The below is a condensed version of the original post that is published on the CASE Notes blog.
When you talk to Jim Fruchterman, the rocket scientist who founded Benetech, about his advice for social entrepreneurs, be prepared to drink from a fire hose. His 29 years of experience championing a new industry have made him an extraordinary social entrepreneur and full of nuggets of wisdom. A few that he shared with us when he was at Fuqua recently included:
- We can harness the power of technology to ensure that the innovations we create can benefit ALL society, not just the top 10%.
- You don’t need to have a tech degree to succeed in high tech – it’s more about the problems you can find and solve.
- The gap between what’s possible and what’s profitable is so big that the number of opportunities [to develop non-profit solutions to big issues] is huge.
Fruchterman knows what he’s talking about. After founding two of the foremost optical character recognition companies in the world, he launched Benetech, a “deliberately non-profit” technology company dedicated to solving unmet social needs. Since then Benetech has grown steadily to become a premier and highly sustainable organization with nearly $10M in annual revenues, ~85% of which Fruchterman says comes from customers (end users or third party payers), not philanthropy.
Benetech focuses on three main categories of social change — Literacy, Human Rights and the Environment — partnering with local grassroots organizations to create technology-driven solutions to day-to-day needs on the ground.
What’s next for Benetech? Each year the organization runs an idea-gathering process to generate new concepts from inside and outside of the company, from which they pick the top ideas to pursue. Fruchterman gave us a sneak peak of two new projects that came out of the pipeline last year:
- SocialCoding4Good, recently announced in Benetech’s “President’s Update,” will provide an online space for tech professionals to connect with nonprofits to volunteer their ideas, connections, time and skills on software development projects.
- Another project, CityOptions, will work with local governments that are committed to clean energy and climate change solutions to develop software and data collection tools that fit their needs, help to identify the best strategies for meeting their environmental goals, and allow for web-based, open source sharing of knowledge about climate solutions.
In recognition of this esteemed track record, Fuqua’s Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship (CASE) awarded Jim Fruchterman and Benetech with the annual CASE Award for Enterprising Social Innovation (ESI). We congratulate Benetech on their work to date and the impact yet to come!
About the Award
CASE launched the Award for Enterprising Social Innovation (ESI) to recognize outstanding individuals, organizations, or companies whose innovations blend methods from the worlds of business and philanthropy to create sustainable social value that has the potential for large-scale impact. CASE accepts nominations from the public each spring.
Joanne Sprague is a second-year MBA student and a CASE Fellow. She graduated from Dartmouth College in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. At Fuqua, she is focusing on social entrepreneurship and finance.