Just when you thought (or, were hoping) eating bugs was a passing fad.
Echoing Green on Tuesday announced its latest batch of fellows whose vision for social or environmental change could one day put them in the same league as past awardees, who represent a veritable who's who of social entrepreneurs.
This year's 52 winners in the categories of Global, Black Male Achievement, and Climate get two years of seed funding up to $90,000, as well as access to leading business professionals in marketing, finance and technology. They also join a global network of alumni leaders like 1991 Global Fellow and founder of Teach for America Wendy Kopp, Eric Schwarz, founder of Citizen Schools and 1995 Global Fellow, and Vikram Akula of SKS Microfinance who was a Global Fellow in 1998.
Echoing Green, launched by the leadership of private equity firm General Atlantic in 1987, was one of the first organizations to invest in early-stage social enterprises almost 30 years ago. Using the same venture capital model for social good, the nonprofit has invested $36 million in more than 600 entrepreneurs spanning 60 countries.
Among other things, this year's fellows envision a world where humans eat insects as a source of sustainable protein; everyone, including renters, have access to affordable solar energy and recently incarcerated people can land consistent employment.
The point of the program is--and has always been--to help incubate a variety of good ideas. After all, Echoing Green's President Cheryl Dorsey tells Inc.com, "There is no single solution to the world's biggest problems." Indeed, this year's winners include several ventures that help address everything from overcoming youth unemployment to connecting farmers with rented tractors.
Take, for example, Jordyn Lexton, one of Echoing Green's 2015 Black Male Achievement Fellows. The award goes to entrepreneurs working toward the advancement of black men and boys. The founder of Drive Change, a nonprofit that uses the food truck industry to empower and employ young people returning from prison, she is thrilled to have finally landed the fellowship, for both the funding and the support system.
"It's amazing timing for me personally and for Drive Change as an organization," says Lexton, a former high school teacher at the Rikers Island jail complex. "After 14 months of operation, we feel very strongly about our vision for growth, and now I feel confident we'll be able to get there with this community and seed money."
She plans on using the money and mentorship to create a food truck commissary to serve as a home base for like-minded food truck owners. The hope is that in addition to cleaning their trucks and filling up their tanks, they will hire formerly incarcerated youth from her program.
Climate Fellows like Paolo Stufano and Domenico Centrone of Eggplant aim to reduce pollution in Italy by using wastewater to produce high-performance bioplastics. Jehiel Oliver founded Hello Tractor to create a sharing economy for "Smart Tractors" among sub-Saharan farmers through mobile technology.
Rose Wang and Laura D'Asaro, Climate Fellows and founders of Six Foods, seek to encourage consumption of insects as a sustainable meat alternative. Wang and D'Asaro--a self-proclaimed entotarian--sell Chirps, high-protein tortilla chips made from milled cricket flour. The founders aim to educate Americans on the benefits of insects as food to mitigate the waste and greenhouse gas emissions produced by the livestock industry.
"We know that social entrepreneurs respond to the issues of the day," says Janna Oberdorf, Director of Strategic Communications at Echoing Green. "They see value and promise where others see trouble and decay. They see the problems occurring in their communities, and they feel compelled to do something about it."