A Colorado Springs company that markets environmentally friendly cooking stoves in developing nations — which serve as vehicles for the company to sell so-called “carbon offsets” — has been named the nation’s "most promising social entrepreneur” by a national business publication.

The Paradigm Project, launched in 2009, was No. 1 in BloombergBusinessweek’s fourth annual ranking of promising social entrepreneurs, according to the publication’s website.

Readers were asked to submit suggestions, which were narrowed to 25 for-profit, social enterprises. More than 7,500 readers voted for their favorite, and Paradigm came out on top.

Paradigm identifies manufacturers of fuel efficient and clean burning cooking stoves, and company representatives wholesale the products in Kenya and Guatemala — where Paradigm had potential business partners and where company studies identified strong markets, said Greg Spencer, strategic business development director. He’s the son of J. Greg Spencer, who co-founded Paradigm with CEO Neil Bellefeuille.

The environmentally friendly stoves are meant to reduce the demand to cut down forests for fuel, cut smoke and emissions, curtail respiratory disease on the part of users or reduce the need for long treks to find fuel, Spencer said.

United Nations-sanctioned auditors, in turn, quantify the reduced greenhouse gases produced by the stoves compared with cooking by other means — a measurement known as a “carbon offset. Businesses in the United States and around the world that want to reduce their carbon footprints do so by purchasing the offsets from Paradigm, Spencer said.

Paradigm considers itself a “social venture” company, he said. The business isn’t just about selling the carbon offsets, but marketing healthier, cleaner-burning products in developing nations, he said.

“If we were just trying to develop carbon offsets, it would be the wrong kind of business,” Spencer said.

The company has 14 employees, split between the U.S. and Kenya, he said. Company revenues were $700,000 last year, and Paradigm expects to top that figure in 2012, Spencer said.

Eighty to 90 percent of the company’s funding has come from private equity, and the rest from donors and foundation grants, Spencer said. The company does not receive government help, he said.

Paradigm is looking to expand its stoves to Ethiopia and Rwanda, and is adding portable solar lanterns and water filters to its product line, Spencer said.

The lanterns would reduce the need to use fire or burn kerosene to light a home, while water filters would allow users to avoid boiling water to rid it of contaminants, he said.

“We really believe that business is the way to change the world, to bring communities and countries out of poverty and into sustainability and prosperity,” Spencer said. “That’s really the motivating factor for us. We really believe this can change the world and we want to do that, specifically the developing world.”

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