Impact Engine 2, Part 2: How Do the #socent Startups Stack Up?

How do the #socent Startups from Impact Engine 2 Stack Up?Monday I posted my take on three new social enterprise startups from Chicago’s Impact Engine accelerator. Here’s what I think about the final five teams from Impact 2.

How do the #socent Startups from Impact Engine 2 Stack Up?To review: A social enterprise creates profit potential with a business model designed to achieve social benefits, like educating inmates or facilitating food donations. I’m rating everyone on two criteria:

Awesomeness rates the “wow” factor. How cool is the idea? How serious a social issue does it address? And, most of all, how much impact can this company make?

Sustainability rates the bottom line potential. How big is the market? How scalable is the business model? Essentially, how much money can this concept make?

How do the rest of the startups stack up?


How do the Rest of the #socent Startups from Impact Engine 2 Stack Up?

Grilled chicken and waffles!
Authentic Chicago culture?

Where do you eat in a strange city?

If you crave authentic local culture, you’ll love Meal Sharing—a platform that connects hungry travelers with hosts all over the world. You make plans and pay online—all you have to do is eat, socialize and enjoy.

Founder/Designer Jay Savsani says people even use the platform within Chicago to dine with friends. “The issue with home cooking is it’s still on the barter system, because there’s a social stigma of exchanging cash. This way you just pay through the platform.”

Exposing people to new cultures is great, although the social benefit is kind of superficial—it’s not likely to, say, solve the Israeli/Palestinian crisis. The company takes a small cut of every transaction, and should seriously pursue a partnership with Pinterest.

Docked one Sustainability point for that uncreative (and hard to trademark) name.

Awesomeness 7, Sustainability 6


How do the Rest of the #socent Startups from Impact Engine 2 Stack Up?

The open beta focuses on textbooks and electronics.

Every day Americans trash 300,000 cell phones. What if they could sell them instead?

They’d make a little money, 300,000 people would get cheap phones, and the environment would suffer just a smidgen less. Multiply by 365, add books, clothes and music, and you might have something here.

That’s the thinking behind ShelfFlip, an online clearinghouse for all that stuff you don’t want anymore. It tracks whatever you buy from major online retailers and, when it’s time to sell, finds you the best online price. Co-founder Stephan Kletzl says, “The value received is finally greater than the effort.”

The open beta focuses on textbooks and electronics, but in theory the market is colossal. Of course, if 300,000 people a day actually offered their used phones online, prices would plummet and the model would collapse.

Still, if it works even a little, ShelfFlip could be big.

Awesomeness 7, Sustainability 8


How do the Rest of the #socent Startups from Impact Engine 2 Stack Up?

Plot your garden on screen before you get dirty.

There’s a reason most American produce comes from mega-farms—growing your own is messy, time-consuming and hard.

Nevertheless, 42 million US households grow something edible, and Smart Gardener wants everyone with a yard to raise the healthiest produce possible.

“Converting landscaping from ornamental to productive gives people control over what their family eats,” says CEO Carl Alguire. “They can lower their carbon footprint and teach their kids about nutrition and the environment.”

Smart Gardener’s 180,000 registered users employ an insanely detailed platform to plan ideal gardens for their climate, soil type and available sunlight—all free. Revenue comes from connecting landscapers with homeowners who’d rather let professionals handle the dirty work.

“This is not a fad,” says Alguire. “Consumers are ready to get started—they just need a little help.”

Awesomeness 8, Sustainability 9


How do the Rest of the #socent Startups from Impact Engine 2 Stack Up?

Click to see the dashboard full-size!

People love to compete and get immediate rewards for their efforts—no wonder gamification is the hottest business trend of the decade.

Youtopia’s platform lets more than 12,000 users (so far) gamify student achievement and organizational outreach. “Players” get badges and other rewards for reaching goals, while teachers and organizers get a dashboard that keeps track of everyone’s progress.

There are hundreds of moving parts, but according to CEO Simeon Schnapper, it all comes down to “optimizing learning and engaging students, inside and outside the classroom.”

As with Impact 2 member Learnmetrics, I’m excited about any technology that helps teachers teach, but concerned about it reaching the students who can benefit most. And there’s a lot of stuff like this out there—Google “gamification startup” and you’ll get more than 800,000 hits. It’s a crowded field, but Youtopia’s off to great start.

Awesomeness 7, Sustainability 7


How do the Rest of the #socent Startups from Impact Engine 2 Stack Up?

Zero Percent’s technology streamlines the logistics.

“The new economic reality is that many people rely on food donations, even if they have a job,” says Zero Percent Founder & CEO Raj Karmani. “But healthy, nutritious food gets thrown away every day.”

That chasm between demand and supply has spawned non-profit food redistribution efforts nationwide—but without economies of scale, they’ve had limited success. Zero Percent monetizes the process, charging businesses for unlimited pickups, while their technology streamlines the logistics.

Starting with dining halls and a bagel shop at University of Illinois, they now connect 131 donors with 142 non-profits.

That’s a lot of driving. While they keep costs in line by making up to 15 stops per route—with Zipvans!—Zero Percent won’t be truly scalable until they can focus on the platform and leave the schlepping to the non-profits.

Awesomeness 9, Sustainability 7

Agree? Disagree? Think I’m full of crap? Leave a comment!