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6 Inspiring Social Entrepreneurs You Need To Know

Social entrepreneurship is more than a passing trend. It’s a new way of life and of business. As more and more companies realize the importance of giving back, young entrepreneurs are having a major impact on the world of business. Thanks to Gen-Z, startups are becoming synonymous with community initiatives and charitable giving.

Here at the Kantner Foundation, we don’t only celebrate young entrepreneurship. We reward those young entrepreneurs who work hard to make a difference in the world. We believe in the extraordinary power of young people to reshape the world into a better place.

These 9 social entrepreneurs (of varying ages) are disrupting the status quo all over the world and in a wide array of fields. Could you be next on the list?

1.           HANNAH DAVIS, BANGS SHOES

Ms. Davis started Bangs Shoes when she was 22 years old. Her inspiration? Her own life and the struggles she endured feeling lost right out of college. She knew she couldn’t be the only one faced with the shock of suddenly having no support system. While teaching English in China, she took plenty of walks to clear her mind and find some direction. The result is Bangs, an ethical shoe company that helps other up-and-coming young entrepreneurs.

As of fall 2021, Bangs has invested in over 5,000 vetted entrepreneurs around the world. When the loans are repaid, the money gets reinvested in new entrepreneurs.

Takeaway: The very problems you face as a young entrepreneur can be the driving force behind your startup.

2.           CELENA GILL, COLLIN, RYAN, AND AUSTIN GILL, FRÈRES BRANCHIAUX CANDLES

We love, love, LOVE hearing stories about young entrepreneurs become massively successful! And the story of these three brothers – Collin, Ryan, and Austin Gill – is yet another example of how age doesn’t matter when it comes to passion and drive.

Like many young people, the three brothers started out wanting more money for toys and video games. With the support of their parents (including mama CEO Celena Gill), they learned how to make candles. Soon, their candles were ready to sell for profit. Today, Frères Branchiaux candles are sold in upscale shops across America.

Frères Branchiaux will recycle empty candle containers. Their candles are vegan and eco-friendly, and the brothers donate 10% of their profits to homeless shelters.

Takeaway: You can make a difference while making a profit!

3.           LAURA WITTIG, BRIGHTLY

It’s one thing to talk the talk when it comes to minimizing your eco-footprint. It’s a whole other thing to walk the walk in a culture of fast fashion and faster delivery services. Falling back on old standbys like Amazon is so easy, convenient, and, well, there.

This is precisely why Ms. Wittig helped found Brightly, a company devoted entirely to sustainable shopping for consumers. They are a “discovery and community platform” that makes it simple and straightforward for shoppers to support small, eco-friendly businesses. Each brand they feature has passed the vetting process requiring responsible supply chains, ethical labor practices, and eco-friendly materials.

Takeaway: Services are just as necessary to social entrepreneurship as products.

4.           XAVIER HELGESEN, CHRISTOPHER FUCHS, AND JEFF KURTZMAN, BETTER WORLD BOOKS

Some entrepreneurial dreams are born, like when you wake up one day and just know what it is you want to do with your life. Other entrepreneurial dreams are made out of necessity.

Upon college graduation, Mr. Helgesen and Mr. Fuchs needed careers. Already tutoring, they decided to try selling used textbooks online. The idea took off. Soon joined by their friend Mr. Kurtzman, they added a social aspect to their business by funding literacy programs.

Years later, Better World Books has proven to be a leader in social entrepreneurship by donating money to literacy programs around the world, creating jobs, giving away books to those in need, and recycling old books. All this while selling everything from children’s books to Stephen King bestsellers.

Takeaway: Successful young entrepreneurs know how to turn any challenge into an opportunity.

5.           YONI MEDHIN, GRAIN4GRAIN

Grain4Grain is the true definition of a multitasking social business. Mr. Medhin created a patented process that takes waste grain – useable but often wasted byproduct from brewers – and turns it into delicious, healthy, and affordable snacks and mixes. They also donate to local food banks. And provide jobs. And funnel money into local communities. So if you’re going to eat chocolate pancakes anyway, might as well make the most of it!

Thanks to their incredible mission and amazing ingenuity, Grain4Grain was chosen as one of Kroger Co.’s ten Zero Hunger | Zero Waste cohorts, as well as an Embracing Entrepreneurial Equity program, and third place in the H-E-B Quest for Texas Best competition. Not too shabby for a flour-replacement company!

Takeaway: Smart young entrepreneurs know how to turn someone else’s wasted product into startup treasure.

6.           MADELEINE SHAW AND SUZANNE SIEMENS, AISLE

For many on this planet, monthly periods are a fact of life. Until recently, there weren’t many planet-friendly choices when it came to period hygiene. Thankfully, the 21st century has seen an explosion of new options for anyone who menstruates.

One of those options is the Aisle (named after the “period aisle” at stores) line of products. Ms. Shaw and Ms. Siemens believe in reclaiming the period aisle as a place of “comfort, sustainability, and respect.” Beyond creating reusable, earth-friendly period products, Aisle donates products to youth in need, offers sex education to young women around the U.S. and Canada, and has partnered with organizations in Africa to provide free puberty education to girls.

Takeaway: Sometimes a simple idea can help drive a global solution.

As a take-charge young entrepreneur, we know you have big dreams. And we know those dreams probably include working as a global citizen to make the world a better place. Don’t be afraid to reach, stretch, and rise to the challenge of young entrepreneurship!

Florida’s young entrepreneurs are encouraged to apply for a Kantner Foundation college scholarship. Learn more by clicking here!


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