Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation - Harvard Business School MBA Program

Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation

Course Number 1583

Senior Lecturer Brian Trelstad
Spring; Q3Q4; 3 credits
28 sessions

Course Overview and Objectives

Combining the tools of philanthropy, business and advocacy (or mission, margin and mandate), social entrepreneurs have tackled long-standing societal issues like teacher training, college access, global public health, renewable energy and sanitation.  Social entrepreneurs seek to maximize social impact while sometimes satisfying a financial return; some use purely charitable approaches while others build attractive for-profit ventures.  And yet others rely on the government to scale up through advocacy or political change. These hybrid organizations are blurring traditional organizational boundaries while reshaping a diverse number of fields. But who are these social entrepreneurs?  What’s in their DNA? Are the organizations they start traditional non-profits, but just bringing business discipline into their management?  Or are they traditional for-profit companies that have spotted new markets and opportunities in the delivery of social or environmental benefits? Or, are they something entirely new?  And what kind of capital-from grants to guarantees to social venture capital-is being used to fuel these nonprofits, companies, and campaigns as they grow from early stage ideas to national or international demonstration models? 

This course will define the emerging trend of social entrepreneurship and discuss, if not try to answer, some of the questions outlined above.  It will start with a more theoretical definition of social entrepreneurship, and then move into more practical applications, using cases to illustrate the typical life-cycle of social enterprise formation. The course is positioned from the perspective of the social entrepreneur. It will seek to take students ;through the journey of&innovation and ideation, to opportunity assessment, to raising capital and team formation, to the ultimate scale, sustainability, and impact of a social enterprise.   The course will compare and contrast emerging social enterprises with more “traditional” early stage ventures in the private sector and will draw on the extensive experiences of Senior Lecturer Brian Trelstad, who was Chief Investment Officer and Chief Operating Officer at Acumen Fund, a pioneer and leader in Impact Investing, addressing issues such as health, education, environment, agriculture and energy. Trelstad is now a partner at Bridges Fund Management. The course will seek to equip students with an understanding of social enterprises, their many forms and approaches, and the major milestones in their development.

While a few students will choose to work for or start a social enterprise during their careers, all students will be working in fields of public administration or business that are being influenced, if not transformed, by the rise of these new organizations. The course will provide a better understanding for how this new set of actors engages with traditional philanthropic, corporate and government organizations and equips students with a critical lens on how to differentiate among fads and fundamental shifts in the approach to long-standing problems, both domestically and globally.