Eight criteria for evaluating startup social innovators and rising entrepreneurs.

By Neelam Sakaria | Senior Associate, Search & Selection of Echoing Green

Over the past three decades, Echoing Green has supported nearly 1,000 startup social innovators to realize their bold ideas for change. We’re raising up transformational leaders who are willing to challenge the status quo. And together, we’re on the frontlines of solving some of the world’s biggest problems.

We’ve spent 30 years refining the methods we use to identify high-potential leaders. Our evaluators review potential fellows against two sets of criteria encompassing eight key indicators for impact success. The goal? To understand each innovator’s aptitude for leading change and the potential for their ideas to better our communities and the world at large. And these indicators hold true for assessing and guiding any entrepreneur, no matter the sector.

So whether you’re applying for a fellowship or pitching an investor, here are our eight criteria you can use to put your best foot forward.


Purpose & Passion – Most entrepreneurs have discovered a problem or gap they just can’t ignore. And each has some sense of purpose – with a conviction and passion for the issue or community in question. So it’s important to show others you care deeply about this issue or community and help them understand why.

Resilience – Social entrepreneurship is tough and you will inevitably face obstacles along the way. So exhibiting ‘distance traveled’ – the proven ability to overcome hardship and better anticipate future challenges – is an advantage. In conversations or applications, demonstrate how you’ve bounced back and can foresee and respond to challenges.

Leadership – You’re about to become the CEO of something important. In short order, you will need to prove you can lead your organization toward its goals. Work to showcase your unique skills and experiences that will help you succeed. It’s important to be constantly learning, reinventing, and exploring new ways to be a more effective leader.

Ability to Attract Resources – Successful social entrepreneurs attract money, people, and other resources to their cause. They are ‘resource magnets,’ if you will. Some can skillfully lead thousands at a rally, while others are more unassuming but still able to inspire others to care and take action. No matter your approach, show your style.

Innovative ideas bring about dramatic, not just incremental, change.


Innovation – Innovative ideas bring about dramatic, not just incremental, change. They challenge previous assumptions made by others in the field, build upon or make improvements to an existing model, or create solutions that have never been tried before. When discussing your venture, always explain how your approach is different from the methods used in the past.

Importance – To be interested in a solution, any audience must first understand why the project is imperative. Articulate the problem you are aiming to solve, introduce the community it affects, and tell why it matters on a global, regional, or local scale.

Potential for Impact – Impact is the end goal for any social entrepreneur. Illustrate how your project will directly improve many lives or change a big system. Most audiences look for the prospect of dramatic, not incremental, change. Show how your solution sets an important example that can change systems through replication by others.

A Good Business Model – Even great ideas fall flat without a plan. At the earliest stage, you won’t have solved everything. But a startup plan – budget, timeline, staffing – should still be well thought out. In any conversation, be clear and concise in the details of how your organization will run. And show how you’ve considered questions thoughtfully and realistically.

Even great ideas fall flat without a plan.


The methods we use to identify high-potential leaders have been refined over three decades, as we’re always adapting to stay ahead of the curve. Simply put, you may not have all the answers, but you should certainly have the passion and guts to change the world.