Social-Tech Entrepreneurs: Building Blocks of a New Social Economy

Article by Mario Calderini, Veronica Chiodo, Francesco Gerli & Giulio Pasi: “Is it possible to create a sustainable, human-centric, resilient economy that achieves diverse objectives—including growth, inclusion, and equity? Could industry provide prosperity beyond jobs and economic growth, by adopting societal well-being as a compass to inform the production of goods and services?

The policy brief “Industry 5.0,” recently released by the European Commission, seems to reply positively. It makes the case for conceiving economic growth as a means to inclusive prosperity. It is also an invitation to rethink the role of industry in society, and reprioritize policy targets and tools

The following reflection, based on insights gathered from empirical research, is a first attempt to elaborate on how we might achieve this rethinking, and aims to contribute to the social economy debate in Europe and beyond.

A New Entrepreneurial Genre

A new entrepreneurial genre forged by the values of social entrepreneurship and fueled by technological opportunities is emerging, and it is well-poised to mend the economic and social wounds inflicted by both COVID-19 and the unexpected consequences of the early knowledge economy—an economy built around ideas and intellectual capital, and driven by diffused creativity, technology, and innovation.

We believe this genre, which we call social-tech entrepreneurship, is important to inaugurating a new generation of place-based, innovation-driven development policies inspired by a more inclusive idea of growth—though under the condition that industrial and innovation policies include it in their frame of reference.

This is partly because social innovation has undergone a complex transformation in recent years. It has seen a hybridization of social and commercial objectives and, as a direct consequence, new forms of management that support organizational missions that blend the two. Today, a more recent trend, reinforced by the pandemic, might push this transformation further: the idea that technologies—particularly those commoditized in the digital and software domains—offer a unique opportunity to solve societal challenges at scale.

Social-tech entrepreneurship differs from the work of high-tech companies in that, as researchers Geoffrey Desa and Suresh Kotha explain, it specifically aims to “develop and deploy technology-driven solutions to address social needs.” A social-tech entrepreneur also leverages technology not just to make parts of their operations more efficient, but to prompt a disruptive change in the way a specific social problem is addressed—and in a way that safeguards economic sustainability. In other words, they attempt to satisfy a social need through technological innovation in a financially sustainable manner. …(More)”.