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All for Profit and Profiting for All

College students are starting for-profit companies that promote social causes.
May 18, 2009
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/201698

College students are known for their progressive thinking and desire to make the world a better place. Now, some are pushing past theoretical ideas and taking steps to put their money where their mouth is by starting for-profit companies that promote social causes.

While studying abroad in Paris during his junior year at Drexel University, Timothy Ericson was impressed by the environmentally friendly bicycle-sharing system he encountered. After doing some research, Ericson learned that the program had 20,600 bicycles, 1,451 stations and more than 42 million users, and he saw an opportunity to take the concept back home and make some money while promoting a healthier environment. "Hopping on a bicycle to go to school and work would be a great convenience for me," says Ericson, 23. "But beyond the convenience factor, this system reduces carbon emissions, which is something I believe in strongly."

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Building a company with staying power was important to Ericson, so he and his co-founders, James Perkins, 25, and Jason Meinzer, 26, opted to incorporate CityRyde as a for-profit entity when it launched in 2007. "You have to make green to go green," Ericson says. "We knew we needed to have a model that allowed us to sustain the business while still helping us save the environment." After a year of planning and development, Philadelphia-based CityRyde has positioned itself as an authoritative bike-sharing consulting firm, offering services to companies across the U.S. and projecting sales of $1.1 million this year.

Recent Harvard grad Joe Green also believed that for-profit work was the best way to set up his socially minded venture, Causes. Launched as a Facebook application in May 2007, Berkeley, Calif.-based Causes enables users to create awareness for and donate to nonprofits, charities and even political causes.

"We thought hard about whether to be a nonprofit or a for-profit, because we really started the company with social aims in mind," says Green, 25. "We decided on a C corp because ultimately we thought it would make us a more effective company if we could hire the best engineers, who typically want things like stock options."

In addition to attracting high-quality employees, the for-profit company structure helped Green and co-founder Sean Parker, 29, raise capital. "People want to know that what they invest in is going to be sustained and is not going to need continuous infusions of cash," Green says.

Today, Causes has more than 35 million active monthly users who have collectively raised over $6 million for various causes in the past year. This success has proven to Green that college students can make a positive impact through social entrepreneurship. "Our internal tag line is, 'Anyone can change the world,'" he says, "and we really mean that."

Joel Holland, 23, is the CEO of Footage Firm in McLean, Virginia. You can reach him at joel@joelkentholland.com.