By Dayna Reggero
We are in a time of opportunity – a fruitful place where economy, environment, human rights and culture are uniting. People are starting to ask where the things they buy come from. They want to know the conditions for the workers who made their products. How it affected the environment. Is their food safe to eat? People want to know the real cost of their products and services. We are getting dangerously close to losing all relational character for money and how it is spent. Who is benefiting?
Rosa Lee Harden, co-founder and producer of Social Capital Markets (SOCAP) and HUB Bay Area, says, “Exchange of goods for services is part of how we acquire things. It is a fact of life. If we want to be moral people, we have to figure out a way to do this for good. And, make it an underlying piece in business.”
Social entrepreneurs are taking on sectors like safe food systems, value-added food and natural products, biomaterials, energy, green building, craft brewing and distilling, sustainable supply chain technologies, sustainable fibers/textiles, agritourism, ecotourism, and outdoor industry, and other advanced nature-based innovations.
“One sector gaining attention is food and food infrastructure,” says Harden. There are huge opportunities in food – and the more sustainable, organic, and local - the better. A 2012 study by research firm CB Insights found that Venture capitalists provided $350 million to food tech companies in 2012.
A 2012 study by Emory University and Village Capital found that although women entrepreneurs are performing equal-to or better-than men in terms of recent profitability, they are suffering from a lack of access to capital.
How can women overcome barriers to influence a compassionate ecosystem-approach to business? Harden suggests finding peers and mentors and asking for help, and believes accelerator programs are an ideal place to find support and capital.
Sara Day Evans founded Accelerating Appalachia, the nation’s first business accelerator focused on nature-based companies, to provide support to innovators who are solving environmental or social problems with programs with the capacity to scale. Participants selected for the program will gain expert mentoring and coaching for all aspects of business development, particularly financing.
Sixty-five percent of businesses applying to Accelerating Appalachia are female-led. Women are creating positive opportunities for themselves with enterprises that balance benefits to people, planet, and profit. These businesses have a customer base and are fiscally responsible, while solving environmental problems, and paying living wage. “In the last few years, people have started paying lots more attention to how women are particularly good at doing this,” Harden adds.
How can we all help? Pay attention, ask questions, and support ethically-sourced products that benefit economy and environment. Invest in women. Evans believes, "It is important to support this growth of a diversity of sectors of nature-based innovations and businesses for a sustainable economy; regionally, nationally, and across the globe.”
Participants selected for the Accelerating Appalachia program will gain expert mentoring and coaching from entrepreneurs and practitioners over a 12-week session. Two peer-selected entrepreneurs will each receive aninvestment toward solving challenges in their communities through businesses that make a profit while doing good.