leaf changing color on pavement

Follow Your Passion

I remember watching an episode of Oprah, in which she interviewed successful film director, Tom Shadyac. He explained his story of owning a mansion and then, following a serious biking accident and by way of his own spiritual and personal realizations, downsizing to a 1,000 ft. space. He has given away most of his fortune and written extensively about the power and value of having less in his book, Life’s Operating Manual.

In his documentary, I Am, Shadyac explores concepts of happiness and fulfillment, and one of his key takeaways is that we must follow our passion. Following what we are passionate about, clarifies our path, enables compassion and collaboration, and creates fulfillment.

Discover Your Purpose

Taking passion one step further, we reach purpose. “The reason for” often helps define choices around our careers.

In the candid conversation between Shadyac and Oprah, Oprah repeated her famous phrase, “follow your passion, it will lead you to your purpose.”  She has gone so far to suggest that it is our job to discover our purpose.

And this is a ‘job’ I have dedicated much of my efforts to over the past few years. Through blogging, jumping into startups, writing a book, podcasting, founding and then re-building Innov8social, and meeting amazing, inspiring people focused on innovative means of realizing social impact—I can say I have followed my passion and discovered a core purpose:

To help people reach their impact potential.

It is simple, and focused enough to be actionable. It means inviting people into the social impact space by demystifying jargon and decluttering options. It means creating actionable resources that are multi-disciplinary and ‘agnostic’ as to source. It means creating and sharing content and delivering it to people in ways that are easy to digest.

And this process of following my passion and discovering purpose has provided me my own “ah-ha” moment.

It is simply this: Yes, find your passion, discover your purpose….and then find your tribe.

Find Your Tribe

From my experience, passion and purpose alone can create deep fulfillment in our work and lives; however, it’s when we meet and engage with those best suited to make the most of what we are building, that our work takes flight.

With today’s automation tools and increasing social media echoes, it is completely possible to build and create without getting to really know who you are serving and who share your passion and purpose.

From my reflection, our next step, then, is to find the people who are ecstatic about and aligned with our work. And oftentimes, no one can do this for us—it’s up to us to find our tribe.

Seth Godin, in his book Tribes, defines a tribe as “a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea…A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.”

We each intrinsically lead our own tribe or tribes. These may be around our hobbies, families, or education. These may be large tribes, but more likely they are fairly intimate and engaged.

When we identify our passion and purpose, we cannot assume the tribe will find us—we have to find our tribe.

 

8 Things I Have Learned About Finding My Tribe

1. It can take some time and requires patience and perseverance.

2. It works best when you are authentic.

3. It may not always be comprised of people and organizations that you might have imagined.

4. Positive intent can help you be grateful v. grumpy about the tribe-finding process.

5. Today’s tribes operate with the law of two feet— members will come and go as the tribe relates to their growth and stage. That shuffle is good and will ensure evolution versus stagnation.

6. Tribes are about growing together.

7. We are each part of multiple tribes.

8. Tribes can accelerate your growth, bring you peace of mind, a sense of joy, and help you realize your visions.

 

What has been your experience with finding your tribe? What are your greatest takeaways?

Listen to the Interview with Nasir Qadree

Meet Nasir Qadree

 

Nasir QadreeThis episode of the Innov8social Podcast features an interview with Nasir Qadree, who serves as a Head of Education at VillageCapital, a venture capital firm that sources, trains and invests in seed-stage entrepreneurs with business solutions to major global problems.

Nasir, born in Atlanta Georgia and a graduate of Hampton University, began his career as an Analyst at Goldman Sachs, and later worked as an Associate to State Street Corporation before serving as Co Chairman of Innovation for Senator Cory Booker, during his special run for Senate in 2013.

Nasir was later was appointed and served as an Education Pioneer Fellow/Special Assistant at the Connecticut State Department of Education, leading the states digital learning and infrastructure initiative , and creating new strategies to empower teachers and school leaders to improve persistently low-performing schools.

I connected with Nasir in connection to Village Capital’s deep work in supporting global social entrepreneurship—and had the fortuitous chance to meet him just weeks later at the Pioneer Summit at GSVlabs. We also found another great connection—we are fellow alumni of the New Leaders Council Fellowship Program and both participated in 2012! Nasir, in the Boston chapter, and me in the Silicon Valley Chapter.

Another fascinating and inspiring factoid about Nasir is that he has committed to running 51 full marathons in each US state, including DC, in an effort to raise scholarship funding for first-generation college students. He has run 14 marathons towards his goal.

 

Find Out More

More About Nasir Qadree

  • Nasir’s bio, as listed on educationpioneers.org
  • Nasir’s fundraiser focused on supporting the career aspirations of highly ambitious first generation college students by providing Mentorship, Leadership, Training, and Career Development

 

More About Village Capital

  • Website: http://www.vilcap.com/
  • Value proposition: “Village Capital finds, trains, and funds early-stage entrepreneurs solving major global problems. Their peer-selected investment model has supported more than 450 entrepreneurs in 9 countries. Program graduates have created over 7,000 jobs and raised more than $110 million in follow-on capital, and 94% of their portfolio alumni are still in business.”
  • Village Capital’s Visiona video

 

 

November marks a special time of the year. Summer is now in the rear-view mirror (even here),  trees display their Fall brilliance, and all things pumpkin shift to all things mint and gingerbread.

It is also a time of gratitude. Thanksgiving ushers a nice reminder of our progress over the year and the things we can still achieve before the clock resets.

How can we cultivate gratitude along the path of entrepreneurship, with its many uncertainties, ups, and downs?  Here are a few ideas.

 

1. By being thankful for all of it

quote by Cicero

Yes, for all it. The time we nailed the pitch. The time we lost a big account. The time we shut down a startup after working really hard on it. The time we decided to launch something we believe in. The time social media was our friend, and the time it really wasn’t.

We can be grateful for finding a way to look at everything as a whole, an amalgam, and being thankful for all it. Because it has led us to where we are exactly right now. The awareness, the experience; and best of all, the ability to reflect and make changes ahead.

2. By being grateful for any of it

quote by Maya Angelou

Okay, if we’re being honest—it can be hard to be thankful for all of it. Some of it wasn’t (and isn’t) fun—emotionally, financially, and in a number of other ways. With the holidays ahead, there can be all kinds of stress and pressure to assess progress in the past year and make projections for the year ahead. In quiet moments, social entrepreneurs might be thinking about if their work is really making the impact they set out to create. And entrepreneurs of all kinds are likely thinking about how much runway they have and how they can build the next “point oh” of their products.

But, gratitude can start small. Even, infinitesimally so. Being thankful for our health, food on our plates, our favorite jeans, our ability to breathe, a pen that works. Gratitude can start from any point, without expectation. Even the most simple thoughts of gratitudes can take the mind space of other, potentially less positive thoughts, and attract more things to feel grateful for.

3. By letting someone know

quote by Bob Kerrey

When was the last time someone reached out and unexpectedly acknowledged you or your work. It happened just the other day for me when a friend at a co-working space, mentioned that he listens to the podcast, which has been newly added to iTunes, and left a great review. It was incredible and igniting to hear that something I have been working on created a positive experience for a listener. And when he told me himself, it also created an instant feeling of gratitude. It, in turn, made me think of the ways I can ‘pay it forward’ to acknowledge the positive impact something has had for me.

Just two days later, I had a chance. A specialist at a print shop went above and beyond to ensure delivery of my late-added print job. Her warmth, professionalism, and commitment impressed me and I had a chance to say thank you in person, and then by leaving a note with her employer.

The act of sharing our feeling of gratitude not only lets us cultivate the feeling of gratitude within ourselves but also pass it on to others.

4. By letting go

quote by Buddha

Ah, but not all relationships are in the state of flowing gratitude. Sometimes, the energy just may not be in the right place to resolve or solve in this moment. And sharing might just exacerbate. Gratitude here can be feeling thankful for the opportunity connect with the experience, relationship, and opportunity, learning more about ourselves in process—and then letting go, even if temporarily.

It can catalyze a mini fresh start. The act of letting go, can create space for what we seek to attract in our journey forward.

5. By giving the best we have

quote by Emerson

We have the ability to show up with our best—as a simple expression of gratitude. Show up extra prepared, early, bearing a gift, with a smile—whatever the best is that we have to offer. We don’t have to save it for that special occasion or special opportunity. By sharing our best, we not only can improve on it, but can also empower others to show up in their top form too.

Showing up with our personal best can shift the game, and the energy.

Thank YOU

I want to take a moment and express my gratitude. I know that in the past few months you have seen more posts over social media from me and from Innov8social—and I am grateful for your reception and engagement. I am beyond grateful for this opportunity to create and work on something so aligned with what I believe to be my life’s purpose.

Giving you my best

As a token of gratitude, I want to give you (an extra dose of :) my best.

It is one of my joys to host the Innov8social Podcast. Those special moments involve my favorite things—connecting with people, listening and sharing stories, and hearing about peoples’ personal and professional commitments to creating positive impact.

This week, instead of the single podcast on Thursday, we will be sharing four amazing interviews with thinkers and doers in the social impact space.

Here’s who you can look forward to tuning into this week:

 

 

Well, it happened. This guy innovated a crazy awesome Aladdin magic carpet for Halloween.

And, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) finally passed rules for online crowdfunding for investment (“equity crowdfunding”) on October 30, 2015.

Why does this matter for social entrepreneurs?

So, let’s say you are a social entrepreneur. You are creating tons of meaningful impact through your startup and have a business model that is starting to work. How are you going to scale? You may have pitched to dozens (if not more) investors. Maybe they like your idea and your impact, but if your experience is anything typical, you have amassed more rejections than a kid collects candy on a good Halloween night trick-or-treat run. What are your options?

Since its rise to popularity, crowdfunding has been a formidable option for social entrepreneurs raising early-stage funds. Why? It lets you build an audience, support, and outreach as you raise funds. Best of all, you get to appeal to people who can vote with their dollars. They can ‘invest’ in your idea because they believe in you and what you are doing; they are not restricted by the same demands for return on investment that VC’s or even impact investors may be bound by.

But up until know, this kind of crowdfunding was based on donation. It has been your good word or promise to deliver something amazing that your crowdfunders depend on. And, while they “invest” using popular crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter or Indiegogo, there hasn’t really been a chance for them to receive a return on their investment beyond what you promised.  They donate to support you and to receive first access to your game, book, product, or service.

It has been a bit more complicated (but not impossible) to set up equity crowdfunding. State tools such as Direct Public Offerings (DPO’s) have provided these pathways. But they have restrictions on where your investors can be located in order to invest in your campaign—i.e. they are bound by state law and scope.

And, though the JOBS Act with its equity crowdfunding provision, passed in 2012….the SEC hadn’t found the right way to formulate rules to both allow any US citizen to invest in startups, and to protect said citizens from fraud, deceptive, or unscrupulous practices by said startups.

Until last week. That’s when the SEC passed rules that attempt to satisfy both the buoyancy of democratizing early-stage investment and the concern of protecting the tomorrow’s new early-stage investor, i.e. you and me.

This matters for social entrepreneurs because this democratization of investment into startups has the potential to change the game for good ideas and meaningful impact. Social entrepreneurs who meet all of of the SEC requirements, can appeal to people and not just investment and impact investment firms to raise funds. They can validate and scale businesses at a pace set by the social enterprises, without necessarily trying to be tomorrow’s unicorn or polka-dotted zebra.

 

5 Quick Things Social Entrepreneurs Should Know About SEC’s New Equity Crowdfunding Rules

So, what are a few quick things every social entrepreneurs should know about these new rules? Here is the one-minute primer.

1. One million dollars in 12 months. Startups can raise up to $1M through online equity crowdfunding from unaccredited investors, in a 12-month period.

2. 5% or $2K for the under $100K club. Aspiring crowdfunding investors making less than $100K can commit 5% or a maximum of $2K toward equity crowdfunding, within one year. For the those making $100K or beyond, the limit is 10% or $100K, also within a year.

3. Newbie audit exemption.  first-time equity crowdfunding issuers are exempted from the requirement for a financial audit (costly!) prior to raising equity crowdfunding fund

4. Raising $500K – $1M. Startups looking for less than $500K funding in online equity crowdfunding can provide tax returns that have been “reviewed” by an independent tax accountant. This is also true for first-time equity crowdfunding companies raising between $500K-1M.

5. Yup, there are more questions than answers. Have more questions? Join the club (and the crowd )! The best thing to do now is to stay informed as new crowdfunding platforms appear, and existing crowdfunding platforms pivot to make room for this new way to invest. For social entrepreneurs, though there are so many questions still in the air, the big thing doesn’t change: crowdfunding works best when it is backed by integrity. For every hardworking, mission driven social entrepreneur trying to stake a claim, there might be a few others who are “greenwashing” their way to online equity crowdfunding investment. Stay above the fray and and make good choices about whether your startup is in a good position to have ROI-seeking investors, how you measure impact, and whether taking on equity-funding might hamper, impede, or otherwise negatively impact your drive and focus to create positive impact. It’s an exciting time, for sure! But a few wayward examples, and this potential boon for social entrepreneurs could take turn for bust.

 

Read more

  • SEC: SEC Adopts Rules to Permit Crowdfunding
  • Entrepreneur: The SEC Just Approved Rules Opening Up Equity Crowdfunding to the General Public In a 3-1 Vote
  • New York Times:  S.E.C. Gives Small Investors Access to Equity Crowdfunding
  • Gizmodo: The SEC Just Made a Big Change To What’s Legal In Crowdfunding
  • Equities.com: Rapid Reactions to SEC’s Approval of Title III Crowdfunding Rules
  • Entrepreneur: What the New Equity Crowdfunding Rules Mean for Entrepreneurs
  • FinanceMagnates: SEC Passes Crowdfunding Rules: ‘Investing Will Be Forever Changed’
  • Huffington Post Business: US SEC Votes YES to Equity Crowdfunding Today, More Than 1300 Days After 2012 Law and 80 Years After 1933 Law
  • Wikipedia: Crowdfunding exemption movement
  • Wikipedia: Equity Crowdfunding (US)
  • Innov8social: What is Crowdfunding?
  • Innov8social: What are 3 Crowdfunding Options for Social Entrepreneurs?

Listen to the Interview

Meet Ryan Shaening Pokrasso

Ryan Shaening Pokrasso

This episode of the Innov8social Podcast features an interview with Ryan Shaening Pokrasso—who studied biology and worked in a remote lab in Alaska, served as a policy specialist and program director lobbying for environmental and climate change at the New Energy Economy, and is now an attorney and partner focusing on empowering entrepreneurs, founders, and leaders with legal tools and knowledge to create meaningful and sustainable businesses, organizations, and initiatives.

Based in Oakland, Ryan founded Elevate Law and Strategy in 2014 with the belief that law should be a tool for social change and environmental stewardship. While his law firm serves a broad range of companies and nonprofit organizations, its sweet spot is with mission-driven organizations seeking counsel on issues including entity formation, legal structure, employment law and regulatory compliance, and intellectual property issues including trademark and copyright.

Listen in to hear Ryan’s story about his path into social impact law, tips he has for social entrepreneurs considering their legal entity options, and what excites him on the horizon ahead.

 

More About Ryan Shaening

 

More About Elevate Law and Strategy

  • Website: http://legalelevation.com/
  • Value proposition: “Elevate Law and Strategy is a San Francisco Bay Area based firm that provides legal and strategic consulting to entrepreneurs…While we look forward to serving entrepreneurs of all kinds, we have a particular focus on those with a social mission.”

 

[This article was published in “The SocEnter” by the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship of Santa Clara University — home of the Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI). You can find the original, along with accompanying photos, here.]

“The best way to predict the future is to create it”. Leading thinkers and doers throughout history, including Abraham Lincoln and Peter Drucker have been attributed to articulating a version of this quote. And, it makes sense. The sentiment is as empowering as it is commanding. It is a call to attention, and a call to action.

Moreover, within its wisdoms, we can begin to see a remarkable future for the intersection of impact and business, i.e., a future of social entrepreneurship.

 

A Place for Social Entrepreneurs to Stand, and to Grow

 

Global institutions such as Ashoka, Groupe SOS, Skoll World Forum, Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, Social Capital Markets (SOCAP), Sankalp Forum, and Santa Clara University’s own Miller Center and Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI) have spent much of the last decades defining, supporting, and nurturing the emerging space for social entrepreneurship. In the light of their efforts, today we have not only a space for social entrepreneurs to stand, but ecosystems in which they can build, grow, and share.

This expanding infrastructure for social entrepreneurial problem solvers couldn’t be maturing at a more pivotal time. The world’s greatest challenges are before us, robed in layers of complexity and weighing heavy from socio-economic-geo-historical context. The magnitude of these challenges in many ways is becoming more apparent through knowledge-sharing, more accurate measurement, and easier ways to communicate.

 

The Urgent Need for Creative Problem-solving

 

On the horizon, we see a population quickly approaching a record eight billion people. With an expanding population, food and clean water security are immediate concerns, not to mention education and housing. Climate change, which has been recognized as a global concern by institutions ranging from the EPA to the Papacy, threatens with extreme weather patterns as well as a rise in sea level and impact on existing species. Wealth inequity has a new definition as half of the world’s wealth is now owned by less than 1% of the global population, and we live in a time in which nearly 3 billion struggle to survive on less than $2 a day.

Luckily, the story doesn’t end here. We are empowered to predict our future, by creating it.

 

A Shift in Consciousness

 

We also live in a moment when we have ready problem solvers and incredible advances in technology that let us imagine impact not in magnitudes of hundreds of lives improved, but in magnitudes of billions.

We are in a moment in which our workforce is changing, and so are their values. 2015 marked the first time that millennials comprise a majority of the workforce. By 2025, that number will be closer to 75%.  Why does it matter? It matters because when asked, 90% of millennials express their desire to use their skills for good—they, more than any preceding generation, have prioritized creating impact in their equation for a life well-lived.

This ethos doesn’t just impact the workforce, but also informs how and what individuals buy and the kinds of companies they launch and scale. As of 2015, over 30 states or jurisdictions have passed some form of social enterprise legal structure. Additionally, two companies (Rally Software and Etsy) that have aligned with the social enterprise movement through pursuing a “B corporation” certification have had an Initial Public Offering (IPO). Another popular US-based brand TOMS–with its simplified business + impact model of “one for one” (i.e., one donation for every purchase), has raised significant funding and some say is on track to become the first US billion dollar social enterprise.

 

The Future of Business

 

As we stand on the precipice of major shifts in how we view the future of business, we can see these divergent but complementary forces: The pressing issues that affect our generation and most definitely will affect future generations; and the intelligent, engaged, motivated army of problem solvers ready to do something about it.

And while the evolution of social entrepreneurship to this point has seen the carving out of a new kind of business and a vocabulary to define terms in this emerging space—the urgent need for leadership and innovation has the potential to be met by the most driven, largest, and most cross-functional social innovators we have known.

There is the potential to work beyond subsects of entrepreneurship and focus on redefining the future of business as a whole, to consider impact as a norm. There is the possibility of broadening the reach of social entrepreneurship by absorbing its core attributes into the character of business itself. Instead of being ‘social entrepreneurship’, the values of measuring, reporting, and expanding impact could become part of the way we understand, assess, and measure the success of industries across the board.

 

Telling Impactful Stories

 

Telling these stories of innovation, entrepreneurship, and impact and simplifying the ways people and companies can create social impact has been part of my life’s work and the work of Innov8social. It has enabled collaboration with amazing and inspiring institutions such as Santa Clara University and the GSBI, where we have interviewed Thane Kreiner, Executive Director of the Miller Center for an episode of our weekly podcast, and will be publishing a recent interview with Pamela Roussos, Senior Director of the GSBI, experienced mentor, and co-author of the recently published GSBI Methodology.

Story-sharing over the years has progressed to storytelling as a way to inform and inspire emerging and future social entrepreneurs. The upcoming book 51 Questions on Social Entrepreneurship uses the lens of storytelling to introduce key aspects of starting a social enterprise such as legal structure, business model, and impact measurement through following three characters with diverse backgrounds as they explore launching a mission-driven startup of their own.

 

The Future of Social Entrepreneurship…Inevitable?

Social entrepreneurship continues to provide a unique way through which to see the world’s most pressing problems as opportunities to think and do better, problem-solve creatively, and reach out and share stories of possibility and potential.

Those who have been in the field have planted the seeds of the growing ecosystem in which the possibility of redefining business to include social impact is not impossible, or improbable, but as Christopher Reeve famously said, “when we summon the will, is inevitable.”

 

 

Meet Matthew

Matthew Manos, designer and founder of VeryNice

This episode of The Innov8social Podcast features all-around creative and dedicated social entrepreneur, Matthew Manos. I connected with Matthew after finding the incredible tool he created called “Models of Impact” (modelsofimpact.co). It is an interactive mapping web tool that is (in its own words) an “attempt to document every business model in social enterprise, ever”.  

Matthew is artist, author, and award-winning designer, who is interested in the concept of experimental economies. He founded and heads up Global Strategy for design consultancy, VeryNice. The consultancy is impact driven, and dedicates 1/2 of its work to nonprofits, at no cost to the organizations.  With its business model, VeryNice has provided over $3M worth of pro bono design services to organizations in 45 countries. VeryNice has worked with companies and organizations including UNICEF, NASA, Google, MTF, Disney Imagineering, and Samsung.

Additionally, and new news since we did our interview is that Models of Impact has relaunched as a subsidiary of VeryNice, committed to helping nonprofit executives and startup social entrepreneurs discover business models that are a good fit for the vision and missions.

Listen to the Interview

Find Out More

More About Matthew

More About VeryNice

  • Website: http://verynice.co/
  • Value proposition: “A global design, strategy, and foresight consultancy specializing in solutions for social and cultural impact. Through our unique business model, we dedicate over 50% of our efforts toward pro bono services for non-profits.”
  • VeryNice portfolio – examples of design, strategy, and consulting projects

More About Models of Impact

  • Website: http://www.modelsofimpact.co/
  • Value proposition: “Models of Impact is an online platform and strategic consultancy that works with social entrepreneurs and non-profit executives to invent business models that create sustainable impact in the world. “
  • Announcement of new Models of Impact Consultancy

Screen Shot 2015-08-13 at 6.43.28 AM

Are you a student or teacher in your field? For social entrepreneurs there can be great value in being both, even simultaneously.

In the past month, I have had the unique opportunity to engage as a speaker, attendee, pitch judge, pitch participant, interviewer, interviewee, mentor, and mentee–and all within the realm of social entrepreneurship. It has been incredible. And, it has provided a unique lense to see synchronicity in these seemingly divergent roles.

Social Entrepreneurs are Novices and Experts

Social entrepreneurship as a whole is a kind of dance between being a novice and expert. With (often) low barriers to entry and high turnover, it’s common to two-step into, out of, and around the space. Add to that experience in specific areas of impact, measurement, traction of customers, raising funds, and/or surviving pitfalls—and a social entrepreneur is recognized for being able to share her valuable learned insight in the space. However, even a slight pivot to serve another market or need and the social entrepreneur is back in the familiar role of novice–humbly seeking expertise, financial backing, and searching for ways to turn a particular idea into reality.

This back and forth is actually a great thing. It keeps social entrepreneurs (and those who serve them) on their toes to constantly be learning and sharing, can instill a sense of humility, and can act as a key equalizer in bringing new and seasoned entrepreneurs to the same table.

I learned so much by pitching to VC’s as a social enterprise and then gained clarity of what an investor looks for when I judged social entrepreneur pitches. I was able to pass on these perspectives with the genuine empathy of having been on both sides, when I mentored aspiring social entrepreneurs as they prepared to pitch their social enterprise startup ideas. Each role not only provided ways to understand and empathize with different vantage points—each contributed to thinking bigger about the work and vision for Innov8social.

Social Entrepreneurs are Problemsolvers First

This ability to ‘toggle’ between the roles of receiving and sharing knowledge is particularly key in social entrepreneurship because it focuses our attention not on who we are, but what we are trying to solve. Beyond aspects such as legal structure and business models, social enterprises are unique because they pursue dual goals of creating impact and generating revenue. These dual goals, in turn, involve a multitude of variables. And like solving for and y in Algebra, we are forced to shift focus from who we are to how we can most effectively problemsolve.

Be a Teacher, Student….and Keep Moving Forward

This is the synchronicity of being both teacher and student. Stepping between the roles lets us loosen our sense of self and ego to recognize that problem identification and problem-solving come from anywhere, and everywhere. It lets us focus on educating ourselves on what we don’t know, and then sharing that experience with those addressing the problem through different lenses. The growth of social entrepreneurship depends on its practitioners as receiving and sharing in equal parts. We must be teachers, be students, rinse and repeat.

Our role is to honor our experience in the space as we honor the experience of others, to share what we learn, to ask for help, and above all—to keep moving forward.

A Photo Recap From the Past Month

 

Effective pitching or telling a compelling startup story can take many hours of practice to perfect, is honed and shaped by feedback coming from diverse perspectives, and can require a different kind of courage than in actually building your startup. One of the most important things inevitably, is to start. Pitching early and often lets you get comfortable with telling your story in a natural, conversational way; receive feedback like a pro; and find ways to process and integrate comments without losing sight of your company’s vision and your personal momentum and drive.

These are the sentiments I had in mind when I submitted an application to pitch Innov8social, an engagement platform that connects people that want to create social impact with actionable tools and resources on ways to create impact, to a panel of 5 VC judges at Pitch2Sharks in San Francisco. The pitch event was a valuable and insightful experience. And though I have heard many startup pitches (and serve as a judge at times), I learned a great deal from being in the hot seat both about pitching, and about pitching a social enterprise startup.

As social entrepreneurs explore how and where to pitch their startup ideas, I thought it might be useful to share what I learned from my experience of pitching a social enterprise startup here.

1. Define success, then decide if it’s the right time to pitch

 

It can be helpful to define what success looks like to you before pitching. It’s a way to set expectations and also to be able to process critical feedback in a constructive way.

Since it was the first time pitching Innov8social to investors, and that too at a public event, I decided early on that showing up, not freezing or melting mid-sentence, and articulating my key points with clarity and confidence would be success. Those things fortunately happened, though I did read much of my pitch which the judges mentioned, and I left feeling satisfied and glad for the experience.

Had I set the goal of receiving funding and/or doubling my social media followership, I could have left feeling pretty lousy about the situation, and may have missed the incredible value of getting feedback from a group of people who listen to numerous startup pitches regularly, and that too fund a few too. A comment or insight from them could potentially inform my pitch in meaningful, impactful way, that could save me time and effort effort ahead.

2. Pitch events can be a great way to start…

 

Depending on the stage of your social enterprise startup and your goals, a pitch event could be a great way to start pitching. If you select the opportunity wisely, you can pitch at an event that aligns well with your social enterprise startup’s mission, or is for  startups at the same stage you are in, or features a VC or judge you particularly want to engage.

A pitch event can also be a bit more of a ‘safe space’ to test out your pitch and receive some initial feedback. Before you hear more fierce, unapologetic criticisms that VC’s can be famous for at pitch meetings, a pitch event can provide you a platform to share your startup story and get feedback, all in an abbreviated timeframe.

For my experience in pitching Innov8social, it was a great place to start pitching and I learned as much by what the VC’s didn’t ask as by what they did. It gave me some quick investor feedback of what was conveyed in my pitch and what may have been unclear or ambiguous.

 

3. …but DON’T expect an investment

 

From my experience in attending dozens of pitch events over the past half-decade, one thing I have noticed (and have even asked startup founders about) is whether they expect investments from pitch events. The consensus seems to be a pretty consistent no. Some pitch events, by default, however, do offer a prize to the winning pitch. Winning a pitch event comes with the bragging rights, that can be shared not only over social media and the company website, but at future pitches to potential investors as well.

But even without an investment or a win, a pitch can be the start of potential connections. Whether it is building relationship with one of the VC panelists, with someone in the audience, or the event organizer—those relationships may actually be incredibly valuable as you progress and grow your social enterprise.

 

4. DO plan to educate your audience/judges about the concept of social entrepreneurship

 

Perhaps one of my biggest takeaways was that as social enterprise startups, we are wise to explain and contextualize social enterprise in a simple, easy to follow way within our pitches. Since social entrepreneurship is a growing space, VC’s or audience members may not have heard of related buzzwords in the field, and frankly, may come away thinking you are pitching as a nonprofit. If you are, that’s not a problem, but if you are trying to show a for-profit business model, potential of growth, scale, and revenue potential and/or relay the double or triple bottom line—this may be problematic. Especially since you might not even realize the confusion until the pitch is all but over.

Better, is to be proactive and avoid assuming your audience’s familiarity with the social entrepreneurship space. As a still-emerging and evolving space, social entrepreneurs are also ambassadors of social entrepreneurship. We have to find easy and accessible ways to explain how impact and business models can co-exist and even thrive.

 

5. DO use your pitch experience to THINK BIGGER about your social enterprise startup

 

One of the undeniable advantages of pitching to VC’s—who have likely heard hundreds of pitches, is that in just a few words or with a question or two—they can help you think bigger about your company, goals, and process.
I was asked about Innov8social’s traction and value proposition. Though I had mapped it out, in the context of hearing the other pitches and understanding the viewpoint of the judges, their questions actually helped me to think bigger about the scope and potential of our work.

So, as ever, it’s a good rule of thumb to pitch your social enterprise startup early and often. If you can take the good, the bad, and the ugly in stride you will be able to effectively iterate and improve your pitch and may even gain new clarity about your startup’s path to success.

 

A few photos from the event

Here are a few photos from Pitch2Sharks, hosted by The Expat Woman. Photography is courtesy of Yeluguri Entertainment (see all of the photos on Facebook here). Good luck with your social enterprises…and remember, always be pitching!