S. efforts.

Enlisted for the project by Dr. Tomicah Tillemann, with whom we also worked to design a new model for international organizations.

They get the job done

You might think the best way to supercharge American entrepreneurialism is tax incentives or business education. But in our work with the University of Illinois, we discovered the most efficient way to increase the number of start-ups: relax immigration restrictions.

After investigating the key traits of entrepreneurs, we concluded that no group ticks as many boxes as immigrants from countries that are less free to countries that are more free.

“If there were some other measure – if we knew that left-handed people were more entrepreneurial – then I would say that we should hire more left-handed people or let more left-handed people into the country,” said University of Chicago professor Pablo Montagnes, whom we consulted on the project. “But we don’t have a measure like that. The measure we do have is a desire to take a risk and move to the United States for a particular reason. …

“The U.S. is best at creating these kinds of opportunities for people. If people want these kinds of opportunities, we should be the ones who let them take advantage of them. Often the immigration debate is about illegals stealing jobs from Americans. But entrepreneurship is about creating new jobs and new things that would not exist otherwise.”