There is no universally accepted definition of social innovation. MaRS uses the definition put forward by thought-leader Frances Westley of SiG@Waterloo:

“Social innovation is an initiative, product, process or program that profoundly changes the basic routines, resource and authority flows or beliefs of any social system. Successful social innovations have durability and broad impact.”

Frances Westley, PhD

But more simply, social innovation is about new ways to address social challenges.

MaRS uses the inclusive term “social ventures” to include both non-profit social enterprises and for-profit social purpose businesses.

On this Startup Library page, we list resources that cover how to start a social enterprise (a charity or non-profit aiming at revenue generation) or social purpose business (a for-profit business with a double or triple bottom line [social/environmental/financial]). These resources discuss the types of options that are available to you.

For background information and deeper perspectives on social innovation and its supporting elements, visit the SiG Knowledge Hub.

This page contains the following sections:

I. Are you a Social Entrepreneur?

II. Selecting the Right Corporate Structure

III. Legislative Considerations

IV. Certified B Corps

I. Are you a Social Entrepreneur?


Want to see if you might be a social entrepreneur? Do you need to determine whether your venture will be for-profit or not-for-profit? The MaRS articles “Financing Options for Social-Purpose Businesses (for-profit)” examines what defines a social entrepreneur and highlights the different types of social ventures.



MaRS works with for-profit social purpose businesses (SPBs) and charities, as well as non-profits that undertake enterprising activities. To help you decide whether and how to incorporate as a social enterprise, MaRS offers a wide range of in-depth articles including case studies in Social Innovation and supporting white papers.


For additional information on starting your social enterprise visit Social Enterprise Canada

II. Selecting the Right Corporate Structure


The following MaRS resources can help you decide which corporate structure is right for you:


III. Legislation Considerations

Globally, an increasing number of jurisdictions are recognizing hybrid corporations as distinct legal structures―such corporations combine some benefits of both for-profit and non-profit organizations. These legal structures include the Limited Liability Company (L3C) and the Benefit Corporation, recognized in a number of US states, and the Community Interest Company (CIC), recognized in the UK. In Canada, British Columbia was the first province to pass social enterprise legislation with the Community Contribution Company (3C), which takes effect July 2013. Nova Scotia passed the Community Interest Companies Act in December 2012.

In 2013, Ontario had no legislation as yet to recognize a social enterprise. It is important that you consider the current legal environment and existing legal structures and requirements before you incorporate in Canada. Consult qualified legal counsel to assist in the process, and choose a firm that is knowledgeable and experienced with either social enterprises or social-purpose businesses, depending on your situation.

The following resources may also be of assistance to you:

Read more about the legal landscape for social ventures in Canada, as of 2013:

IV. Certified B Corps

What is a B Corp?

Certified benefit corporations (B Corporations, or B Corps) are a new type of corporation that use the power of business to solve social and environmental problems. The certifying body for B Corps is B Lab a non-profit organization. All B Corps must meet a wide range of comprehensive and transparent social and environmental performance standards. There are over 700 certified B Corps across 60 different industries in 25 countries, and counting. B Corps are a diverse community with one unifying goal: to redefine success in business.

Why B Corps matter

With the size and complexity of many of today’s most pressing social and environmental problems, governments and communities struggle to overcome the challenges we face. Innovative solutions are needed to address these issues. B Corps engage and leverage the powerful force of business to join in resolving these problems, mobilizing hundreds of millions of people and hundreds of trillions of dollars. Around the globe, led by B Corps, business is emerging as a force to create value for society, revolutionizing the way that impact work is done.

Why Become a B Corp?

B Corps are motivated to add value to society. A viable business model is often a key driver in the process. Read the most common reasons to become a B Corp.

Measure What Matters

The first step in becoming a certified B Corp is to complete the B Impact Assessment which evaluates the overall impact of a company on its stakeholders in the areas of governance, environment, community and workers. Whether or not you pursue certification, the tool is confidential and free to use. B Lab offers a brief video tutorial on how to use the assessment tool and how contextualize and improve your organization’s score.

How to Become a B Corp

Thinking of becoming a B Corp? It takes three simple steps:

  1. Meet the performance requirements.
  2. Meet the legal requirements.
  3. Sign the B Corp Declaration of Interdependence and term sheet.

Meet a B Corp

The following Canadian organizations are certified B Corps:

B Corp Resources

The following publications guide B Corps in establishing policies, programs and more.

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