Starting Up: Business Models for Social Impact

Dees and Clark’s next post on the Social Edge is live!

The first set of posts will be focused on Start-Ups.  We often talk about Social Entrepreneurs’ passion, their stories and their unique ideas.  But what happens when they take the next step to implement that idea? What are the questions that they have to answer and the critical decisions that they face?

And what would you do if you were in their shoes?

Over the next few weeks, we’ll present three case studies on start-ups, starting with Bull City Forward – a community-based nonprofit here in Durham, NC.

Read Clark and Dees’ post (below) and join the conversation at


Building a New Business Model by Clark & Dees

Most new social entrepreneurs start with a passion about a social problem and an insight into a potential solution. Then they need to make critical decisions about operations (how the organization will run) and resources (how it gets the cash to operate and what to spend it on).

Social entrepreneurs realize fairly quickly they need to do things, rather than think about things, to get feedback. As a result, many of the early days are much more action-oriented than analytical, as founders work to build the path while they are on it.

Bull City Forward

We’re going to profile 3 start-ups on the blog and then host a discussion about start-ups and business models. Our first example is Bull City Forward.

Founded by visionary entrepreneur Christopher Gergen, Bull City Forward (BCF) is a nonprofit organization actively building a robust cluster of social enterprises in the Research Triangle in North Carolina. BCF is a membership organization, offering its paying Community members (currently $25/month) mentoring, networking, technical assistance and access to talent and investment. BCF also leases space to member ventures wanting to achieve synergy through co-location. Space membership ranges from $250 per month for a full-time office space, to several less intensive options. Full membership benefits and prices are on the BCF website.

So BCF currently straddles two “types” of business models: it is a membership organization that brokers social and intellectual capital (like Net Impact or Social Venture Network) and it is also a physical capital/real estate landlord (like the Hub or other incubators).   Our full profile of Bull City Forward is here in PDF form.

According to Director of Operations Allison Dorsey, BCF was born from the community it serves. At about a year old, unsurprisingly, BCF has not yet been able to turn that commitment into financial stability. It has won a significant number of small grants from community institutions but aims to become more self-sufficient.  So far, it has learned that its membership proposition has been easier to manage than the co-location model.

Please skim the profile and help us consider these critical questions for BCF:

  1. Customer: Does BCF have a target beneficiary that overlaps with its paying customers? Given this, what is best way to package and price the set of value propositions for this customer? How could the monthly pricing model be improved? Should BCF enlarge its definition of target customers or change its offerings?
  2. Operating Model: What practices should they emulate or reject from other models of community hubs or membership organizations? Should BCF continue to straddle two business models? If so, what are the best ways to achieve synergies between them?
  3. Partners/ Pricing: What are the best options to get them on a path to financial stability? What kinds of other fee-for-service opportunities or partnerships could BCF take advantage of?

Join the conversation at