SOCAP 2012 Nurtures Social Entrepreneurship and Disruptive Tech Through Impact Accelerator

By Morgan Matthews

This year’s Social Capital Markets Conference held at Fort Mason in San Francisco came with a twist: an Impact Accelerator that included 100 social entrepreneurs. The accelerator, sponsored by Halloran Philanthropies among other socially minded enterprises, provided customized support over a week-long process and offered the entrepreneurs the opportunity to showcase their projects in the main hall.

Conference participants were invited throughout the week to engage with the entrepreneurs, donate, and invest in their ventures. Two of the top five entrepreneurs in the accelerator, Antony Ndungu of Kenya and Paseka Lesolang of South Africa, are working on projects that have the potential to disrupt million dollar markets.

We’re all familiar with Clayton Christensen, Harvard Business Professor and innovation guru, and his definition of disruptive technology, but in case you’ve forgotten, these are innovative technologies that create new markets and value networks.  Disruptive products or services move into existing markets with lower quality, cheaper technologies that satisfy similar needs as their existing counterparts. Think early Google Docs versus Microsoft Word. To successfully disrupt a current market, entrepreneurs need to find a white space, a part of the market that existing technologies aren’t reaching for one reason or another.

For Google Docs, the white space was free software in the cloud that is accessible from anywhere. Using Google Docs, despite its early drawbacks, was still more convenient than the alternative of e-mailing several iterations of a Word doc and paying loads of money for the software. By satisfying a consumer need that Word wasn’t meeting, Google Docs got an in with users even though the technology was (and is still) inferior. Google Docs is now a primary competitor of Microsoft Word, and slowly but surely, the disruptive technology is eating up the market share of the existing technology.

Disruptive innovations and technologies were a common finding among the social entrepreneurs who were selected for SOCAP’s Impact Accelerator. Antony (Tonee) Ndungu, has a product that can disrupt the market for text books in Africa and America. Tonee has sourced a low-cost Android tablet and created an application to make textbooks more affordable in Kenya. According to Tonee, an average family in Kenya spends 45 percent of their disposable income on education for their children and textbooks account for more than half of that cost. This makes textbooks the primary barrier to children’s education.

Enter Kytabu, an application that will allow students to access books on a tablet using a micro payment system. This means that students will have the option to purchase a page for an hour, a chapter for a day, or a book for a month- whichever the family can afford. This payment model will lower the original cost of the book by 72 percent, which means Kytabu has the potential to revolutionize learning in the Kenyan education system, and across the globe, if it proves successful.

Currently, Tonee is raising money for the beta stage of the project to showcase the product at Demo Africa on October 24th of this month. This will pave the way for a pilot phase, scheduled for 2013, where he plans to launch Kytabu with a group of 2,000 students to demonstrate the validity of their model and application.

Paseka Lesolang of South Africa is working on an innovation that will change the way you think when you hear the soft sound of a leaking toilet, and save millions of gallons of water in the process. Paseka was an athlete growing up, and his favorite thing to do after a long practice was drink a large glass of water. When the WHO released a study that concluded South Africa’s water consumption will exceed availability by 2025, he decided he had to do something. His journey began with curiosity about a leaking toilet when he was 18, and has turned into a passion for water conservation.

Paseka discovered that one leaking toilet can waste approximately 80,000 gallons of fresh water a year. His company, WHC, has created and patented the Leak-Less Valve to combat this waste. The Leak-Less Valve is a piece of technology that can be retrofitted into a standard toilet and can save over 132 gallons of water per day, per toilet! WHC is also in the process of obtaining patents for an Eco-Dynamic toilet, a design centered on water conservation, sanitation, and user hygiene.  Still in the early stages of success, Paseka’s company has several letters of interest from South African Government Agencies and is raising funds to develop small scale manufacturing. In addition to being selected for SOCAP’s Impact Accelerator, Paseka is also a 2012 Unreasonable Fellow.

Last year’s Fast Company article on innovation defines disruptive innovations as those that “disrupt the current market behavior, rendering existing solutions obsolete, transforming value propositions, and bringing previously marginal customers and companies into the center of attention.” Both of these brilliant social entrepreneurs are moving forward with ideas that have the potential to disrupt current markets, bring greater value to more people on a global scale, and change behavior. Through small HUBs of innovation and collaboration, and social impact accelerators like the one at SOCAP; better businesses for a better world are well on their way.

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