Jon Freeman
Jon Freeman

Miller Center Receives $1.5 Million Gift to Explore Replication of Successful Social-Entrepreneurship Business Models

SANTA CLARA, Calif., June 21, 2016—Many social enterprises address similar problems afflicting the global poor—such as lack of access to drinking water or to clean, affordable energy—with highly localized solutions. But could the best solutions be better replicated across regions or industries, helping lift more people out of poverty more quickly? What if, for instance, a safe drinking water business validated in one location could be reproduced and introduced to other geographic regions that also lack potable water?

To help answer such questions, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Jon Freeman has given $1.5 million to Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship to explore the best ways to replicate effective social business models.

“Social enterprises participating in Miller Center’s Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) programs emerge with substantiated and scalable business models. But to meaningfully address the pressing problems of poverty, we need to amplify the scaling process by working on multiple successful business models in parallel, reproducing and launching them in other geographic regions,” said Thane Kreiner, executive director of Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship. “While social enterprise replication is not a new idea, Jon’s gift funds a concerted effort to replicate effective social business models globally.”

Replicating proven social enterprise business models, rather than starting over from scratch, can significantly decrease the time and resources spent on getting a social enterprise up and running. In addition, replicated enterprises also present reduced risks for impact investors. The key, however, is to ensure that the underlying business model is adapted and tailored to the specific needs of the new locale.

“I have always believed that the way to tackle challenges such as poverty or the negative impacts of climate change is by eradicating the barriers to opportunity,” said Freeman, president and principal owner of real estate investment firm Stonecrest Financial, and Miller Center advisory board member. “Social entrepreneurs are more likely to build successful enterprises if they can start with a blueprint or proof of concept that has already been developed and confirmed somewhere else in the real world.”

Miller Center Is Innovating Replication Paradigms

Miller Center defines replication broadly, to include opening new branches of a social enterprise in different areas; offering business models to others in licensing or open-sourcing arrangements; and franchising. Miller Center will use the $1.5 million gift to experiment with replication paradigms to understand what routes lead to the greatest impact soonest.
The ingredients of these replication paradigms include:

  • Identifying “originating” social enterprises that have proven business models and technology or service innovations. Miller Center has mentored and trained 570 Miller Center GSBI alumni: social enterprises with well-honed business models whose social entrepreneurs have had in-depth mentoring from leading Silicon Valley executives. Miller Center will document business models and best practices—including type of supply chain, distribution models, operating and sales manuals, marketing programs and more—so that new enterprises tackling the same issues have a head start in implementing their own businesses.
  • Conducting market research to analyze local beneficiary needs, attitudes, and other market conditions. Miller Center’s network of locally based, social entrepreneurship support partners can provide important on-the-ground research about both originating social enterprises and potential replication targets.
  • Identifying entrepreneurs who have the right acumen, passion, and commitment to operate replicated enterprises. Social entrepreneurs interested in franchising, licensing, or replicating successful business models might have different expertise or focus than the originating entrepreneurs—for instance, greater interest in operations than ideation.
  • Replicating incubation, and acceleration services. Miller Center will take advantage of its strong, local, in-country partners to work with both originating and replicating entrepreneurs to localize appropriate business models, and to support the transfer and growth of those business models from the originating to the replicating entrepreneurs.