Social entrepreneurs may need to spend "many, many years," he says, figuring out how to design products and services that work in places like Haiti.
Some past participants of the GSBI program have found that sweet spot. The founders of Thamel.com noticed that 18 percent of Nepal's GDP was coming from remittances, but intermediaries were taking a large cut of that. Their website set up a new way for expatriates to send money back home. Within five years it will be a $100 million social business in revenues, says Mr. Koch.
Another venture named Drishtee, which offers e-health and e-government service across India, successfully scaled up from 1,000 to 10,000 kiosks.
Stehl is the coordinator of operations for Meds & Food For Kids (MFK), which also wants to scale up.
In Haiti, MFK buys peanuts from local farmers, manufactures it into "Medika Mamba," and sells it to healthcare providers there – mainly international NGOs and visiting medical missions. But it wants to make more to bring the cost per unit down.
"A big 'aha' moment for me was hearing Tom [Stehl] say they were at 10 percent of their production capacity. There's this needed food and 90 percent of capacity is not being distributed. And the question is why?" says Michael Looney, one of Stehl's mentors.
Stehl first answered that demand was slowly ratcheting up, but then dived into the challenges. The French firm Nutriset now makes a similar product called Plumpy'nut in the nearby Dominican Republic, selling it at a slightly lower price.
Hearing this, Stehl's other mentor, Brad Mattson asks point blank: "Does anyone really need your product?"
Nutriset's profits leave the Haitian economy, says Stehl. He argues that economic development is a key goal of MFK.