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A Startup Incubator For Global Change

Santa Clara University’s Global Social Benefit Incubator, which partners socially conscious organizations with Silicon Valley mentors, is an intensive bootcamp for entrepreneurs who want to change the world. It launched Kiva, and now it’s preparing its 10th anniversary class.

The Global Social Benefit Incubator (GSBI), an intensive bootcamp for social entrepreneurs, is turning 10. Based at California’s Santa Clara University, the incubator has given birth to a who’s who of do-gooder organizations such as Kiva and SolarEar, and boasts an impressive 50% scale rate for graduates. Now that GSBI is celebrating their first decade, they are inviting applicants to join their 2012 class. Twenty lucky winners will receive a full scholarship and intensive coaching for their social entrepreneur efforts; six slots are reserved for projects dealing with clean, reliable low-cost energy projects.

Santa Clara University created the GSBI in 2002, with the first class meeting in 2003. The incubator is rooted in the idea of "glocalism"—or of creating a new balance between global economic forces and social needs. Thanks to Santa Clara’s Silicon Valley location, the Jesuit university enjoys strong ties with the local technological community—something global-minded startups (who often come from the Washington/New York-centric international aid communities) dearly need. The pilot program in 2003 featured seven projects that conducted work in Africa, India, and the Philippines.

Participants in the GSBI receive training in marketing, finance, business planning, and organizational capacity building. Once accepted into the program, winners are partnered with Silicon Valley mentors who help them learn the ropes of entrepreneurship; the bulk of training centers on business practice rather than on product development. Funding for the program comes from a variety of sources. The Skoll Foundation is a major funder; other sponsorship assistance comes from the World Bank, the Grassroots Business Fund, the Acumen Fund, and a variety of similar organizations.

The GSBI’s best-known alum is micro-loan center Kiva, which grew out of a project conducted in Uganda in 2004. Founder Matt Flannery saw an untapped market that needed assistance in Africa:

A fishmonger sold a half dozen fish on the side of the street every day and brought in barely enough income to feed her seven children. She purchased the fish from a middleman who would come from the lake about two hours away. Because of this, she made only a very small profit each day. Why couldn’t she just make the two-hour journey to the lake herself and save three-fold on every fish she sold? She couldn’t afford the bus ticket and had, in fact, never left her village. A bus ticket is out of the question if its purchase means not feeding a family for a number of days.

2011's class of winners are embarking on some interesting—and non-standard—ways to embark on entrepreneurial projects in the global south. Among the projects being incubated are Mexico’s Kurango Biotek, which distributes kid-friendly nutritional supplements to underserved urban populations, Guatemala’s Haddock Invention, creators of a solar-powered recharger for disposable batteries, and Filipino smart logistics outfit Hapinoy.

In order to apply for a scholarship to the incubator, potential applicants are required to prepare a series of exercises completed by the organizational CEO. Applicants are also required to offer a value proposition with demonstrated impact on important social issues, the potential to reach a large number of beneficiaries, and a self-sustaining business model with rapid scaling possibilities. Completed applications must be posted online after January 4. Keep an eye out, among them might be the next groundbreaking social innovation company.