Highlights from Investors’ Circle Conference, Winners of West Coast Village Capital

I attended my second ever Investors’ Circle Conference this week and as with last year, found it to be one of my favorite social enterprise conferences.  Attendees are entrepreneurs and investors and then a few random folks like me.  Both groups of people I find fascinating – lots of do’ers and self-starters.  Instead of giving you the blow-by-blow, I thought I’d share a few takeaways and start-ups to watch.

Takeaways: Success factors for social enterprise

Courtesy of Deborah Nelson, Executive Director of Social Venture Network, who has seen more than her fair share of social ventures succeed and fail over the years.

  • Treat your team well: Accountability and autonomy are key factors in employee happiness.  When entrepreneurs fail to give up control to team members, teams will likely suffer high turnover and discontent.
  • Keep your eye on long term benefits:  Short-sighted management decisions will inevitably lead to stumbles and worse.  Companies that are planning for the long term today will thrive.  For example, Seventh Generation derives its name from the Great Law of the Iroquois Confederacy that says, “In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.”
  • Provide something unique: Offer a product or service that meets a need that isn’t being addressed by a dozen other companies.  Break away from the pack.  Don’t follow others into a crowded space.  As I’m building my own consulting practice, I am selective about who I work with, selecting companies I consider to be unique and game-changing in the social enterprise space.
  • Don’t forget about sales and marketing: Many a great idea is lost due to lack of ability to sell and market said great idea.  I see this as one of the biggest pitfalls of social enterprise.  Just because there is positive benefit to the world, doesn’t mean we can forget about value to the end consumer and how to reach that end consumer.

Start-ups to watch:

I was most intrigued by the winners of  West Coast Village Capital (WCVC) who exhibited at Investors’ Circle (More on WCVC here).  (I was not present on pitch day to learn about the presenting Investors’ Circle companies.)

  • Haku Wale (Alan Wells, $75k winner) has created a social gaming application that entertains and educates players about sustainability issues. The pilot project will focus on residential energy efficiency.
  • RainSaucers (Tom Spargo, $100k winner) developed a rainwater collection system for individual family homes in the developing world.  One system can provide up to 7 months of drinking water for a family.
  • New Avenue, (Kevin Casey, $100k winner) combats urban sprawl by financing and building eco-friendly, low-cost ($40k building cost) homes in backyards and other empty urban spaces.
  • TerViva BioEnergy (Naveen Sikka, $100k) provides low-cost, tree-based non-edible vegetable oil for the biodiesel market.  It is building commercial ranches on sub-prime land to produce the oil.
  • Cooler, Inc. (Michel Gelobter, $25k – not present at IC) provides SaaS personal and small business footprint tracking and recommendations for companies and individuals.

This is just a fraction of what transpired at Investors’ Circle.  What else did folks find inspiring?

Amie runs Cobblestone Solutions, LLC, a consultancy focusing on business development, marketing, communications and strategy for mission driven companies. Previously, Amie served as Director of Business Development for Viv (a Bay Area environmental start-up), Program Manager for Social Venture Technology Group (a boutique consulting firm focused on measuring social and environmental impact), and Associate Consultant at Bain & Co (a global management consulting firm). She is particularly interested in innovations that reduce waste, altering consumer behavior for good, and leveraging the power of business to solve the climate crisis. You can read more from her on her blog, on GreenBiz.com, and on JustMeans.

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