Good Business

In the latest issue of The Business Incubator, Allyson Hewitt introduces us to the concept of corporate social innovation. The article is a welcome demonstration that social innovation thinking is emerging into the mainstream.

A young animator had figured out a new way to streamline the animation process. He approached the Information technology, Communications and Entertainment (ICE) practice at MaRS, a “convergence innovation” centre located in downtown Toronto, to help him commercialize his idea. He was given access to market intelligence, skilled and experienced mentors, networks and opportunities to raise capital – and thus BitStrips was born. But, because he came to MaRS and not a standard business incubator, he was asked to think about his business through a “social innovation” lens.

Does this process allow people to create their own avatars? Yes, that’s the whole point. Could students do this? Absolutely! Do you think you could create a product that schools would be interested in purchasing and that could help students? Why not? We just hadn’t thought about it before.

The outcome: a new market opportunity is opened and their largest client is the Toronto District School Board (and more recently other school boards in Ontario) who are using BitStrips for Schools, a newly designed product wherein students can create their own avatars to tell stories using comic strips. Students are now using the comics to learn another language; French doesn’t seem so intimidating when it involves cartoon characters talking to each other. The animation process is used to reduce bullying, as it is a safe way for children to tell stories, even painful ones. And the result is a whole new level of engagement to increase literacy rates. Hardly an intended consequence of the comic strip development process, but one that bodes well for the future of the company and of the students who are using the product.

This is what we call a “double-bottom line” business. One that is clearly focused on making a profit, but it also has a social bottom line, in this case, increased literacy and decreased bullying rates.

To read the full article, please download the attachment on the left.