Helping to right social wrongs
Author: Eric Gold; Photo @Sustainable Harvest
Posted: June 10, 2010

CERVICAL CANCER kills an estimated 300,000 women worldwide each year. Many of these deaths could be prevented with early diagnosis. Portland-based company Preciva understands the numbers and has developed a simple, inexpensive test for the disease that may be used on women in areas of the world where health services are limited.

PSU's new Social Innovation Incubator (SII) is helping entrepreneurs such as Preciva CEO Craig Miller, launch business solutions that address some of the world's most pressing environmental, social, and economic challenges.

"Entrepreneurial activity creates jobs and economic growth," says incubator director Cindy Cooper. "The objective of social entrepreneurship is to right a social wrong, something that isn't addressed by normal market activity."

coffee roasters showing off their beans in Oaxaca, MexicoThe SII taps into the intellectual assets of Portland State staff, faculty, and student consulting teams to provide business planning advice, while introducing entrepreneurs to investors, accountants, and lawyers.

Sustainable Harvest, a Portland coffee importer, is also a client of the SII. It wants to develop "intrapreneurial" projects—initiatives within its existing business. With the incubator's help, the company is starting a roasting business and training center in Oaxaca, Mexico, and a pilot program in Tanzania that will let farmers use the Web to track sales and connect with buyers.

Companies such as Sustainable Harvest will typically be members of the SII for a year, while startups may get longer-term help. Cooper hopes to expand the program to include about 20 ventures and is now reviewing applications. "We believe in trying novel ideas," she says.

In June, the Social Innovation Incubator added two new members: Portland-based Central City Concern and Utah-based The Tipping Bucket. Read more about these companies.