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!
As a new mentor at the Sustainability Innovation Lab at GSVlabs,I recently had the opportunity to speak there on a topic I am often asked about, namely—what are the essential things that founders should know about social entrepreneurship.
From the engaging follow-up questions and spirited conversation during the presentation, I thought it might be useful to share the slides and key learnings here too.
1. There are legal structures for social entrepreneurship.
This topic was one of the inspirations of founding Innov8social—i.e. to follow the progress and explore the potential of various legal structures including benefit corporations, social purpose corporations, limited low-profit liability companies (L3C’s), and various combinations thereof. These legal structures are intended to form companies founded on principles of creating impact as well as generating profit. These new structures serve to expand the ‘bottom line’ focus of a company to a double or triple bottom line (i.e. people, planet, profits) and in doing so, expand the stakeholders to which a company owes a legal duty from shareholders to stakeholders such as the environment and community as well.
2. There are business models for social entrepreneurship.
We often say that a legal structure is a “glove” meant to fit the business goals and model of a venture. With that in mind, founders should know that business models are emerging to serve social impact ventures. Models such as buy one give one, or 1%-1%-1%, or dedicating a percentage of revenue to non-profit/policy entities, or pay-what-you-can models are gaining ground as ways to easily explain and account for impact and profit.
3. There are funding options for social entrepreneurship.
Traditional funding options such as loans, grants, and venture capital can be applicable to social enterprises; however, sometimes the dual goals of impact and profit can make these hard sells for social ventures. There is also a growing body of funding options that can serve social entrepreneurs well—these include impact investors (who actively seek a return on impact and profit on their investments), Program-Related Investments (“PRI’s”) powered by foundations, and the use of crowdfunding (both donation-based and investment-based) to validate and fund social impact companies.
4. Social entrepreneurship isn’t just a way of doing business — it is also a mindset.
Since countries such as the US do not legally define social enterprise per se, that term along with social entrepreneurship and social innovation are often used to describe various legal structures and business models (for-profit and nonprofit). With this broad application, social entrepreneurship signifies a mindset as much as a specific type of venture. In fact, social entrepreneurs are often described as those seeking business-minded solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. They employ methodologies of entrepreneurship and ‘lean’ approach to startups in building revenue models and impact potential. This mindset is a way to problem-solve and calls on the problem-solver to consider and account for multiple end goals, and to do so with accountability and transparency.
5. You are NOT alone! There are resources, tools, and communities to help you reach your profit and impact goals.
If there is one thing to emphasize, it is that social entrepreneurs (and those aspiring to be) are NOT alone! Being an entrepreneur is challenging, add the additional goal of creating impact— and the path to success can feel distant and even lonely. However, there is an ever-strengthening ecosystem of support emerging and evolving to better meet the needs and challenges of social entrepreneurs.
A few leading resources for social innovation and social entrepreneurship:
- Ashoka Fellows Program
- Global Social Benefit Institute (Santa Clara University)
- Yunus Centre for Social Business
- Stanford Social Innovation Review
Resources we have compiled and are building:
- 40+ Blogs on Social Innovation
- 50+ Social Innovation Fellowship Programs
- Accelerator and Incubator Programs for Social Entrepreneurs
- The Innov8social Podcast (new episodes every Thurs)
- 51 Questions on Social Entrepreneurship (due out this summer)
Here are Prezi slides from the talk
This episode of The Innov8social Podcast features Dr. Neil Patel, a social entrepreneur with a doctorate in Computer Science, who grew up in northern California and then relocated to India in 2010 where he launched and is scaling an innovative impact venture, called Awaaz.de.
Listen to the Interview
Find Out More
More About Neil
More About Awaaz.De
- Website: https://www.awaaz.de/
- Value proposition: “We provide content to our partners and users in their local language to communicate with important stakeholders and beneficiaries for a variety of purposes and goals. Our clients include businesses, rural communities, schools, NGOs and many more.”
- Awaaz.De Streams – group voice messaging for everyone
- Awaaz.De Surveys – enabling rich data collection via phone survey surveys
- Awaaz.De Voice Forums – moderated voice message “chat rooms”
The Ideation Behind a Social Enterprise
Meet Zack Rosenberg
Zack is not a first-time entrepreneur. He has founded websites such as Gimme20, which became a social & sharing network for health and fitness enthusiasts and SixDegreesofZR, which connected jobseekers and available jobs within Zack’s network. While the sites do not appear to be active, there are a number of references to them online. His work also spans roles at WebMD, Buzzfeed, and SmartBrief and he regularly writes and speaks about startup entrepreneurship.
Zack may be an encore entrepreneur, but his latest venture has taken him to new realms including social enterprise and ecommerce. He noted that as he dives deeper into ways to empower his platform to do good and do well, he has started becoming more aware of the broader social innovation community. When he attended his first Social Venture Network conference in New York earlier this year he was pleasantly surprised to engage with the strong community of social entrepreneurs who participated.
The tagline for DoGoodBuy.Us is “the marketplace for social good/s”. The site lets users search products using various parameters including, by the cause that the product supporters, by type of gift you are looking to give (i.e. for teachers, clients, babysitters) as well as by price point and type of item. Up to 50% of proceeds are donated to support poverty-eradication, access to food, healthcare, and environmental sustainability measures.
In his interview, Zack talks about his decision to form DoGoodBuyUs as a for-profit and the reasons for doing so. He also explores what is ahead, introducing the concept of crowdcommerce—which allow groups to support specific initiatives.
Listen to the Interview
Sometimes you can learn as much about people by what they ask as by what they say. I learned that early when meeting Doug Park. Read his bio– showcasing his success as a student, attorney, professor, and leader—and you might be surprised by his thoughtful curiosity and desire to continue exploring when you meet him.In addition to sharing his own experience, he asks nuanced questions, poses hypotheticals, and probes into issues of relevance to the social enterprise.I had the pleasure of meeting Doug Park a few months ago at an event showcasing the potential of social entrepreneurship, and recently sat down with him for an interview about his journey to the social enterprise space and the his tips for entrepreneurs.
Meet Doug Park
Listen to the Interview
- The Benefits of Bringing Business Strategy Into Legal Advice [Doug Park]
- Three Business Strategy Questions To Ask Your Lawyer [Doug Park]
- To Whom Does The Nonprofit Board of Directors Owe Fiduciary Duties? [Doug Park]
The photo used above has been adapted from LinkedIn.
One of the remarkable things I have noticed from speaking to many driven social entrepreneurs is that their current effort is usually not the first they have worked on.And judging by the experience of Tristan Pollock it is often not the last.I first had a chance to connect with Tristan and co-founder Erik Eliason when they were cultivating and growing social enterprise SocialEarth.
SocialEarth, a Platform for Social Enterprise Content
SocialEarth—overviewed here last year (“What is SocialEarth?“)—crowdsources social innovation news, narratives, and features from around the globe. It was founded by Tristan and Erik in 2009 to provide a dedicated platform for seasoned journalists and bloggers as well as those new to penning thought to blog for the purpose of sharing and learning about impact-related events and stories.
Their endeavors resulted in favorable traction among a burgeoning community of social innovators. By 2012, the site featured 170 contributors from 25 countries, and had a fan following of over 13K Twitter followers and 14K Facebook fans. (Today, those numbers are up to 200 contributors, 23K Twitter followers, and 80K Facebook fans)
Cognizant of the challenges of running a journalism-rooted site, when Tristan and Erik received an offer in March 2012 by leading CSR content distributor 3BL–the co-founders decided to sign the dotted line. And that made way for a new adventure.
Storefront, Pop Up Retail
Within months of SocialEarth’s acquisition, the co-founders were developing an innovative new startup idea, this time focusing squarely on the sharing economy and retail marketplace. From disrupting channels of social news, the latest effort—Storefront—disrupts retail sales outlets.
Instead of committing to lengthy leases in single locations, Storefront allows retailers of all kinds (i.e. brick-and-mortar, online, and specialty stores) the opportunity to engage in short-term leases (including single-day!) in a variety of locations.
Storefront joins other startups in the “sharing economy” by championing “pop up” retail experiences. It provides the platform for retailers to connect with available space and provides ways to let audiences know about pop-up experiences nearby.
Tristan Pollock is located in one of the social entrepreneurship capitals of the world, San Francisco. He and Erik launched Storefront just months after SocialEarth was acquired. This effort has been unique from SocialEarth in a few respects: 1) the topic is distinct; and 2) the funding path has been different. In their latest venture, Tristan and Erik participated in AngelPad, an accelerator program for startups. Their work caught the interest of angel investors including 500 Startups, Sandhill Angels, and Great Oaks Venture Capital. They ended up raising $1.6M in initial seed funding.
The funds are enabling the duo to grow their team and expand their operations to New York City and beyond.
After following Tristan and Erik over the past few years, it was exciting to be able to chat with Tristan about his personal journey to the social enterprise space and what he has learned from two startups with very different paths and areas of focus.
Listen to the Interview
Storefront Gets $1.6M To Grow Its ‘Pop-Up Shop’ Marketplace For Short-Term Commercial Rentals [TechCrunch]
Making Renting A Store As Easy As Booking A Hotel Room [FastCo]
Q&A with Storefront Founder Tristan Pollock [The News Funnel]
What Launching in New York Means To Us [Storefront Blog]
Visit D-Prize.org and your bound to do a double take when posed with the question:
“If you were awarded $20,000, how would you fight poverty?”
I had a chance to learn about this innovative program that identifies and funds promising social ventures that are still at an idea phase through a conversation with Nicholas Fusso. Nicholas serves as Program Director of D-Prize.
Q & A with Nicholas Fusso, Program Director of D-Prize
[Nicholas Fusso] D-prize is a competition program to identify top social entrepreneurs focused on innovative initiatives for distribution.
It was launched by Andrew Youn, of One Acre Fund. Andrew has been working with African farmers to help them become more sustainable. Since One Acre fund started in 2006 it has expanded in scope and scale, now serving over a 100K families.
Through his work at One Acre Fund, Andrew became increasingly frustrated because he saw easy solutions to major problems but they were not being scaled & distributed effectively. He and a few co-founders launched D-Prize to focus on the distribution end of the social enterprise equation. The “D” in D-Prize stands for “distribution equals development”.
How does D-Prize work? Is it an accelerator program?
[Nicholas] D-prize is not necessarily an accelerator program. It is a mechanism to fund ventures that are at the idea stage. Entrants are considered based on: (1) distribution-focused venture; 2) that can radically scale up (i.e. create massive amounts of impact). Ideal candidate will read the description and come up with concept that meets (1) and (2) and then can apply for D-Prize.
D-prize applications are generally accepted on a rolling basis. Our first round of applications was due April 30, 2013, and we received over 300 applications. The next deadline for applications for the Fall 2013 cohort will be November 30, 2013.
What are the requirements for candidates? U.S.-based? Proven Model?
How is D-Prize funded?
[Nicholas] By the co-founders & colleagues.
How is D-Prize structured?
[Nicholas] It has applied for non-profit status.
Tell us a little about yourself
[Nicholas] I have been in the role of Program Director since February 2013. When I started, D-Prize had already published and launched the first competition program, and interested applicants had about 5 weeks to submit an idea. We had an aggressive schedule but were able to identify entrepreneurs in that space.
A little about me…I studied political economics in college and had a lot of friends with idealistic goals pursue nonprofit and ngo-work. I was one of the few to go into business. My first social enterprise was right out of college, called “Sustainable of Sexy.” The mission was to educate people of coffee-drinking habits, especially sustainability of coffee-related goods, such as coffee cups. We took the problem on from a business perspective, trying to show how reusable coffee cups could be better for business all-around. We had a blog, and received some great press coverage. The whole experience really excited me about entrepreneurship. D-Prize was a great fit and has been an exciting experience.
What do you see as the connection between enterprise and impact?
[Nicholas] I see entrepreneurship as the surest path to sustainable development.
How is funding disbursed?
[Nicholas] People submit a 1st round application, then if its a good fit will invite them to a final round. Selected finalists will receive $10-20K funding. Payment method will be Lump sum or in parts, based on what makes more sense for the concept and work. It’s important to determine what type of venture to figure out how to fund. (i.e. build website, market, etc.). D-Prize does not necessarily take an equity stake. The amount of funding is partially based on the budget that applicants must include as part of the final application.
What are you looking for in D-Prize candidates?
[Nicholas] Measurable impact, and lots of it. Whether applicants are non-profit or for-profit, we look at whether they are committed to creating responsible change—that it part of their core business, and not just a consideration. Finally, we are look for ideas that are transformational in their approach to meeting the distribution challenge.
How does a team apply?
This infographic by InvestorPitches, breaks down a winning pitch into small, digestible parts. Though the visual is framed for startups pitching for VC or angel funding, the tips and approach are applicable in a number of settings.
Enjoy the infographic, be sure to pitch well & often!
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