By: Ryan Randall
There is a lot of ink spilt on the subject of entrepreneurs, and many organizations in our area dedicated to their success. However, not all entrepreneurs are leading for-profit ventures. Many are in the non-profit sector, and sometimes the challenges for these organizations are equal if not more daunting than those on the for-profit side. Fortunately for entrepreneurs, on both sides of the continuum there are organizations and programs dedicated to helping with the organization, management and assumption of risk of entrepreneurial enterprises.
In Central Florida, this kind of assistance can be found at the Central Florida Social Enterprise Accelerator, a program that assists entrepreneurs with networking opportunities, funding and other critical resources. The program was designed by Rollins College in concert with local entrepreneurs. It can run up to six months and strives to assist a new generation of businesspeople and encourage entrepreneurship by helping those with aspiring business plans reach self-sustainable levels.
“We think there’s a great opportunity for social entrepreneurs from other parts of the country who consider coming to Orlando to create a social enterprise.” – Rob Panepinto
The idea for the program stemmed from the work Rob Panepinto (now a candidate for Orange County Mayor) and others had previously done with startups through Entrepreneurs in Action (EIA). During their time with EIA, they recognized that millennials represented the next generation of entrepreneurs and that they generally want to solve critical social issues in ways outside of traditional non-profits driven by philanthropy. They also realized millennials want their professional activities to contribute back to society.
While Panepinto was working with EIA, Ben Hoyer was working on Rally Makers, a program dedicated to accelerating selected social enterprises with money and mentorship. The two met while working with startups, and they quickly realized they could scale more companies by working together.
“In the context of working with Rally Makers, we built relationships with Rollins College, Rob and EIA, and realized there was opportunity,” said Hoyer. “If we all collaborated, we could create something the region could be proud of.”
According to Panepinto, the goal of the accelerator is to provide a blend of academic and practical expertise. Hoyer and the founder of Clean the World, Shawn Seipler, wrote the curriculum, in which entrepreneurs are paired with two mentors who provide expertise from both a business and social perspective. At the conclusion of the program, the entrepreneurs pitch to a group of investors, raising two capital funds. One is a philanthropic fund housed at the Central Florida Foundation that invests in not-for-profits to get them to seek capital and drive them to sustainability. The other is a venture fund that provides seed and early-stage capital to the for-profit businesses that come through the accelerator.
When asked about the importance of a program for social entrepreneurs, Hoyer noted that through his observations of practical and pragmatic solutions, he realized people learn through experience rather than schooling. The accelerator is structured so the mentors are the donors who have run successful businesses, allowing aspiring entrepreneurs to build their network and move towards success. Hoyer also discussed the potential for the early-stage capital the program provides, as well as the opportunity the program has to assist the region’s businesses.
“As we build the character and identity of Orlando, we want to share success stories of people who’ve come through the program and who can raise the banner and say it’s possible to build something here,” Hoyer explained. “And once you do that, you can create a business ecosystem that thrives and position Orlando as a place where entrepreneurs can build something that has a positive impact on the world.”
Enhancing The Community
For Panepinto, there is also an economic development component to the Central Florida Social Enterprise Accelerator. With several successful social enterprises already in the area, he stressed that Orlando is in a great position to diversify its economic base and marketplace, all while including higher-wage and place-based jobs that will improve the quality of life in the region.
“We think there’s a great opportunity for social entrepreneurs from other parts of the country who consider coming to Orlando to create a social enterprise,” Panepinto said.
In addition to the individual support the accelerator has received, the program has also received support from companies and organizations such as the City of Orlando, JP Morgan, Tupperware, Deanbrook Trarick, Withum and CNL. Panepinto feels this support is coming from a region with a strong history of solving social and economic issues.
“Social enterprise uniquely requires the public, private and independent sectors to work together because solving regional social and economic problems involves the cooperation of all sectors,” he said. “Ben and I, as well as others associated with the program, believe this is the most powerful way to solve these issues and enhance quality of life in the region.”
Want To Learn More?
For more information on how to apply for the Central Florida Social Enterprise Accelerator or become an investor, please visit