Learning from America's Social Entrepreneurs

Jacob Merrill Kaplan founded The J.M.Kaplan Fund on the democratic ideal that there are many roads to success. In this spirit, The J.M.K. Innovation Prize, launched in 2015, was designed to solicit boldly promising ideas—however untested or wherever they arise. The Fund offered up to ten $175,000 awards to U.S.-based individuals or teams working to address our country’s most pressing needs through social-sector innovation.

The response was overwhelming: 1,138 applications from 45 states as well as Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Iñupiat leaders using heritage to confront Alaska’s soaring social challenges. A mobile maker space bringing tech-charged opportunity to the Mississippi River Delta. Brooklyn teaching artists creating justice programs for young offenders. The sheer diversity of ideas revealed talent, grit, and resilience in every corner of the country.

This report explores the more than one thousand Innovation Prize entries, distilled into seven takeaways that offer key insights for the future of social entrepreneurship.