If social entrepreneurship is to have lasting, positive social impact, proponents will have to be stategic in building a strong community of practice and knowledge, and in strengthening the ecosystem that supports practitioners.

— Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship, Duke University


One year ago, for the first time, we set out to build a framework and measure social enterprise ecosystems in the United States. We heard from almost 400 social entrepreneurs and distilled their feedback into the four pillars of a social enterprise ecosystem: funding, human capital, quality of life, and regulation and receptivity. The response to the report was validating; the sector clearly valued a better understanding of what a viable social enterprise ecosystem looks like, with some cities even using the report as a baseline for including "impact" in their formal economic strategy. 

Measuring Social Enterprise Ecosystems

How We Got the #'s

Survey Responses:

Building on last year’s survey and the four pillars in the framework, we surveyed 416 social entrepreneurs from across the country to find out about their social enterprise ecosystem. Among the 416 social entrepreneurs, 264 are either founders or on the executive team of the social enterprise.

Small Groups:

We consulted with dozens of experts and thought leaders in the social enterprise space who helped us design the survey questions and directed our city ranking study.

Public Data:

The 2017 city rankings are based on an expanded set of public data to more robustly measure how social enterprise ecosystems support their entrepreneurs. 

2017: The Year of the Sparks

We collaborated with Deloitte and conducted in-depth interviews on leading practices for improving your ecosystem.

See All Sparks

Social Enterprise Ecosystem Framework

The Four Pillars


The fuel of the ecosystem: sources of capital including seed funding, grants and philanthropic and venture capital (representing both public and private sources).

Human Capital

The engine of the ecosystem: finding great people – as team members, mentors, employees, and advisors.

Quality of Life

The fabric of the ecosystem: everything from diversity, cost of living, and transportation that determines an entrepreneur’s experience living in a region. 

Regulation & Receptivity

The operational environment of the ecosystem: regulations, market receptivity and even perception and attitudes towards a social enterprise can create an environment that either nurtures or stifles social enterprise. 

Who Can Use This Study

soc ent

Social Entrepreneurs

Discover insights and learn more about which ecosystem is the best fit for your social enterprise.

impact enablerz

Impact Enablers

Foundations, incubators, universities and other relevant organizations – better understand your role in helping social ventures succeed.



Learn more about the unique challenges and great potential of social entrepreneurship as you play a critical role in growing your local impact investing ecosystem.

business leadrs

Business Leaders

As profit and purpose become increasingly intertwined, find out how to engage with the up-and-coming startups that will define the impact economy. 

policy makers


Understand the conditions under which social entrepreneurs succeed and find recommendations for how to strengthen your local social enterprise ecosystem.