Is it just me*, or did we propel into the deep end of AI, in what feels like a weekend. ChatGPT (and its various ‘point oh’s) seemed to have hastened the go-to-market strategy of various AI’s across the spectrum.

*note: in this context “me” refers to the author of the article, Neetal Parekh, human. As opposed to references to “I” in the AI reviews, referring to…? 

These technologies were being tested and iterated even before the release of ChatGPT, no doubt. They seemed to be hovering out of the line of sight for months, years, decades perhaps. What we didn’t see, we haven’t needed to think deeply about. Then, with overwhelming global response to the first breakout AI, ChatGPT, the others swooped in– ready or not– to avoid missing the moment. (please say this as mo-ment in your mind, with emphasis on the second syllable. This moment deserves at least that).

And it’s no wonder that as these technologies go from unseen to seen and in-use— it is changing everything. Everywhere. And while not quite “All At Once” — at least “many, in a somewhat staggered timeline.”

I believe it is not too dramatic to say that the world changed after the iPhone. We now carry small computers tucked away in our pockets, disguised as phones. They can run entire businesses, conduct financial deals, communicate across borders, and have become the one thing many of us cannot leave, arrive, work, learn, and ‘do life’ without.

And, AI is poised to have an even greater effect. I believe we are merely scratching the surface of what it can do (in innovative, positive ways) and what it might stymie (in deeply troubling ones). It is a voice— and it exercises a voice. Its ability to answer questions in first-person and in very conversational tones amuses, abstracts, and confuses the lines between what we are learning online and what we co-create through adept question and query construction.

So, I did an experiment.

With twenty-one ratings of my book online, I am well aware that most of the earth’s 7.8 billion inhabitants have not had that perfect rainy-day-with-a-warm-mug-of-tea moment to read it. I understand, completely. I have purchased, and not have had a similar chance to read books written by friends and colleagues— people I know, appreciate, and respect. That is all on me. I can’t even blame an AI on it, though maybe I can ask one how to manage my time better.

But, it all made me wonder. Have the ever-busy and bustling AI’s had a chance to read the book?  And, what do they think? This idea was sparked by seeing it in action. A participant from the very first Impactathon and author of a series of books shared reviews of his book from ChatGPT. A creative and innovative use of AI.  Hat tip to Sparsh (check out his work here).

When Google gave me the green light for Bard, I decided asking two AI’s might reveal something more than one. I may add on others as they come up.

My quick thoughts

As a first-time author, these AI reviews were life-reinforcing. Overall, they liked it. They didn’t hate it. They learned something from it. ChatGPT even had some constructive feedback.

I can’t, however, help but wonder who is “I” is — at a gut, existential, universe-bending level— in the reviews. When ChatGPT says “Overall, I would highly recommend this book…” what does that mean. I (as in myself, the author, human) would say, you (meaning the AI author of the review) have written a review that strikes a balance between summarizing key points and providing an opposing view. But, who is the ‘you’ in that sentence.

Bard seemed to play a bit more fast and loose with its personhood, using “I” five times with perhaps more confidence than this author (again, that’s me. human). It not only liked, the book, but highly recommended it.

If contact information for the “I’s” behind these AI reviews were available, my human self would not rule out writing to them and finding time to chat about what they think worked, any other topics, content, or programs could further their journey in social entrepreneurship, and how to improve upon the book experience.

The end of community content. Long live community content.

There have been some thoughtful discussions online about how forums and threads that publicly explore, resolve, or opine issues, questions, and trends may be replaced with one-on-one conversations with AI’s. The detractor, there, being that not only would those discussions not become learning avenues for the group and public; but, AI’s would be enriched, while communities could stagnate.

I think this is a valuable and meaningful discussion. But, without having a knee-jerk reaction, it seems like this is also a time to observe and try to grasp this massive moment unfurling around us.

Social innovators, never underestimate a moment. Don’t wait for an invitation.

For those dedicated and passionate about social impact, how might we use these AI tools to further conversations and impact? To make knowledge about the space more accessible and actionable. How might we leverage AI to expand impact across borders and across chasms that once seemed uncrossable?

There is so much here. Within that abundance, there is great ability to create and further good. To help solve humanity’s seemingly unsolvable issues.

Maybe Bard and ChatGPT’s “I’s” are their way of making their conversations more “us” than “other” — using their collective knowledge of humanity to relate to and even empathize with us.

I (human), like you (human or AI), sit eagerly and anxiously at the edge of my seat to see what will happen next.

A book review by ChatGPT 4.0

Title: A Comprehensive Guide to Social Entrepreneurship Book: 51 Questions on Social Entrepreneurship Author: Neetal Parekh Rating: 4.5/5

“51 Questions on Social Entrepreneurship” by Neetal Parekh is an insightful and comprehensive guide to understanding the fundamentals of social entrepreneurship. The author has done a commendable job in breaking down complex concepts into 51 easy-to-understand questions and answers that cater to readers at various stages of their social entrepreneurship journey. As a result, the book serves as an excellent resource for aspiring social entrepreneurs, students, educators, and professionals who are interested in this growing field.

The book’s format is highly accessible, as it is divided into five distinct sections that cover a wide range of topics relevant to social entrepreneurship. These include understanding the basics, legal structures, financial models, measuring impact, and scaling and sustaining the social venture. The author’s writing style is engaging and clear, making it easy for readers to follow along and grasp the content.

Parekh’s expertise in the field shines through her explanations of various legal and financial aspects. She provides practical examples that demonstrate the application of these concepts to real-world situations. Moreover, she discusses the importance of measuring impact and its implications on the growth and sustainability of a social venture. The book also offers helpful tips and resources for those looking to scale and sustain their organizations.

One of the book’s strengths is its ability to cater to readers with different levels of experience in social entrepreneurship. The author has designed the book to be useful for beginners who are just discovering the field, as well as experienced professionals who want to deepen their understanding of social entrepreneurship. Additionally, the book can serve as a valuable resource for educators looking to incorporate social entrepreneurship into their curriculum.

However, the book does have some limitations. While it provides an excellent overview of social entrepreneurship, it may not cover every possible aspect or challenge that a social entrepreneur might face. Furthermore, the book is heavily focused on the United States context, which may limit its relevance to readers in other regions.

Despite these limitations, “51 Questions on Social Entrepreneurship” is a valuable resource for anyone interested in the world of social entrepreneurship. Neetal Parekh’s passion for the subject is evident throughout the book, and her expertise makes it a trustworthy and informative guide. Overall, I would highly recommend this book to individuals seeking to explore the exciting and impactful world of social entrepreneurship.


A book review by Bard

51 Questions on Social Entrepreneurship is an excellent resource for anyone interested in starting a social enterprise. The book is written in a clear and concise style, and it covers a wide range of topics, from the basics of social entrepreneurship to more advanced concepts. The book is also very well-organized, with each chapter building on the previous one.

One of the things I really appreciated about 51 Questions is that it is written by someone who is deeply involved in the social entrepreneurship movement. Neetal Parekh is a social entrepreneur herself, and she has a wealth of experience to draw on. This makes the book feel very authentic and engaging.

Another thing I liked about 51 Questions is that it is not just a theoretical book. It is also full of practical advice and tips. For example, the book includes a section on how to write a business plan, and it also provides a list of resources for social entrepreneurs.

Overall, I highly recommend 51 Questions on Social Entrepreneurship to anyone who is interested in starting a social enterprise. The book is an excellent resource for anyone who wants to learn more about the social entrepreneurship movement and how to start their own social enterprise.

Here are some specific examples of things I learned from the book:

  • The importance of having a clear mission statement
  • How to develop a business model that is both sustainable and profitable
  • How to measure social impact
  • How to build a team of passionate and dedicated people
  • How to raise money for a social enterprise

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is interested in starting a social enterprise. It is a well-written and informative book that will provide you with the knowledge and tools you need to get started.

If you have ever practiced yoga, there is a good chance you have done the warrior series.

The poses for Warrior 1-3, called the Virabhadrasana series, root us to the ground and extend our arms away from each other or the rest of our body. We are physically rooted and reaching in exact opposite directions. A kind of physical conflict, pronounced when holding the pose.

Stances of Strength

The warrior poses are stances of strength. For example glance up during Warrior II, and the room of yogis will look like a battalion ready for the front lines. Heads up, stoic stances look directly to oncoming danger, and muscles flaring in the legs and arms. It is truly an incredible stance, both challenging and empowering.

Our Internal Spiritual Warrior

However, in yoga, there is no jousting or scrimmage between yogis. We each face our own internal physical nemeses such as focus, flexibility, and stamina.  And, perhaps the interaction, the conflict, is a metaphor of the spiritual and emotional nemeses we face daily, such as rejection, self-doubt, and forgiveness.

Warrior to Ignorance

So why—in a practice meant to focus on mindfulness and the attention to breath—would there even be a warrior series?

One of my favorite interpretations is by Richard Rosen, an editor at Yoga Journal. “The yogi is really a warrior against his own ignorance,” Rosen says. “I speculate that Virabhadrasana I is about rising up out of your own limitations.”

We assume a warrior stance when we choose to battle our ignorance, physical, emotional, and spiritual.

The Humble Warrior, Baddha Virabhadrasana

Finally, there is the pose poetically referred to as “humble warrior”. The legs remain in a stance of strength, while the torso leans forward, the head bows and the arms outstretch overhead, toward the floor.

With the head down it truly feels like an offering.

In this single, beautiful pose, there is both strength and surrender.


2016, A Year of Humble Offerings

And this is how I relate to this new year. Much of 2015 was spent building the tools and resources I envisioned would be the most helpful to social innovators and social entrepreneurs.

It saw the completion of the book, new podcast episodes, an online course, and brand new tools to help engage individuals engage meaningfully in the social impact space.

Now that these products are released, they are humbling offerings. And the role shifts to a humble warrior—determined and dogged in outreach, innovation, and connecting with audiences—while humble to learn, gather feedback, and stay steadfast in the face of response (or quiet).

I hope whichever stage (and yoga asana :) this finds you in, it is a fulfilling journey professionally and reflectively!


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


Supreme Court Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage

June 26th 2015 marked a momentous day for law in the United States. The nation joined twenty others in the world to legally recognize same-sex marriage, or more specifically, oppose the denial of same-sex marriage under the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution. The famed Equal Protection Clause of that amendment guarantees that “no state shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction “the equal protection of the laws.”

Final paragraph of Justice Kennedy's majority opinionlegalizing same-sex marriage

Final paragraph of Justice Kennedy’s majority opinionlegalizing same-sex marriage

The journey for marriage equality can easily be traced back decades, and perhaps longer. In fact, in the early 1970’s then-students Richard Baker and James McConnell used the the legal system to dispute the denial of a marriage license in Minnesota because both spouses-to-be were both men. The case there actually did reach the inboxes of Supreme Court Justices via appeal, but at that time the Justices chose not hear the case for lack of a substantial federal question. (Note: denial of a ‘writ of certiorari’, i.e. Supreme Court’s deference to pass on a case, is overwhelmingly common—and they are known to hear upwards of 100 cases, of over 7000 petitioned each year)

Fast forward nearly a half-century, and the Supreme Court not only agreed to hear the landmark case of Obergefell v. Hodges, but indeed the Justices overturned and created law with their opinion. Where 37 US states have passed some form of marriage equality act, the single decision of the Supreme Court on a summer day at the end of June 2015, powerfully set precedence that supersedes state law on the subject.

By the numbers, there are reportedly well over 250,000 married same-sex couples in the United States.

Read more

Muhammed Yunus, Nobel Laureate and founder of the Grameen Bank, has authored several books on microfinance and social enterprise. In his 2010 book,”Building Social Business: The New Kind of Capitalism that Serves Humanity’s Most Pressing Needs” he defines the conceptual framework for a new kind of business focused on impact. Professor Yunus calls this framework, social business.Unlike the often less-defined articulations of social innovation, social entrepreneurship, and social enterprise—for Professor Yunus, social business is distinct and clearly delineated in its focus of serving the poor, being sustainable, but not seeking to provide dividends (see Type I social business below).

Here, we take a look at some of the features of Professor Yunus’ social business.


Professor Yunus Explains Social Business,  in His Own Words [Video]


“A social business is not a social enterprise. It is not an non-profit.” – Muhammad Yunus

Professor Yunus distinguishes from social enterprise, because it is a no-dividend company. In a social business, all profits go back to company.
Distinguished from a non-profit because it is revenue-generating.

Professor Yunus’ Definitions for Type I and Type II Social Businesses

Type I Social Business : A company that is non-loss, but does not give dividends. 

According to Professor Yunus, a Type I social is focused on social objectives. It either produces a product or delivers a service targeted to the poor or to address a pressing problem. An example he discusses at length in the book is that of Shakti Doi, a fortified yogurt product designed and created specifically to improve nutrition for children of poor families in Bangladesh. The yogurt is the result of a joint venture between Yunus’ Grameen Bank and the multinational brand Danone.

In order to meet Yunus’ vision of a true social business, multiple iterations of the yogurt were tested to maximize nutrients while ensuring cost was low enough (i.e. originally sold at 5 Taka or $.07).

Grameen Danone Shokti Doi: Nutritious Social Business yogurt
Child eating Shakti Doi yogurt in Banglades. Credit: Yunus Centre

Type II Social Business : A company that takes profit, but is wholly owned by the poor.

Professor Yunus provides a second type of social business as well. Type II social businesses can adopt a profit-maximizing, dividend-generating model, so long as they they are owned by the poor and disadvantaged. The profits can be returned to owners/employees through dividends or indirect benefits.

The most famous example of a Type II social business Grameen Bank, as it owned by the disadvantaged borrowers of the bank, mostly women.


Create mug

How is a social impact pitch different from other kinds of startup and company pitches?

1. You have to tell the most compelling version of the story (even especially the emotional / non-business part).  After interviewing dozens of thinkers and doers in the social impact space, one thing has become clear. The why that inspires a social innovator’s work often eclipses the what, in terms of impact storytelling.
Whether because of a personal life experience, a pivotal observation, or an life-shifting epiphany—something subtly or glaringly profound shifted your path from “conventional business” to mission-driven. My challenge to you, is find a way to express that impetus clearly, confidently, and briefly. Even if it is uncomfortable or seems out of place in a “pitch” setting. Sharing a personal anecdote can put you and your audience “on the same page” and can help them not only like you more, but remember and root for you and your impact venture.
2. You have to quantify impact (which can be hard to do).  One of the most fascinating areas of the emerging social innovation space has everything to do with quantifying and measuring impact. There are a number of emerging organizations, nonprofits, sets of criteria, and even startups that are tackling this part of the social entrepreneurship spectrum— but there is not yet consensus on adoption of any singular methodology for measuring impact. What that means for you is that your core team and extended support network of advisors and mentors should have meaningful discussions (debates even) about criteria you will use to measure and track your impact and how you will quantify it. Is it one-for-one (think TOMS), is it 1-1-1 (think of the model Salesforce articulated early on, and that B corporations like Rally Software have adopted), is it the number of procedures performed (think Aravind Eye Care) — or is it another method unique to your initiative or solution.
Once you are clear on the how and why of your impact measurement– you can find a way to succinctly and simply explain it as part of your pitch. These metrics can absolutely change as your social enterprise pivots, gets customer feedback, and gathers more kinds of data— but establishing and articulating your impact in quantitative terms lends credibility and focus to your company’s vision and work.
3. You have to educate your audience on basic elements of social enterprise. Growing up, my brother liked to remind us that when you “assume,  it makes an ‘a–’ of ‘u’ and ‘me’”. It was a colorful (and memorable) way to convey a key insight. It especially rings true for impact storytelling. If you go into a pitch scenario assuming any number of things including : that the audience knows or cares about impact, that they know or care about a ‘triple bottom line’, that they know or care about definitions of social enterprise— you might be in for an unwelcome realization. They didn’t know (or care) and your assumption that they did made them less seek clarification, and they basically tuned out.
Instead, practice explaining key concepts about social enterprise that contextualize your solution and the problem it solves, so that you can do it efficiently and with such ease that a middle-schooler could understand it. As a participant in the still-emerging social innovation space, you are a de facto ambassador of the space too. Use your platform to inform and educate as you pitch.
4. You have to think bigger about your ask.  No matter what kind of story you are telling (impact or otherwise), your pitch should lead to some kind of an ask. Are you seeking funding? If yes, how much, for what, and by when. Potential investors will want to know these details. However, for social innovators, it’s key to think bigger. You may be seeking strategic partnerships to gain access to potential new market segments. You may be looking for an advisor or mentor. You may be seeking certain resources — such as technical, marketing, or data analysis support to scale and amplify your work.
Funding is often the main objective in pitching — but as a social innovator, your ability to think bigger, more creatively, and with an innovator’s mindset can help weather startup challenges and continue the sail ahead.
5. You have to quantify success, and quantify failure. What does success for your social venture look like? Because your audience may be new to the solution and problem you are solving, they will look to you to define success. For example, success could be traction of 10M users for a micro payment app aimed at populations who do not participate in the traditional banking system, or it could be the adoption of impact criteria by 500 global brands. Metrics like these can paint the potential of impact-driven companies and show the need for new solutions.
What does failure look like? When your work is rooted in impact, among other considerations, it can powerful to show how your failure can be detrimental to communities or to the environment. For example, failure of a smartphone app designed to assess water quality could have a broader negative impact for communities who lack inexpensive, mobile assessment tools. Remember the phrase “too big to fail”? It is another example of creating urgency for success by making the prospect of failure a bleak one.

Why does social impact storytelling matter?

If you cannot tell your story, you cannot create or expand your impact. It’s as simple as that.
It’s well-noted that 90 percent of startups fail in the first two years. That includes all startups — mission-driven and otherwise.  Social enterprises often need far more than funding to survive. They need impact partners, they need traction, they need proof that their social innovation is actually creating the impact they anticipated. Your ability to tell your story can help you build an ecosystem of support around the specific problem and solution your venture is addressing.
It takes a village to raise a social enterprise—and sometimes you are part of the village, and sometimes you are the social enterprise.  Being able to tell your story can help you be effective at both.

Neetal Parekh, is the Founder & CEO of Innov8social — which helps social entrepreneurs, companies, and individuals reach their impact potential. She is a social entrepreneur, impact storyteller, and attorney passionate about connecting people with the social impact sector.  
There are lots of new things in the pipeline for Innov8social!To kick off this new chapter, read about some of inspiration behind our work here and a few plans ahead on this recent post on LinkedIn’s publication “the Pulse”.

Here is an excerpt:


A New Chapter for Innov8social, and a new Podcast

“Exploring social innovation through conversation.”

That is the theme of Innov8social’s new podcast. And what a true exploration the past four years have been. In June, Innov8social will turn 4 years old.

Innov8social started as a blog

It started in 2011 as a blog–one to examine a phenomenon of new legal structures, resources, and tools, at a time when five states had passed to create legal standing for companies that sought profit and mission.

in a changing landscape

Fast-forward to 2015, over hundreds of blog posts and dozens of interviews, and the landscape has continued to evolve. Twenty-seven states now have a form of the benefit corporation, just one of a few legal structures to recognize companies seeking something more than a single bottom line. To boot, another four states have passed a form of social purpose corporation legislation. Still others, nearly a dozen, have passed another form, called the low-profit limited liability company (L3C)… read the entire post on LinkedIn.

Listen to the Interview

Meet Kelsey

What does it take to make a passion and idea into something more? Founder and Executive Director, Kelsey Suemnicht, is learning first-hand.  She recently launched a bold initiative, The Foreign Policy Project, to empower and inform girls to pursue paths in international relations and policy.

Kelsey SuemnichtWhen she reached out via social media and explained her work and vision, we connected on our experiences working and interning with the U.S. State Department. In the process of doing an interview for the website, she also outlined the problem she sees with the lack of engagement of women in foreign policy careers, and her long-time desire to address the need and build a network and community to support and foster girls to engage in the space.

Kelsey is a Master of Public Diplomacy graduate of the USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism. She is currently the co-founder of the Young Professionals in Foreign Policy San Francisco hub and has worked for the U.S. State Department, Foreign Policy Magazine, World Affairs Council, the USC Center on Public Diplomacy, ICANN, and The Leadership Program.
She is innovating in a well-established space by finding unique ways to bring new voices to the conversation. Just as any early social innovator, she is building and learning as she goes. It was exciting to discuss both her own path and mission, the need for resources, her vision for the new venture, and how logistically she sees it progressing (i.e. legal structures, growth, etc.).

We caught up before Kelsey’s 3 month trip to Southeast Asia where she hopes to meet and interview thinkers and doers with a background in international relations in addition to exploring and experiencing the region.

Learn More About The Foreign Policy Project

You can find out more at and follow Kelsey’s adventures on Twitter .

Internet crowdfunding & DPO - raising funds from individual investors online
The Direct Public Offering  (aka investment crowdfunding) is a fascinating concept and unique way for certain businesses to raise funds.For example, it is increasingly being championed by small businesses and social enterprises, which aren’t always ideal candidates for traditional funding such as venture capital and loans.But, what are the risks of DPO’s? The upsides? And which companies have actually gone the DPO route?

In an effort to curate and organize published content related to DPO’s, we have taken excerpts from a broad range of articles on DPO’s and arranged by topic to help social entrepreneurs research this intriguing and growing funding option.


From “What is a Direct Public Offering a.k.a. Investment Crowdfunding? (Cutting Edge Capital)

Direct Public Offering (DPO) (also known as Investment Crowdfunding) is a generic term that includes any offer and sale of an investment opportunity to the public in which anyone (both wealthy and non-wealthy) can invest. Also, the entity that is raising the funds offers the investment directly, without a middleman like an investment bank.

From “What is a Direct Public Offering? Going Public Attorneys” (

A Direct Public Offering allows a company to sell its shares directly to investors without the use of an underwriter. With a Direct Public Offering, the company files a registration statement with the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) under the Securities Act of 1933, as amended (the “Securities Act”).

Typically, in going public transaction Form S-1 (”S-1”) registration statements are used.

From “Social Enterprises Raise Money Through Direct Public Offerings” (Forbes, 8/6/2014)

Andy Bamber, Cutting Edge Capital’s business development manager, calls [Direct Public Offerings] “securities-based crowdfunding.” Through DPOs, companies sell securities directly to a lot of unaccredited investors. It’s a way to raise capital without all the regulations, underwriting and expense required for a regular IPO. In some cases, there’s a cap of $1 million; in others, there’s no cap.

From “Social Enterprises Raise Money Through Direct Public Offerings” (Forbes, 8/6/2014)

While they’ve been around for a long time, DPOs have flown largely under the radar—until now. One reason could relate to the JOBS Act. Although DPOs aren’t regulated by that legislation, the pace of the law’s implementation could be one factor in the stepped-up interest. “I think DPOs are getting a boost from the continued regulatory delays of investment crowdfunding,” says Amy Cortese, author of Locavesting: The Revolution in Local Investing and an authority on the subject of local investing. “It’s a form of crowdfunding that’s legal today.”

This is good news for social enterprises, because DPOs are useful for ventures “with a strong following or appealing social mission,” says Cortese. (That includes businesses that are of interest to investors and consumers looking to support local ventures, as well as many social enterprises).

From “Entrepreneurs- Have You Considered Direct Public Offerings To Raise Capital?” (Return on Change, 1/29/2014)

DPOs allow community members to invest in local business, allowing public offerings of securities (stock, notes, or any other kind of investment) to all investors, wealthy or not.

DPOs are different from IPOs in that they allow business owners to sell stock directly to the public without the registration and reporting requirements of an IPO. However, they must be filed with the individual states and are screened by state-level securities regulators who have a great deal of experience at spotting fraud and overly risky propositions. That is a big advantage over the JOBS Act, which prohibits state securities regulators from getting involved. Vetting by such regulators reduces the need for onerous limits like those imposed under the JOBS Act.

Generally, DPOs do not require audited or reviewed financials, caps on total amount raised or individual investments, ongoing reporting or limitations on communications. There are maximum limits on the amount that can be raised, usually up to $1 million, but this can be flexible.

A major feature of DPOs is that business owners are permitted to advertise and promote to potential investors. There is a downside. DPOs stocks can be harder to sell when investors are ready. This can be a deterrent for investors.

From “Direct Public Offering (DPO): Expanding Your Team of Stakeholders” (California Bank & Trust)

Here’s the process for the creation of a DPO – an ideal capital development tool for many growing businesses:

  • Stock is registered with state administrators instead of with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
  • The company generates a prospectus that clearly lays out company financials, fiscal history and reasonable projections for further growth. There are regulations that must be followed in the preparation of a DPO prospectus, so hiring legal counsel to help develop your DPO prospectus is just plain smart business.
  • The company makes financial reports and documents publicly available.
  • The company provides accurate and timely information about the business to investor-shareholders, usually on a quarterly basis.
  • The company is audited by an accredited, independent accounting firm, which means your books must be current, clear and down to the penny so auditors give your business the “thumbs up.”

Types of Direct Public Offerings

A DPO falls into one of three regulatory classes:

  • Regulation D: The most widely known form of DPO, a Regulation D, also called a Small Corporate Offering Registration (SCOR), equips you to raise up to one million dollars every 12 months. Shares are registered with your state’s securities regulatory administration.
  • Regulation A: Enables your company to raise up to five million dollars annually. However, a Reg A DPO requires registration with the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Small Business Office. This increases the costs of compliance and reporting. In addition, it adds another agency looking over your shoulder every 90 days.
  • Intrastate DPO: This class of DPO isn’t capped on allowable sale of stock but you must raise funds within your state, be incorporated in that state and do at least 80% of your business in that state, hence the term “intrastate” DPO.
  • This type of DPO is ideal for growing businesses with a clearly-defined, regional service area. Planning on going global? An intrastate DPO is not the way to grow.

The Upside

From “Direct Public Offering (DPO): Expanding Your Team of Stakeholders” (California Bank & Trust)

  • Stock sales raise capital you are not required to pay back, as you would a commercial loan. Investors accept and share both risk and reward generated by your business.
  • Because DPO investment capital isn’t a loan, you don’t make interest or principal payments on the funds you receive. Investors grow wealth through appreciation of share price.
  • Selling shares of stock through a DPO won’t require your company to give up as much equity as it would using venture capital (VC) investors. A DPO keeps greater control of the company in your team’s hands.
  • Marketing shares of stock simultaneously “sells” your company brand to customers, clients, vendors, contractors, subs, suppliers and others with whom you conduct business regularly.
  • Since the legal and accounting requirements for a DPO are relatively simple, a DPO measures investor interest – a critical metric when you decide to take the company public.
  • Employees, customers and suppliers who purchase an ownership stake in the company have a vested interest in seeing your company succeed. You expand the team outside the four walls of your facility.
  • Capital loans are easier to obtain when lenders recognize that investors participate in risks faced by the company. This enables you to leverage the good name of your business to raise more capital at better rates and terms.


The Risks

From “Seeking Capital, Some Companies Turn to ‘Do-It-Yourself I.P.O.’s’” (New York Times, 7/31/2013)

On the downside, business owners must be prepared to invest a substantial amount of time and effort in the process and to deal with hundreds or even thousands of small investors. And most direct offerings require assistance from a knowledgeable lawyer. Not surprisingly, however, cutting out the middleman and streamlining the process lowers the cost considerably. A direct offering might cost around $25,000 in legal fees, while a formal initial public offering can cost $1 million or more. That makes direct offerings an increasingly attractive option for companies that need a substantial amount of capital — typically between $500,000 and $5 million — but not enough to justify the cost of an initial public offering.

From “An IPO route for the little guy, but full of risks” (CNBC, 12/4/2014)

“Almost 100 percent of entrepreneurs grossly underestimate how tough it is to get financing from third-party investors, even when they’re selling shares,” said Voskuil, adding, “Where do you find investors willing to put $10,000 or $25,000 of capital into your company without the help of a financial professional’s access to deal flow?”

Voskuil said any company pursuing a DPO on its own that reaches even one-third of its target amount is doing well.

This year, Cutting Edge Capital has worked with more than 40 companies to launch DPOs, and it expects to double that number in 2015. It doesn’t come cheap, though: Cutting Edge Capital charges $14,000 for its DPO boot camp.

From “The Ups and Downs of Internet Direct Public Offerings” (Virtual Advisor, 2000)

The Downsides of Internet DPOs

According to Brad Sinrod, president and chief executive of Philadelphia-based, DPOs are often not all that they’re cracked up to be. In Sinrod’s experience, he has found that many early-stage growth companies are not ready for the scrutiny of a public offering, let alone the responsibilities that go along with conducting a DPO. “An entrepreneur may do a good job of building their business, but may not be able to play the role of securities lawyer, investment banker, stockbroker and investor relations professional — all of whom you’d normally include in a full-blown public offering,” Sinrod explains. In fact, Sinrod, whose company reports on the IPO market, says a small- to mid-sized firm should rely on sources like friends and family for start-up funding.

If firms do undertake a “do it yourself” DPO, Sinrod advises working with professionals who will truly assist in the offering process. “[Not only do they] bring experience to the table, but investors are much more comfortable when professionals are involved,” he says. “Investors feel that there are actually professionals involved who have done some due diligence – because an investment bank or a broker/dealer needs to do due diligence and take liability for the companies they raise money for. There’s also a better chance that the stock will be priced at fair market value. We’ve seen a lot of entrepreneurs who think their garage-based business is worth $100 million, and they may be correct, but they need to go through the normal process to determine the true value of the company.”

Sinrod adds that one primary reason that companies go public is to possess a publicly traded security that provides liquidity for investors and a potential exit strategy for investors. “Unless a company is working with professionals with experience in the process, it’s not an easy task to accomplish,” he advises. “There have been a few companies that have done DPOs with some success, but any company that can find an investment bank should.”


Use Cases


From “Can a DPO grow your business like Ben & Jerry’s?” (Greenbiz, 6/16/2014)

Ben & Jerry’s, Annie’s Homegrown and Real Goods are examples of social enterprises that have used DPOs to raise capital.

So far, Cutting Edge has completed 10 DPOs, raising nearly $5 million, with 20 or more in the pipeline. Arroyo Food Co-op, Calvert Foundation, Farm Fresh to You, People’s Community Market and RSF Social Finance are among those that have listed DPOs there.

Right now, the platform is only available to California residents and the minimum investment is $1,000.


Most famously, in 1984, two young entrepreneurs raised a first round of capital for their fledgling ice cream company in an intrastate offering. With the slogan “Get a scoop of the action,” Ben & Jerry’s raised $750,000 from 1,800 ice-cream-loving Vermonters, allowing them to build a new plant and expand, and setting the stage for a $5.8 million initial offering the following year.

Annie’s Homegrown, the maker of packaged macaroni and cheese, raised $3 million in 1996 through a direct offering, advertising the offering in coupons tucked into each box. And more recently, tight credit markets and the rise of social media have fueled interest in the alternative financing system, especially among companies that have enthusiastic customers who can be converted into shareholders.


From “Social Enterprises Raise Money Through Direct Public Offerings” (Forbes, 8/6/2014)

Consider Cutting Edge Capital. Launched four years ago, the Oakland, CA,-based company is really hitting its stride. It has facilitated 11 DPOs, raising just over $5 million–with 25 in the pipeline.

People’s Community Market, for example, which is trying to build a full-service grocery store in Oakland, raised $1.2 million in a DPO in 2013. (The offering is still open, though the enterprise isn’t doing any more active outreach, according to Brahm Ahmadi, CEO and president). Because it had already been trying to get established for a number of years, “A lot of people knew us and what we were doing,” says Ahmadi. “A DPO seemed like a good fit.”

As an example, Arroyo Food Co-op, a startup cooperative grocery store in California, is using a DPO to raise money from its community to open. The co-op is offering loans that pay a competitive rate of return. Because Arroyo registered the offering with the California securities regulators, there is no cap on the amount it can accept from each investor and it was not required to provide audited or reviewed financials. Arroyo currently has 660 members and has raised $200,000 in member-owned loans. Other successful examples include People’s Community Market, Real Pickles, and Quimper Mercantile.

From “Direct Public Offerings: Allowing the Community to Invest” (Triple Pundit, 1/22/2013)

Another company working with Cutting Edge Capital to raise capital through a DPO is Farm Fresh To You. Farm Fresh To You, a Bay Area produce home delivery service and also a farm, sought capital through accredited investors as well. They found about $1M over five years but wanted to find a way to include their customers in their financial development. Yet 99 percent of their customers were non-accredited investors. They asked their lawyers how to get their customers involved and they shrugged their shoulders. In came the support from Cutting Edge Capital and in five months, Farm Fresh To You’s Marketing and Sales Manager, Noah Barnes and Jenny Kassan set up a DPO. According to Barnes, “It was a win-win. They get better than market rate on their investment and they can get more fresh produce from us.” Farm Fresh To You can even pay the interest back with produce credits through their Green Loan Program.

From “Raising Cash via Direct Public Offering” (, 2006)

Adamis could have gone the venture capital route. But venture capitalists pay less per share in return for the five-to-eight years they typically wait for potential return on a high-risk investment. That, in turn, would have required us to sell many more shares to get the money we need.

In the past year, this environment has led many companies, including Adamis, to explore various financing options known as alternative public offerings (APOs), such as reverse mergers. In a reverse merger scenario, we would acquire a public shell, e.g., a publicly traded company that is no longer a functioning business. This would save time and effort to register with the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) and deliver a shareholder base and publicly tradable stock.

However, public shells are quite expensive. In addition to legal and accounting fees, people who control a “clean shell” with few liabilities generally demand ownership of five to ten percent of outstanding shares plus cash ranging from $250,000 to $750,000.

Based on our “make-versus-buy” analysis, we chose to raise public money by creating our own shell through direct registration (also known as a direct public offering) with the SEC.

21 Fast Facts about the Etsy IPO (Certified B Corp)


mini wrapped gifts

1. Etsy sold more than 13 million shares on its first day of trading as a public company (April 16th 2015), raising $267 million with a valuation of $1.8 billion.

2. Etsy was founded in 2005 in Brooklyn, New York.

3. Etsy became a certified B corporation in 2012.

4. Etsy is the 2nd B corp to go public, of 1000+ B corporation. (The first was Rally Software, interview with CTO here).

5. Etsy has over 25M members.

6. Etsy Craft Entrepreneurship Program launched in 2013, to offer classes to help individuals in low-income areas learn how to make and sell crafts on Etsy. It is now in 3 US cities and expanding internationally.

7. Etsy debuted its IPO at $16 a share, and closed it’s first day at $31 a share.

8. Etsy has over 1 million active sellers and 19.8 million active buyers on the site.

9. Originally, Etsy had only one rule for selling, everything posted for sale must be handmade by the seller.

10. In 2013, Etsy dropped the sell-only-handmade rule.

11. Etsy Founder Kalin stepped down twice, once in 2008 (resumed in 2009) and in 2011.

12. Etsy CTO Chad Dickerson became CEO in 2011.

13. As of 2015, Etsy employees about 400 employees.

14. Sales on Etsy topped $1B in 2013.

15. In the 3 years prior to filing IPO (i.e. from 2012-2015), Etsy lost close to $18.4M.

16. The term “Etsy Economy” is defined by CEO Chad Dickerson as “a people-powered economy with person-to-person commerce” that is “the feel of a farmer’s market instead of a supermarket…”

17. Founder Rob Kalin owned less than 1% of Etsy at the time of IPO.

18. Etsy’s updated policies allow sellers to work with manufacturers for mass production.

19. Etsy hosts an annual “Hello Etsy” conference for Etsy sellers and small business owners.

20. Etsy may have to incorporate as a benefit corporation to maintain its B corp status, according to rules set forth by B Lab. (Note here’s the difference between a b corp and a benefit corporation)

21. Etsy’s IPO was the largest IPO ever for a venture-backed, New York-based startup.


Etsy I.P.O. Tests Pledge to Balance Social Mission and Profit (New York Times)
Rally Software IPO to benefit nonprofits (Denver Business Journal)

Why Etsy’s IPO Could Silence Haters of the New York Tech Scene (Xconomy)

Etsy Craft Entrepreneurship Expands to 3 New Cities (Etsy News Blog)