For many coast dwellers, the Midwest might appear to be a cluster of corn producing, fly over states. However, for those familiar with the Midwest, its deep-set, and caring values are at the heart of this often overlooked culture. And nowhere is this more abundantly clear than in the Midwest’s flourishing Social Entrepreneurship scene.
The hard work ethic and kind values which the Midwest is famous for can be witnesses in the numerous startups, big and small, sprawled across this vibrant ecosystem. One example of this is Minneapolis’ Inclusivi-tee.
This young startup sells subscriptions for comfortable, eco-friendly, and beautiful t-shirts. Every Tee is uniquely and “lovingly” designed by a local artist. Then it is printed on using fabric made from recycled plastic bottles and reclaimed cotton. While this alone might sound like an incredible feat, on top of this, 100% of the profits go to progressive charities and non-profits.
In a recent interview with twincities.com, the brains behind Inclusivi-tee, Lori Myren-Manbeck, explained her motivation behind this project, stating, “I decided to start Inclusivi-tee in late 2016 when I realized that I needed to do more to make a difference and support causes I felt passionately for. I could not simply sit by and expect someone else to do the work.”
This work is undeniably very inspiring, and the good news is, Myren-Manbeck isn’t the only one that is looking to make a difference in this region. For example, in Chicago, the world famous company, Threadless, has a long history of pioneering social causes through T-shirt sales. Moreover, numerous organizations and nonprofits are employing innovative methods to take down issues of all sizes, from around the world, and right on their doorstep.
For example, According to Venturebeat, Illinois currently awards 10% of US computer science degrees, but desperately needs more STEM jobs.
One company working in this area, based out of Naperville, Illinois is GreenApple STEM, a startup that provides a SaaS digital platform, giving educators and entrepreneurs the ability to bring STEM courses into a wide variety of environments.
“Access to STEM education is a difference maker for underserved populations. Our goal at GreenApple STEM is connecting the dots from STEM to Innovation to Entrepreneurship. We believe that Social Entrepreneurship grows naturally from there. Today’s young social entrepreneurs are fluent in technology and comfortable applying the power of technology to solve the problems they see.” stated Dee Guiney, Founder, and CEO of GreenApple STEM.
Other startups in the Midwest have decided to use modern technology to make a difference, enabling good causes to benefit from modern advancements such as AI. In a recent interview with The Chicago Tribune, Amelia Chen, an employee at the tech for good startup Public Good, talks about how she is proud to be part of the young startup which uses AI-powered technology to drive donations for articles or pages with a cause.
She explains, “Our technology is driven by machine learning, so we harness the power of artificial intelligence to match content with causes, to match those causes with readers and nonprofits, and make it really seamless for people to do something about what they just read. On articles that are cause-related, be it violence or cancer, natural disasters or even the shootings in Texas and Vegas, our Take Action widgets would just sit in the article, and they connect readers with national and local nonprofits they can get involved with to immediately make a difference.”
In the interview, she also talks about her past ambitions of climbing the career ladder in finance during her time working at JP Morgan.
However, due to a family tragedy, she discovered the importance of pursuing her passion, which later resulted in her working with Public Good. Chen is not alone when it comes to utilizing skills for a good cause. A previous study indicated that an incredible 94% of Millennials want to use their skills for good.
For Millennials searching for a good cause to focus on, Chicago is not short on opportunity. According to an Inc article, Chicago is quickly becoming the social entrepreneurship capital of the U.S. Perhaps it is due to the long, cold winters the citizens must endure together or possibly because a chunk of the city has a higher death toll than Afghanistan and Iraq.
“Whereas Silicon Valley attracts the most brilliant technologists, and New York City attracts those who value big living and opulence, Chicago attracts the get-sh*t-done, no-nonsense leaders.”
He adds, “It’s a big city with a small town feel, and its culture is based on values of hard work, discipline, and dedication. Chicagoans are pragmatic and have a sensible idea of what can be achieved. But most importantly, they are grounded in their motivations for disruption. And that’s exactly what positions Chicago to be the next global hub for innovation.”
As a result, the windy city has produced a long list of startups aiming to good. Whether it’s encouraging businesses to send their employees around the world for volunteer projects, or even helping to teach kids how to code, Chicago definitely has the “how can I help” attitude that many tech hubs, like Silicon Valley, could learn from.