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What is a Impact (or Social) Startup?

Defining startups and socially-oriented ones

Nowadays, pretty much anyone wants to build and launch his/her own startup. And most of the times, any new businesses gets called “startup”. Truth to be told, “startup ≠ new company“, as we will discuss in this article. But if that’s the case, what is the exact definition of startup? And mostly important, what is a impact-driven, social startup? Well, let’s find out!

“Startup” definition

There is little agreement among practitioners on the definition of “startup”, even though experts and literature already provided some clear definitions several years ago.

what is a social startup

In 2014, father of Lean Startup movement Steve Blank first defined startups as “temporary organizations in search of a scalable, repeatable and profitable business model”. Other authors, such as Eric Ries and Paul Graham, provided alternative – yet similar – definitions, linking the notion of “startup” to fast growth , extreme uncertainty and intrinsic innovation.

Based on such premises, it’s clear that not every newly established venture can be considered a startup. Only those that are able to grow and scale fast, redefining or even creating new markets thanks to innovative solutions and business models, legitimately classify as “startups”.

Think about companies such as Facebook, AirB&B and Netflix. In their early days, they rapidly expanded their customer bases, successfully achieving exponential growth in short time. They were perfect examples of what startups truly are. Obviously today they no longer classify as such, as they have more than 100 employees and are worth more than $500ML (A. Wilhelm, 2014). But they surely started that way.

What is a social startup?

Now, if you’re an aspiring changemaker you might be thinking that startups can only be profit-driven and IT-oriented. Well, that’s not really the case! In fact, even in the social sector early-stage companies may “qualify” as startups. These are what we like to call “social startups“.

A social startup is a newly established, market-oriented venture committed to solve cultural, environmental and/or social issues. Rather than being driven by profit, a social startup is committed instead to make the world a better place. And the only way it can succeed in this is by implementing scalable and repeatable solutions, through solid and viable business models.

For instance, before becoming notorious worldwide phenomena, social companies such as Specialisterne and TooGooToGo started as startups too. So nothing’s impossible, as long as you’re able to find a disruptive innovation with the potential to change the world.


In this article, we introduced you to the notion of “startup” and discussed what social startups precisely are.

Startups are often described as “unicorns”, given the rarity of successful ventures as such. Thus.. we know how hard it is to build one, especially in the social sector. Nevertheless, we hope the content available in our platform will push you one step closer to embark in this audacious journey!

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