Helping Social Entrepreneurs grow amazing businesses

5 Social Entrepreneurs And Their Secrets For Success

We just launched our Balkan-wide initiative with Yunus Social Business Balkans! The team and I have been traveling across the region in search of potential and successful social entrepreneurs.

It’s been incredibly exciting.

Having had the personal pleasure of meeting rooms full of entrepreneurial energy in Sarajevo, Tirana and Belgrade, I’ve also watched activity flourish in our team’s wake across Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia and Montenegro.

Our focus has been to give people a taste of what it means to be in a YSB accelerator, and the methodology and network that is our strength.

However, if you were unable to join us at any of our events so far, we wanted to offer you some insights here, on our blog!

Below I’ve collected 5 great success stories from social entrepreneurs to highlight what they’ve done right.

These are all core elements of what we do as a social business accelerator. So if you want to know what you could learn by working with us, this is a great place to start.


1. Great Social Entrepreneurs Focus on the ‘Business’ in ‘Social Business’

All sincere social entrepreneurs have a deep-rooted passion for change and impacting people’s lives. That is why they create such inspiring social businesses in the first place. But there is one criteria that separates the successful ones form the not so successful ones and that is business instincts.

Whenever we are approached with “project proposals” for a social business, plenty of alarms go off in our systems. A social business is a business first and can only create meaningful impact if it is running on a sustainable business model.

Always ask yourself “who will pay for my services?” and “how can I provide the best product or service to my paying customers?”.

When Emiland Skora first approached us with his idea of an organic aromatic herbs plantation in Albania, he pitched the amazing market opportunities around aromatic herbs first. THEN he told us about the great things he could do for farmers in rural areas with such a profitable business.

After just a few discussions, he ticked almost all the boxes that we were looking for: Years of experience, links to international markets and – most importantly – a true commitment for helping people in his community.

From day one, the business was built on a very healthy financial basis. So it was easy to integrate a social model into “Saint George Valley Organic Farming”. And today, only one year after incorporation, it helps employ 75 rural farmers.

Check out similar stories on inclusive growth by social entrepreneurs on the back of profitable business models:

2. Create Stuff That You As A Social Entrepreneur Really Care About

Doing business is rough and tough. It takes you to the highest peaks of excitement but it also drags you through the valley of setbacks. To pull through these heavy times, you have GOT to love what you’re doing – to the verge of obsession for your product.

Some studies even suggest that there is a link between successful entrepreneurship and sub-clinical psychopathy. Now, don’t get me wrong: I don’t think that good entrepreneurs need to show up in straitjackets. But:

Social entrepreneurs have to show extreme excitement for the products and services they are selling. Otherwise, how will they ever be able to convince others to buy their products?

One amazing example for such an entrepreneur is Fionn Dobbin. He is a Social Business Ambassador for the Balkans. Every single time I hear him speak, I am filled with energy. He talks about his social business Mammu with so much passion that you just have to love the things he does.

Mammu sells high fashion made by single mothers in Latvia. He even got world class designers, models and retail companies to love his product. He just presents it in a way that is breathtaking. And Fionn himself nails this topic much better than I can in his TEDx about “A Brand becomes a Movement”.

Also check out Fionn’s presentation on “Why Shit Matters”. It’s a prime example of how passion can (almost literally) turn shit into gold.

3. Prototype Early On, And Don’t Cheat

The “Lean Methodology” is, of course, an old hat by the standards of tech leaders and startups. But it has not yet found its way into social business. And much less so into the Western Balkans. It is all about finding out what your customers want first. Then understand which products and service deliver the best value to them. In another step how you can get the product to your customer, etc. etc. In this process, you always focus on “how can I prove the assumptions in my business model (with data) “.

A perfect example of how this can work is Sonila’s “Farm to Table”. She and her team of social entrepreneurs entered last year’s accelerator program with the idea of starting a supermarket for organic food with zero waste in Tirana. Much like “Original Unverpackt” in Berlin.

After going through our workshops and discussions with her mentors, she and her team realized that they needed to start by serving their first customers. But instead of setting up a full-scale supermarket, they went directly to their first clients. They offered a subscription service for healthy food. Every week, their clients would order vegetables, fruits, cheese or wine. And the Farm to Table team would go out to their rural farmers to procure the items.

By the time they left the accelerator, they had over 30 clients. And most importantly, they truly understood their customers’ needs. They knew how much they would pay. And they found out how they could source the products they needed. And all this with zero investment money.

Good social entrepreneurs think big and start small. They always try to understand their customers and the market first.

4. Hire Diversity

Once you’ve made it through the hard first steps of building a social business you will come to a point where you have to grow a team to support you. At that point, it may feel obvious to hire people that tick like you. You are tempted to hire people that share your passion and who you get along with.


You live off of the diversity in your team. The more diverse, the better. People from different backgrounds will come up with completely new solutions to the problems you are facing. That makes you innovative but also extremely effective.

Jeff Bussgang describes the needs for different profiles at various stages in a business in a very striking way. He talks about three stages of growth: Jungle Stage, Dirt Stage and Highway Stage.

In the beginning, you as founders and your first hires have to battle your way through a jungle of challenges. There simply is no clear road to follow. You are the newcomers in unchartered territories. Once you clear that jungle, you hit the dirt road. Here, the path becomes much clearer but people still have to get their hands dirty. After that, you enter the highway. And now, it is not only possible to progress at high speed but it also becomes dangerous if you cannot keep up with the speed of the crowd.

At each stage of your business, you will need different profiles that keep you on track.

Bear with me, please, when I describe Yunus Social Business as an example for such diversity. Our co-founders, Saskia Bruysten (@saskiabruysten) and Sophie Eisenmann understood from day one that the vision they had for the company needed a very diverse team.

And as I write this, I am sitting in a room with a a serial entrepreneur from Barbados, a former manager of an SME support organization in Kosovo, a consultant from Boston Consulting Group from France and a communication expert from Papua New Guinea.

5. Step Aside

As your company grows even bigger, it is time for you as a founder to revisit whether you can add value in your company.

At some point in your career, you will have to start working on your business, not in it.

That is the moment when you have to detach yourself from daily operations. And that means, to some extent also from the constant thrill of customer and beneficiary interaction. In many cases, social entrepreneurs really don’t like that. But they also don’t give themselves a chance to change that.

But there would be so much to gain from revisiting your own position in your company. This means, really understanding what you want to do personally. Take a look at the bold step that Sergey Brin and Larry Page took by stepping down as CEOs from Google. They wanted to focus on what they were good at: Creating new products and spurring innovation.

In an amazing step of similar hindsight, Christian Vanizette (@coconutsurfing), Founder of MakeSense, stepped away from leading MakeSense as the CEO. He no longer wanted to have the head position to focus on the things he really can get excited about: building communities and bringing social entrepreneurs together across the world. So he became the leading “backpacker” and community manager of MakeSense. He continues to growh the MakeSense across the world. And he truly adds value each and every day.

Today, whenever I meet him, he just gets more and more energised about the great things MakeSense does. He gets to focus on what he loves doing most – without the hassle of sometimes very bureaucratic CEO tasks.


I hope you take these examples away with some inspiration for yourself. If you are interested to learn more and dive deeper into the Yunus Social Business network, apply for our accelerator in the Balkans or write us an email to


About the Author

Daniel (@dannowack) has started four businesses in image manipulation, mobile payment, online marketing and publishing. He held various roles in startups such as CEO, CFO and Head of Business Development. He has a background in marketing and finance and has been involved in multiple 6- to 7-digit funding rounds in the past. Daniel has been working with Prof. Yunus since 2010 and was in the driver’s seat for key projects such as Social Business Cities or the Global Social Business Summit 2011. He currently heads YSB Balkans as Executive Director.

andreas heinickhe

New Mentor joining our Accelerator

YSBA is happy to announce that Andreas Heinecke, the YSBA ambassador in the world, also the famous social entrepreneur of Dialogue in the Dark will be mentoring the Accelerator Program this year!

Andreas Heinecke started his path as social entrepreneur in 1985. While working for a radio station, he was charged with developing a rehabilitation program for a blind colleague. Inspired by this encounter and realizing the potential he created a dialogue with a reversal of roles – the concept of Dialogue in the Dark, which was launched in Frankfurt in 1988.

Since then, numerous Dialogue in the Dark exhibitions and business workshops have evolved worldwide and are established independently through a social franchise-system. More than 7 million visitors and participants have been taking part in this unique experience, thereby promoting empathy and tolerance towards “otherness” in the greater public understanding. In 1997 Dialogue in Silence was created as complimentary experience in total silence where participants discover a repertoire of non-verbal expression with the help of hearing impaired guides and trainers.

In 2005, he became the first “Ashoka-Fellow” in Western Europe and the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship appointed him as “Outstanding Global Social Entrepreneur”.

In 2009, Heinecke founded the Dialogue Social Enterprise GmbH to establish an umbrella for all current and future projects, the latest one being Dialogue with Time, created together with his wife Orna Cohen and opened its doors in Israel in August 2012. The exhibition guides are seniors from 70 years up and visitors experience aging and can enter to a dialogue of generations.

Since 2011, Andreas took a Professorship at the Danone Chair for Social Business at the European Business School in Wiesbaden, Germany.


New Entrepreneurs Program

New Entrepreneur Program is a YSBA Pilot Program that will be implemented by Yunus Social Business Albania, is a replication of NobinUdyokta (New Entrepreneur) Program, a new dimension in the development of Social Business in Bangladesh. It enables Grameen family members to grow their micro-businesses to a sustainable size and provide job opportunities. More than 400 businesses have been supported – a success story in the making.

The program encourages young individuals of the community to create employment for themselves as well as others by using their creative, innovative and entrepreneurial skills. The goal of this program,is to convert youth unemployment to entrepreneurship, the inspiration for which comes from Professor Yunus’ words, “We are not job seekers, we are job givers.”

NE will provide small equity-like financing (3k to 8k EUR) to young entrepreneurs in order to realize their dreams and a coach will guide them along the way. After repayment of the seed financing, they fully will own their business – no strings attached.

This pilot aims to provide proof of concept for Europe, based on the success of the same concept used in Bangladesh to be scaled and replicated later on.


Third Cycle Accelerator Program

YSB accelerator program in Albania helps entrepreneurs develop their ideas into successful startup businesses. The goal of this program is to create jobs, spur innovation, create new business leaders in Albania and the region, give hand-on business education and opportunities, and develop an entrepreneurial network. The third round of the Accelerator Program will be held during November 2015 – February 2016.


  • Deadline: Applications will open from July 20th – September 30th 2015 through YSB online platform
  • Eligible Applicants: Interested entrepreneurs and wannabe entrepreneurs from Albania and Kosovo who are interested to start or develop their business initiatives, preferably within one of the sectors with high potential for social impact: Agriculture and Local Development or Information Technology. Other sectors can be considered if the startup has an outstanding impact, or an innovative business model. The acceptable business initiatives could be early planning stage, at prototype stage or at growth stage.

Selection of candidates: The selection process will happen during October 1st – October 22th in two stages as follows:

  • Evaluation and selection of semifinalists will be done during October 1st – 10th;
  • Interviews with the semifinalists will be held from during October 12th – Oct. 20th
  • Pitch Day on October 22th where up to 15 winners will be selected

Announcement of winners: YSB will select up to 25 candidates for the Acceleration Program (depending on the quality of applications), with up to 15 winners being announced during October 22th, 2015.

Tuition: The Accelerator Program even this year will be offered for free for the 15 selected participants.

Start your own journey! 


Insights from Entrepreneurs: Building a Business

Florian Hofmann, Co-Founder and CEO of pixoona, will join our accelerator program as an international expert. Besides his job at Germany-based pixoona he is board advisor to the team of paij, a mobile payment app. Florian brings great experience in team building, leadership and product development to our program. In a first article, he talks about his experiences.

A thrilling idea is born, what is the next step?

You shouldn´t fly solo! The next challenge is to enthrall 2-3 people with your vision and mission-statement. It should be your first reality check: is your idea really generating value for people? Bringing in partners who supplement your blind spots and weaknesses can be the difference in determining success or failure. If you have to “going it alone,” you should make sure that you have access to a support system of trusted mentors and advisers, like Yunus Social Business team, who are willing to help you look at your business objectively and navigate through unexpected events – because they will arise, believe me.

You’ve already founded several Start Ups – Where do you find your investors?

I think that’s a wrong perspective. It’s not about where you can find investors, it’s more about what kind of money do you really look for.

I’m sure the German investment environment for startups is quite different in Albania or the U.S., but for every entrepreneur it’s important to understand the consequences of your choice of investment strategy:

Do you need a proof-of-concept first or do you really just need to scale up? Do you look for a strategic partner or do you need more reach? – There is a source of money for every need.

Family and friends are the first choice for you to look for investment money for the startup, when you’re sure that everyone understands the risk of failure and in the worst case, they would still respect you and accept failure as part of doing business.

Private Business Angels bring in money and expertise. When you get your first good results they are the perfect door-opener for bigger investments.

Crowd funding platforms provide you a low level entry to a broader scene of micro-investors. A positive marketing aspect is that these investors will probably be your first fans and customers, too.

A venture capitalist can transform your dream into a rocket, but be aware of the fact that they’re just managing money of their customers. So the valuation of your company has to be in a realistic relation to your investment-need. They won’t accept investments with a ratio bigger than 25%.

What kind of mistakes should you avoid as a “first time founder”?

Sure, running out of money is one oft the biggest challenges for young businesses. Often this is the consequence of mistakes the founder or management team did in the past:

When we were just starting out, I was still studying Social work and Business Administration. At one point I decided to drop out, because our company was growing faster and faster. I was aware of my gaps in classic management skills, like controlling or financial planning and I had to learn to bring in external expertise for these kinds of tasks in the company. . Don’t wait for that! Perfection means weakness. Don´t fall in love too much with your product. A fast roll out is more important than making sure that the world knows how genius you are.

What are the 3 most important learnings for you?

It’s all about building, testing, learning.

Think Big and Stay Lean: Spark 59 are providing a lot of practical ressources for founders and the book rework from Jason Fried, founder of 37singals, taught me a lot

Launch Early: You´ll never be the only person on the planet with a specific idea. Your idea is worth nothing until you’ve implemented and proofed it. Start with the minimal viable version of your idea/product, test the acceptance and then decide about the most important things to improve for your user’s/customer’s experience.
Measure, Measure, Measure: You have to identify the most important key indicators to control your theory and assumptions. There is no one to blame when your analytics point out that some assumptions were not realistic. These insights can reveal which measures you have to put in place.

What are the most effective tools you are working with? Can you recommend some powerful applications that founders could use?

Wow, let me think… Managing a project has never been easier, thanks to some great online collaboration tools. When trying to coordinate my team for example, the tools I worked with were basecamp and flow. They are both task management tools for managing files, tasks and deadlines in one place. They are not free, but it’s a small and effective investment.

Another very clever tool is IFTTT, a service that connects different web applications together and that lets you create actions with one simple statement, to manage very easily your social postings and stuff like this automatically.

And here is one of my little dirty secrets: For user growth on Facebook we are working a lot with the tool: Social Lead Freak. It’s an application that allows you to extract and export ID-Numbers of groups, fan page-members and events, and migrates these lists into your Facebook Ad-Manager. Instead of just targeting socio-demographic parameters, you can now combine them with personal preferences like group’s memberships, liked pages or events. The site of its provider looks a little fishy, but the app is doing its job very well.

How important is personal support and your social network as a founder?

Besides my co-founders and teammates I really have to say that I never could run my business without the strong support of my wife and family. They backed me up 100% and gave me the emotional support to walk through the valley of disappointments and the fear of failure. And they were willing to pay a price too, because it’s not easy to make time for them like I could in a 9 to 5 job. But with your family and friends you are able to move mountains. So I would like to encourage every reader to really start working on their own things. And don’t fear failure – it’s a chance to strengthen your personality.


Florian Hofmann is co-founder and CEO of pixoona, a startup which develops the same-named photo tagging app revolutionizing communications on images. Besides his job at Wiesbaden-based pixoona he is board advisor to the team of paij, a mobile payment app. After his studies of Social Work and several semesters of Business Administration at the University of Applied Sciences Wiesbaden he worked as Manager of Business Development for the company for more than two years. Before joining pixoona in June 2009 Florian Hofmann was manager of Internal Retail Sales at Berlitz GmbH Deutschland.


YSB Albania invests in Organic Farming

There are many issues and needs in the Albanian rural areas specifically in Shengjergj where the unemployment rate is extremely high (35%), families are poor and their lands are empty. The organic farm will produce organic herbs for local and international traders and processors of essential oils. It will also rent plots from farmers and employ them for all works related to land preparation, planting, harvesting, and providing them with a source of income.

YSB Albania invests in Seniors’ House

Social Need: In Albania, seniors represent about 9% of the population and are expected to rise to 15% by 2020. Despite the fact that the number of licensed services for senior homes has increased by 30%, there are still 120 annual filed requests for residential services that cannot be met. In addition, a significant number of young Albanian professionals who graduate from nursing and social work schools are not able to find employment.

Seniors’ House Social Business: The Seniors House offers high quality services to promote independence, dignity and quality of life for the elderly in Albania, while adjusting the social and health care to the needs of its customers. The residential service provides accommodation, food, daily activities, entertainment, physical therapy, and medical assistance. The day-care center offers a combination of social, educational and health activities that help to reduce the risk of isolation or depression among the elderly. The business also offers at-home services, for personalized care where people live. The Senior House represents a great opportunity in terms of employment and training for young professionals who are searching for jobs in Albania in the fields of social work and health care.

The Entrepreneur: The management team of three entrepreneurs brings in solid general business management experience, and specific field expertise in the area of public health and social services. The CEO, Daklea Xinxo has been successfully managing a kindergarten for the last 5 years and was previously Director of Human Service Directorate at Tirana municipality, Chairwoman at the Albanian Adoptions Committee and Director of Children’s Home (an orphanage).

Food Made in Albania Social Business, Durrës

Social Need: Albania is the most agriculture-oriented country in the Balkans with 55% of the population living in rural areas, employed in agricultural activities. 20% of GDP of the country is generated through agriculture. Albanian farmers face a series of challenges, including small farm sizes, land fragmentation and scarce access to markets. They only receive inefficient advisory services, as there is no active cooperative for small farmers.


Food Made in Albania Social Business: Albanian agricultural products have a good reputation in the country, especially apples, olives, pomegranates, nuts, goat milk, figs and olives. Delico. aims at reestablishing the quality-appeal of local agricultural products by processing high-quality products. It will start by sourcing fruits from smallholder farmers, process them into high-quality jams under DIN standards and distribute it to restaurants and hotels initially, further expanding to other clients in the future. It will help remote smallholder farmers to increase their incomes by providing access to markets and improving productivity through trainings and assistance


SB Entrepreneur: The founder Dashamir Elezi has been a successful entrepreneur for the last 20 years, a well-known fine food expert and serial entrepreneur, who will leverage his existing logistics infrastructure and sales network to acquire first clients in the B2B sector. Among other, Dashamir runs Depurcasa, a company which imports and distributes cleaning products to hotels, restaurants and food industries in Albania. He is also co-owner of a restaurant in Tirana which ethnic Albanian food.

Saint George Valley, Organic Farming Social Business, Shëngjergj village, Tirana

Social Need: There are many issues and needs in the Albanian rural areas specifically in Shengjergj where the unemployment rate is extremely high (35%), families are poor and their lands are empty as they cannot afford to plant anything that will actually give them an income. 250 different plant species are harvested for medicinal and aromatic use in Albania. More than 50% of all sage imported by the USA comes from Albania, as well as 70% of all the wild thyme imported in Germany. Wild-harvesting of medicinal and aromatic plants accounted for 90% of the country’s herbal plants sourcing; but soil erosion and irresponsible harvesting have drastically reduced the quantities available and traceability is becoming impossible.

The geo-climatic conditions of Albania favor a huge biodiversity of herbs. The farm will produce sustainably-grown organic herbs for local and international traders and processors of essential oils. It will also own a seedling nursery to ensure quality of input, rent plots from farmers and employ them for all works related to land preparation, planting, harvesting, and providing them with a source of income. Being organic-certified, it will open markets locally and internationally.

SB Entrepreneur: The management team has successfully been running an essential oils distillery since 2011 and is bringing agronomy skills and market knowledge in the social business. The farm already had its first harvest and a secured a stable client.


New Expert joining our Accelerator

Martin Schössler, Managing Partner of CAUSA, a consulting company for most of the major DAX companies in Germany will be joining our accelerator program as an expert. CAUSA  provides advice on growth strategies and investments. He is also a business angel for multiple young companies in the Frankfurt and Berlin areas. He previously held senior positions at the consulting company Frost & Sullivan and the leading magazine “The Economist” in London and Frankfurt.

He studied philosophy and economics, history and English philology at the University of Heidelberg and journalism at the American University in Washington D.C. He is a fellow of the German Marshall Fund and member of the German-British Society, the Clausewitz-Society and the Global Innovation Network. He is also a “Young Strategist” at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).

Martin joins the accelerator program as an expert in positioning and go-to-market strategies. His experience in supporting young startups is extremely valuable to entrepreneurs who are just getting started. His track record of successfully growing businesses will benefit those social businesses that need to scale their existing operations.


12 International Experts to Support Entrepreneurs in Tirana

YSB Albania is dedicated to provide valuable expertise to the participants of its accelerator program in Tirana. While theory and conceptual work are important to build the basis of entrepreneurial know-how, insights from practitioners are at least equally important. We are proud to provide the participants of our program the unique opportunity to learn from first-hand experiences of entrepreneurs, strategists and product developers who have proven to be successful in their work. A total of 12 international experts will be providing insights during our training sessions via virtual addresses.

We will be introducing those experts one by one over the course of the following weeks and start with Martin Schössler, Managing Director of the consulting company CAUSA, business angels to multiple young companies and contributing member of multiple renowned associations.


Winners of HapIde Idea 2014 Contest Announced

In a great event at Tirana International on April 23rd 2014, the winners of the HapIde Idea Contest were selected and announced. Out of over 200 submissions in less than a month, 20 selected ideas were presented in front of a renowned jury of entrepreneurs, business professionals, development experts and academics. The pitch day was an exciting culmination of the activities on We congratulate each participant for their creativity and courage to send in their ideas and have them challenged in front of experts. The 10 best cases will now enter the YSB Acceleration program which is to start in May 2014 and supports entrepreneurs with training, coaching and mentoring until the most promissing candidates will receive financial support from Yunus Social Business Albania. Stay tuned for more information on the accelerator program soon! Thanks to the jury members and UNDP for making this happen!