B Lab’s Innovative Tools to Help Impact Companies Grow Sustainably

B Lab exists to support the cultural change happening around business: How can we create social change with business? And how can we operate sustainably, from sourcing to selling?



Episode Summary

In this episode, we talk with B Lab executives Laura and Amanda to find out:

  • What is the mission and vision of B Lab?
  • Can you give us a quick background of B Lab and why you got involved?
  • How does the ecosystem work?
  • What stage of business would you recommend to take the assessment?
  • Why should people measure their impact? What are the benefits?
  • Can you share more about B Analytics?
  • What kind of companies are signing up to use this tool?
  • Can you share with us how you integrated the Global Goals with B Lab?
  • How can we get involved?

Tune in to discover how you can use the Impact Assessment as a guide for your own business growth, and how you can use the B Lab Analytics to inform your investments.



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What is the mission and vision of B Lab?

“B Lab is a nonprofit. We’ve been around for about 12 years, and our mission from the beginning has been to serve people using business as a force for good.

What we see our organization contributing is infrastructure primarily to make the cultural shifts that are happening in the nature of business become long-term changes. Also, we are recognizing companies that exemplify what this redefined for social environmental good looks like, which are called certified B corporations.”

Can you give us a quick background of B Lab and why you got involved?

“It must have been 13 years ago! It started with three friends from college who had all gone into the private sector. One of them was more on the investment side of things in private equity and the other two as entrepreneurs. They were growing a company in the apparel industry and sensing that there was something deeply flawed in business.”

“As they tried to run their business with a social conciousness, environmental purpose, and logic, they found barriers. They identified two main flaws in the system. One was legal – a legal definition of maximizing return for shareholders in the short term. The second was a general question: what is a good decision from the social and environmental perspective as you’re running a business? That was the beginning of it all.”

Laura: “I’m Colombian, so I started out as the executive director of the Labs to partner in Colombia. That was about five years ago. As of two years ago, I’ve been based in New York with Amanda working primarily on newer initiatives. We’re trying to sta ahead of the game and moving the market forward. What about you, Amanda?”

Amanda: “I’ve been with B Lab for about four years now. I came to this work after having spent some time in the federal government, really thinking and working on policy and federal initiatives that we’re about promoting economic development.”

“I think one of the things that was lacking for me was the pace in which the government was able to move around supporting sustainable business.”

“But the pace in the private sector was responding much more quickly. So, there I was after about three and a half years in Washington, deciding to leave because I really wanted to be on the cutting edge. I have seen B labs push the conversation forward and provide real solutions for businesses, for investors and stakeholders (not just shareholders), and redefining what the success of a business can look like. I’ve also seen B Lab being progressive about how we spread that change and make it actionable for all businesses.”

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How does the ecosystem work?

Amanda: “When we think about the role that the Lab plays in this work, we see ourselves as one actor in this broader ecosystem of people using business as a force for good. We can take no credit for being the only actors in and thinking about the role of business and how it is changing and how it’s evolving.”

How it Works:

  1. Identify Leaders “Where we see our work really playing out, as Laura said, within the identification of business leaders that have put in best practices around their social environmental management. 
  2. Systematize Best Practices and Get Certified Companies have to go through a process to become a certified B Corp to systemetize those best practices. The first step is actually taking an assessment that assesses those policies and practices in place in that business. For example:
    1. Are you producing a certified organic product?
    2. Are you involved in fair trade
    3. How are you treating your workers?
    4. What’s your governance structure?
    5. How are you engaged with their community?
  3. Change the Legal Structure to a Public Benefit Corporation: Then we create a legal structure that allows companies to account for those shareholders, or excuse me, their stakeholders, not just their shareholders. And as they’re growing their business, as they’re making real business decisions in thinking about how they as a business can grow in the long term.”

Check out this video to see what it means to be a Certified B Corporation


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Can you share the origin of how you developed the assessment?

“The impact assessment has always been the cornerstone of our work around impact measurement, and a first point of entry for a lot of our companies. The first version of it was on an excel sheet. It was like an MVP, but it was about discovering those aspects of the business that we can measure and specifically asking, “how do we identify metrics that are objective and observable that a company can see where they are as an organization?”

At bImpactAssessment.net you can take the assessment. It’s a cloud-based, totally free tool that a company can register for, and as the buusiness goes through that assessment, we ask questions organized around specific stakeholder groups for a company.”


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What stage of business would you recommend to take the assessment?

We got asked that question a lot about five years ago, so we started this new category of B groups, which is called pending B Corp. The pending B Corp group gives entrepreneurs clarity from the beginning: they take it as a learning experience and it’s only a year after they’ve been in business that they actually have to go through the verification process that the B Corp does go through. So they do have a year from the moment that they decide, ‘okay, I want to be a pending B Corp. I want in a year’s time to really understand what the B Impact Assessment calls for. I want to achieve that minimum threshold within a year.’ Then, they have that time to build the elements that they may be missing.

So, my general answer about the business stage is… as early as possible! There’s no cost involved, it’s a login. And no one needs to know what your score is.” 

“We are hoping that companies use the impact assessment as a tool for their development and growth. That way, they can build a sustainable company from the beginning.”

How many companies have taken the assessment?

Great question. So we have 55,000 companies globally that have registered and started the B impact assessment.

I think that’s because there’s a broader consciousness happening in the business community. We’re now at over 2,700 certified B Corps globally, and there’s been companies that are leading the way for others: “Hey, if that company can do it, I can do it.” Or, “I really believe in that company. I want to be just like them in the business I’m building.” So we’re seeing that community as a whole movement, which is exciting.

Why should people measure their impact?

First and foremost it’s important to have visibility onto those aspects of your business that are not just about financial performance.

Laura: I think there’s an interesting opportunity here for companies to distinguish themselves in a marketplace to say, “This is how I’m doing compared to other companies.” That’s really important to us. I think people are demanding it. Customers are demanding it, investors are demanding it, employees are demanding it. And being able to respond to that demand is a critical and central part of a business being successful is being responsive.”

Are there any benefits to doing this?

Amanda: “I think employee engagement is one of the first things that we hear from companies; that either they’ve gone through it and now they’re seeing it as a mechanism through which to engage their employees. Some of it are doing the assessment as a response to their employees, to Laura’s point, as their workforce may be demanding it and wondering, “Are we amongst the leaders that are doing this?”

The political part of it in tracking your progress over time is important in the same way that you would track your balance sheet over time and your profit and loss statement. And, the certification process built in that consistent review.

For me, Patagonia is a great example of this. They have been a leader in sustainability long before B-Corp. Since getting certified, they’ve used the assessment and certification to improve their company and practices.”

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Can you share more about B Analytics?

“The data in it is by individual companies going in and filling out the B Impact Assessment. Then, B Analytics is a business intelligence tool that lets stakeholders actually engage with that data and understand it in a more in-depth way.”

“I think one of the things that we’ve seen is that there are a host of other stakeholders that want to be engaged in helping that business grow. Often it’s investors. Often it is supply chain managers. Understanding and having visibility into these nonfinancial performance metrics of a company can add value. We’ve had about 150 subscribers since we launched the platform, and it is about helping companies understand where they are today, then use that data to make better decisions and improve their impact over time.”

What kind of companies sign up to use this tool?

It’s a variety. I’d say investors are about half of our community and some of them are venture capitalists, some of them are sort of traditional private equity firms and some of them are debt funds actually that have engaged and invested in providing debt instruments to growing companies.

We also have non-investors who are using the platform. We have supply chain managers who have said “it’s really important to understand our impact, but we want visibility into our supply chain as well because we know that a lot of the value that we’re providing more broadly in the ecosystem is actually coming through our supply chain.” So they may be engaging with the companies that they source from in order to measure and manage their impact.

We also have business networks and local economic development organizations that are using the analytics tool to support sustainable business development in their communities.


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Can you share with us how you integrated the Global Goals with B Lab?

“It fits perfectly into this conversation because we’ll be beta testing in November and then launching in January, 2020. It will essentially be a module of the B Impact Assessment and a module of the analytics that bring the Sustainable Development Goals.

We really listened to many of the companies that use the B Impact Assessment, then so many of the partners that use the analytics and they’ve been saying to us for years that the SDG framework is incredibly helpful.

Anyone who knows the Sustainable Development Goals understands just how tangible they make humanity-wide challenges, but they were developed for countries and by countries.

What can we do to get involved?

I would encourage folks to be the change, which is what our newsletter and our content shows you how to do. Our content highlights the good work of the community and the companies that we have the privilege of working with and serving, and also the broader community of change agents that are driving a different system of capitalism.

So if you need some inspiration, if you’re looking for a mid-day, pick me up, check out Be the Change. It gives you an opportunity to sign up for our newsletter. That would be the best place to get updates on this new integration and the SDG work that we’re doing and to stay up to date on all things B Corp.

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The Secret Weapon of Scaling: Brand Storytelling

The Secret Weapon of Scaling: Brand Storytelling

Impact Investor Josh Campbell reveals his unorthodox formula for scaling companies: stigma +  brand storytelling + trends + team.


Episode Summary

Josh doesn’t think about investing as a numbers game. For him, it’s like surfing. In this episode, Josh shares how to catch the wave of a trend and spot companies that could transform an industry by changing the narrative of a stigmatized product. His approach to impact investing is holistic… and all about alignment.

“Look at your time as the most valuable asset you have. You really want to spend it doing things that can be a global impact rather than just to make a buck or two.”

  • What is your personal mission of what you want to create in the world?
  • Can you share with us a little bit of background on how you got here?
  • How do you change the narrative on products that are stigmatized?
  • What are the pros and cons of getting into the product market?
  • What is your relationship to fundraising vs. bootstrapping?
  • What are the top lessons you’ve learned?
  • What are the next ventures your interested in?
  • What is one piece of advice you’d leave with them?

Listen in for ideas on how to leverage your brand story to scale strategically, and how to invest in companies that represent the next era in their industry.


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So Josh, can you kick us off with what is your personal mission of what you want to create in the world? 

You know, that’s an interesting question. When people talk about mission and vision, it often sounds a little contrived. So for me it, it’s, it’s almost like it’s simpler for me, it’s about having a meaningful impact, um, and doing things you love with people you love. 

Can you share a little bit of background, how did you get here? 

I grew up outside Toronto, Canada, about two hours outside the city, out in the country. I remember having a lemonade stand there. That was where I realized that location is everything. Lemonade stands and the country do not do well, a very humbling experience at the age of five. 

I went to school to study business accounting, I call myself a recovering account. Wall Street was the path that I was going down, but I had a very powerful conversation with a mentor of mine early on. We were working late on a financial model and he looked at me and said, you don’t love this do you. 

And I said, no. They said, well, why the F are you doing this? Great question. 

I said, you’re right. It was a key turning point for me. So after that I ended up leaving the world of finance. I joined a private equity company, went down to the US from Canada. I took the leap of faith to move from Canada into the US to do land development and take an active operating role at one of the businesses we had. So I did that, I scaled that business up and ended up selling it late 2007, early 2008 which if you recall, that was really when the financial crisis hit. I was very, very lucky to do it at that time.

So I got a great lesson early on in my career. After that I ended up coming back to Canada. I joined a small coffee company based in Seattle called Starbucks. I think you may have heard of it. 

What made you decide to start by scaling Starbucks?

I spoke French and wanted to scale and restructure this American Brand in a French Canadian market – I ended up having five different roles or five years at Starbucks. And I was the youngest executive ever in the company.

I ended up leaving Starbucks to restructure a 20-year old company that had promising financials. It seemed crazy at the time, but I scaled it and had a second exit. 

Tell us how you got into the next few companies?

I was approached to do basically a roll-up strategy to change the dynamics of a leadership team with a hearing health care business, restructure it, and then buy up a bunch of other businesses and consolidate them. You know, it’s interesting. My gut actually said not to do it… but I ended up doing it anyway. It was really a financial play and at the end of the day I just really wasn’t satisfied with what I was doing. 

“I wasn’t changing the world really.  I was really just doing deals at the end of the day, which can be fun at a very short time, but if you truly look at your time being the most valuable commodity you have or valuable asset you have you really want to spend it doing things that can be a global impact rather than just to make a buck or two, to try and appease shareholders.” 

So we did that for two years, ended up selling it. Then, at a Bachelor party in Amsterdam of all places I was approached to come and lead a cannabis business. I finally decided to sit down with the CEO at the time. And, and I was totally blown away with the team and the brand and the space. I was completely ignorant to the world of cannabis. 

Can you give us some background on your cannabis business?

The company’s called Doses. We’re the first and only dose controlled vaporization device out there. We don’t consider ourselves a cannabis company per se, we’re really health and wellness company that happens to use cannabis and some of our ingredients. 

So the positioning of it in the marketplace is quite different. We’ve worked very hard for the last couple of years to push the legislation forward in Canada to actually federally legalize cannabis. So we were changing the narrative and really breaking down stigma. 

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Why Branding is the Key to Incredible Exits

Starbucks If you look back at starting with Starbucks, Starbucks completely redefined what coffee is, right? They broke down stigma. People before thought coffee was 5 cents and came at a Styrofoam Cup. You would never pay $4 for a cup of coffee and you’re sure as heck would never wait 20 minutes to pay four bucks for that coffee. 

Sage Natural Wellness The next organization I ran was called Sage Natural Wellness. It was an essential oils retailer. Very similar story. You know, essential oils have been around for thousands of years. Recently they have had a very negative stigma around them, like snake oil. But we completely pivoted that stigma and actually turned it into more of a fashion brand. 

Dosist So when I saw what the team at Dosist was already doing this with regards to the brand, I said, this is incredible. Not only did you have a market that’s huge, you’ve got brilliant people and oh, by the way, you’re not talking about coffee or essential oils, you’re redefining an entire category that’s been negatively perceived for the last a hundred years. 

Cannabis It’s been criminalized last hundred years, which is kind of crazy. A lot of people have acquainted it to the end of prohibition. But I would say it’s more like the end of prohibition and then the doctor recommending you drink cocktails. Wow. It’s much, much bigger. So to be one of the only brands that’s truly changed that narrative is truly incredible.

The keys to picking a business: Catch a wave, don’t create it!

  1. Commodity product that you’re excited about.
  2. Trend watching for low-competition and high opportunity (usually involving changing a stigma).
  3. Branding that people will love and get behind – with a proven market demand.

Are there specific revenue models for these products?

It needs to be a commodity product with a negative perception. You wouldn’t start a low-cost hardware store, you’d be competing with Home Depot. That’s hard. 

Chandler: So it’s gotta be a case where you’re going left and everyone else is going right. What are some of the other criteria you use to decide to invest in a business or step in as an operator?

A humble leadership team I think is for me is personally really important. They need to be open to feedback. I’m not good at very much, but I know what I’m really bad at and have a good network to supply that. I think of myself as a land developer more than anything else, I watch trends and gather a good team around them.

Branding is Key

I think the brand is key. One that people seem to forget about it, right? There are so many examples where there’s a product that’s like a 10 at a 10 it’s amazing. But the branding is just awful. There’s no ability to resonate with the consumer. And I think that’s where a lot of people fall down. So I over-index on how much you allocate to actually brand-building versus some of the other functions of the business early on.

Especially if you’re taking something that’s truly different, you want to brand it and position in a way where people are excited about it and it’s something that they can get behind. You are changing the narrative in most of your businesses.

Well, I think that’s what it has to be. I mean, otherwise, there’s nothing newsworthy about it.

Sure. So how do you go about changing the narrative on something like essential oils or cannabis? Like what is your process for how you even start that?

It’s about identifying what do people really want, what’s, what’s that emotional, which a compelling emotional connection they want to make for the product. And then going finding people that that resonates with them. They can actually do that work but are an actual creative type.

So finding the right branding team of somebody that’s emotionally tied and really passionate about the project to share this story in a new way, to change the narrative, um, from what it was to what it can be.

Each project has three legs to the stool. There’s the creative pillar, which is critical. 

  1. There’s the product pillar 
  2. a creative pillar
  3. and the back office stuff.

The “back office” is bringing the players together and holding the team accountable. It’s bringing product and brand vision to life. Here are some questions that I ask:

  1. What are the other players or even on the team?
  2. Where do we need financing from? 
  3. How do we actually bring it to market? 

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So if you love consumer products, are there specific kind of revenue models that you’ll go with?

Yeah, that’s an interesting question. I want to actually back that up a little bit. I think a lot of people jump into the technicalities, but if you back up two more stages is key. Why does the product even exist? Is there really a need for it? Starting with the why I find is so critical.

So many people jump to tactics right away. They’re like, I have this new shoe or this widget, let’s throw it in a subscription model. Go, go, go. And they’re like, wow, it’s not selling. I wonder why? Well, because no one really cares about the product. You haven’t built a brand or a narrative around it. And that takes time. Once you start with that real core part of the business and have that nailed, then it affords you a lot more flexibility. And you still have to be willing to try a few different things and then go after what starts to work. 

What are the pros and cons of getting into the product market?

Cashflow challenges for sure. You have to actually build it and have inventory. In the digital world, these things don’t exist. I mean there’s a ton of challenges from regulatory challenges to warehousing challenges. It’s a pretty daunting task for most people to dive into, which is also what’s really exciting.

How have you gotten around cashflow challenges?

Making a lot of mistakes very early on.

What is your relationship to fundraising vs. bootstrapping?

It depends on the project. I’m notoriously frugal, which everyone in my personal life can certainly attest to. But I really liked the idea of going through the first stage, bootstrapping it. And when I say first stage, I mean really validated the demand. 

What are the top lessons you’ve learned?

I think first was always trust your gut. I think the biggest mistakes I’ve made, I’ve tried to do things to make other people happy and it’s always been a mistake every single time. So that is absolutely number one. And be humble. I think we all have egos out there and people should be proud of the work they’ve done, but there’s someone who’s going to have a different opinion and engage them. Right? I really seek out people that disagree with me and love to debate and I think that’s, for me at least, I think it’s a healthy way to go about doing it and we don’t always have to come to an agreement on it, but I’d love hearing a different perspective on it and I’ll often take a different perspective just to get the conversation going with people. I think that’s when you truly get innovative ideas coming out when you have that.

What is one piece of advice you’d leave with us?

I think one piece of advice could be a little dangerous and it’s truly ask yourself why you’re doing it… why are you doing this business? And if it doesn’t resonate with you with an incredible passion, then don’t do it. Life is too short.

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Key Links

Conscious Company Acceleration with Fledge

Conscious Company Acceleration with Fledge

Fledge Accelerators have helped 95 companies from 27 countries since 2012. Their goal is to help foster a wave of companies that make a measurable impact in the world, collectively improving in the lives of everyone on the planet.




Episode Summary

Listen in to hear the founder of Fledge talk through their learning-focused accelerator model and the community of impact businesses they are building across the globe.

  • What is the mission and vision of Fledge?
  • Can you share why you started Fledge?
  • Can you share more about how you structure the business model for Fledge?
  • What does the ideal business for Fledge look like?
  • Do you work with exponential tech companies? Why or why not?
  • Can you share more on the methodology to scale?
  • How are you measuring the impact?
  • What do you think it’ll take to solve the Global Goals?
  • Any final challenges to the audience?

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Introducing Luni Libes, founder of Fledge and Managing Director at the Seattle Fledge headquarters.

Luni’s Quick Bio from the Fledge.co website:

“Luni is a 25+ year serial entrepreneur, founder of six startups; Entrepreneur in Residence and instructor at Presidio Graduate School; and Entrepreneur in Residence Emeritus at the University of Washington’s CoMotion, the center for impact and innovation.

Luni is the author of The Next Step, a series of book and classes guiding entrepreneurs from idea to reality; plus blogger and incessant answerer of entrepreneurs’ questions on Quora.

If the pattern is not obvious, Luni spends most of his waking hours helping entrepreneurs.”


What is the mission and vision of Fledge?

Fledge exists to help entrepreneurs who agree that the only way we can make an impact in the world at scale is through for-profit means.

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Can you share why you started Fledge?

After 20 years of building tech startups (5 total), Luni went back to the drawing board. “In talking with others and pondering what could I do for the next 20 years of my life, I realized that the most fun I’d ever had across those 20 years was taking an idea and turning it into the first dollar of revenue.”

“The first million in revenue was pretty fun too. But really the idea to the first dollar was with the absolute most fun I ever had. And I got to do that for seven of the 20 years. So I asked, how can I do that for a living? How can I get paid to help others or work with others to do that over and over and over again? And the answer is a business accelerator.”

Can you share more about how you structure the business model for Fledge?

“Well, it’s not by growing fast. It’s growing at whatever speed they think is the right speed. So we’re working with what others are calling zebras instead of Unicorns.

Zebras Fix What Unicorns Break. Magical thinking drives the startup economy — but we need a strong dose of reality.”

So, the idea that we were looking at was, ‘how do you invest in a company that will never exit?’ At the time there were two options for a startup to get funding,: go into debt or hope for an exit, which is the California capitalism model, which has been around for about 40 years. But many of the entrepreneurs I talked to didn’t want to exit or sell their company.”

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How it works:

We use a 3rd option, called a revenue-based loan. And the terms are simple. The loan company hands over some money to a company. You just take round numbers, call it $100,000. And in return, the company actually promises something. They promise to pay back. Lighter capital three, four, five, 6% of their top line revenues until a 150 to $200,000 has been paid back. So once one and a half to two times revenue has been paid back, then they’re done. No equities changed hands, no, no interest rate is there. No timeframe is set ahead of time. 

That’s how it works for companies doing about a million in revenue. Fledge.co-created a way to offer similar loans to new companies, too: “We buy shares of a company and they buy back half of those shares for twice what we paid.”

What does the ideal business for Fledge look like?

In terms of sector or ideas and whatnot, now we don’t have anything in mind. We just look through the applications in and see the ones that pop out as promising and interesting.

Could you just be growing chickens? We do have two chicken companies in Africa because they need a lot of chickens and they’re just not getting grown enough. Or it could be novelty, like on Zirconia or our client down in Latin America, which is recycling plastics. Sometimes it’s a business model that pops out like a crop. It’ll on the Philippines, which is crowdfunding funding for farmers. MMM. Uh, in terms of sectors, uh, we use the UN’s sustainable development goals as, as an ontology. And, uh, we’re covering 16 out of 17. So far we’re missing education.

Do you work with exponential tech companies? Why or why not?

“Well, we’re not a tech accelerator,” Luni says.

“We don’t get excited by high tech solutions. We get excited by big, important problems of the world.”

“So if you have a solution to world poverty, it uses a blockchain. Yeah. We might bring you in and if you have a solution to solving hunger that uses AI, we might bring you in. But it’s, we’re problem first, not technology first.”

How does Fledge help companies scale?

Fledge has 3 parts to their scaling methodology.

  1. MBA program: Luni teaches the curriculum he developed that is in his Next Step books, and licenses the curriculum for other professors to teach as well.
  2. Mentors: Fledge has 660 mentors, and each company meets 12-20 of them face to face.
  3. Storytelling: Fledge doesn’t do pitches, they teach Ted-talk style storytelling. Companies present their stories on demo day.

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How are you measuring the impact?

    1. The Pinchot Impact Index – learn about it in the video below!
    2. Showing the UN Sustainable Development Goals that are present in the Fledge portfolio
    3. Showing the gender equality in the companies they support – currently, Fledge has about 40% female entrepreneurs participating.


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What do you think it’ll take to solve the Global Goals?

“The anecdote I like to say is, you can blindfold me, stick me in an airplane, fly me anywhere in the world, drop me off in a village and within two hours I have a coca cola in my hand. Why? Why is that true? The answer is because Coca Cola makes money by making that trip. And that is not true at the moment for solar power in every home or good health care or even just food on the table to stop hunger.”

When we have businesses who every day worry about how to get the next customer to earn more profits, thoseproducts solve a problem of hunger, poverty, inequality, whatever you like on that list of 17 goals, then we will have these things link and it will simply take a trillion or $2 trillion of investment to get all those companies up and running to scale. Then that’ll turn into four, eight, $10 trillion of returns for investors. So it’s a good thing for investors, but there’s just not woken up to it yet or not. Enough of them are woken up.

Any final challenges to the audience?

  1. Do impact investment!

“We just need to find more ways to deploy more capital in more mission-driven businesses. We need to stop worrying about maximizing returns so we can give a little bit of way to do good in the world… like, every dollar of every investor should be focused on doing good in the world.”

2. We need more fund managers to educate investors who were never entrepreneurs

“The other struggle that we see is that since most investors didn’t make their money as entrepreneurs so they don’t know how to support entrepreneurs as investors. They know how to do public stock market trading because that’s been going on forever, and they made money there. They know how to buy bonds because they’ve made money there.

But you know, if you’ve never been an entrepreneur, if you never worked for a startup, the idea of a lending or investing money in an early company early being less than a million in revenues are less than 10 million revenue a, it’s scary and they just don’t understand it.

So we need them to do more of that investment, which really means we need more funds and fund managers to help them do it. It’s changing the flow of capital, right? Changing where it goes.

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Social Capital Markets Conference: Top Takeaways

Social Capital Markets Conference: Top Takeaways

Katy at SOCAP 2019 in San Fransisco

In this mini-episode, our Global Goals Project host Katy Ward shares her top takeaways from the Social Capital Markets Conference this past October.


You’ll hear:

  • What were some of the hottest topics of conversation at the conference?

  • What was top-of-mind for impact investors at the conference?

  • Why was the storytelling track popular… and important?

  • What is the experience of attending SOCAP like?

  • Who should go next year?


Below is the post-event press release with details to watch the digital experience recap for free and check out some of the awesome event highlights.



Global Changemakers Gather at Social Capital Markets’ Influential Impact Investing Conference, SOCAP19


SOCAP19’s Digital Experience will provide video recaps and an ongoing community for social impact leaders to collaborate and address the world’s toughest challenges.


San Francisco, CA (October 25, 2019) – At the 12th annual SOCAP19 conference, more than 3,000 impact investors, social entrepreneurs and cross-sector professionals committed to increasing the flow of capital toward social good gathered for four days of convening, conversing, and collaboration, at the Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture in San Francisco.

The influential gathering that took place October 22-25, 2019 from  Social Capital Markets (SOCAP) — dedicated to accelerating a new global market at the intersection of money and meaning — featured 12 themes, over 150 sessions and more than 500 speakers. In addition, 130+ recipients of SOCAP’s Social Entrepreneur Scholarship attended SOCAP19.

“Since we began our conference more than a decade ago, what once felt like a secret — this vibrant place in between the nonprofit world and the finance world —is now woven throughout the global economy,” said Lindsay Smalling, Chief Executive Officer of SOCAP. “Despite the $500+ billion size of the impact investing market and the millions of lives that have been improved by social entrepreneurship, the potential of global markets to accelerate impact is largely unknown to most people. Beyond our flagship conference, SOCAP is driving growth of the global impact community by sharing these inspiring stories through year-round SOCAP 365 events in cities across America; through our podcast, Money + Meaning; and through offering the ‘SOCAP19 Digital Experience.’ In 2020 and beyond, we will increase our focus on accessible storytelling across live events and digital content to engage cross-sector changemakers across the globe to solve the world’s toughest problems.”


The 12 themes explored at SOCAP19 included Catalytic Capital, Future of Work, Impact Investing, Impact Tech, Indigenous Communities, LatAm, Meaning, Opportunity Zones, Power of Story, Racial Equity, Refugees and Sustainable Agriculture. For additional details on the themes, visit https://socialcapitalmarkets.net/socap19/themes/

Highlights of the SOCAP19 plenary sessions livestreamed and to be part of the post “Digital Experience” footage included:

  • Tuesday, October 22, Nick Glicher, COO of Thomson Reuters Foundation, revealed results of its second global survey of the “Best Countries for Social Entrepreneurs”; The Rockefeller Foundation announced a new initiative on the future of food; Rodrigo Villar, Founding Partner of New Ventures, and Raúl Pomares, Founder of Sonen Capital, discussed emerging impact investing landscape in Latin America.
  • Wednesday, October 23, Morgan Simon of Candide Group discussed building a movement with recently retired NFL player and impact investor Derrick Morgan of KNGDM Impact Fund; Bonnie Glick, Deputy Administrator of USAID, and David Bohigian, CEO of OPIC on government agency-led efforts to catalyze economic development in emerging markets.
  • Thursday, October 24, Jennifer Eberhardt of Stanford SPARQ, Ashby Monk of Stanford Global Projects Center and Daryn Dodson of Illumen Capital, discuss research on unconscious racial bias of investors; Marjorie Kelly and Ted Howard of Democracy Collaborative on their proposal for a new democratic economy to address deep, systemic economic inequality; and inspiration from Lynne Twist, Founder of The Soul of Money Institute, an early pioneer of thinking differently about money.

Kate Byrne, President of Intentional Media, the purpose-driven media platform whose brands include SOCAP, Conscious Company Media and Total Impact, closed the last day of plenary sessions speaking about the future of the impact space.  Said Byrne: “Intentional Media’s purpose is the amplify the great work being done in the impact space, and help people understand how to participate and with whom. When SOCAP started 12 years ago it was a pioneer, now there are so many more organizations in the space. We take our years of experience and street cred and put it to work for the community. Programs such as our inaugural, When Women Lead: A World-Changing Women Workshop, expand the conversation and empower those hoping to play a bigger role in the years to come; while our Total Impact platform has helped further mainstream impact investing. SOCAP serves as the gathering space for all to learn, share best practices and connect. As a result, the Intentional platform serves the entire impact landscape.”


SOCAP19 was made possible with the support of the following partners in change: Bush Foundation (Success Partner); Prudential, The Rockefeller Foundation, Korean International Cooperation Agency (Investment Partners); MacArthur Foundation (Presentation Partner); Autodesk Foundation, Bain Capital Double Impact,  e180, JB Media Group, Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, Overseas Private Investment Corporation, Tides, Walton Family Foundation (Innovation Partner); Big Path Capital, Capital Impact, Celo, Domini, ImpactAssets, Kate Spade, Korn Ferry, Korean Delegation, Powering Agriculture, REDF, SoPro CFO, Working Capital (Pitch Partner); Aeris, Avivar Capital, Blue Shield of California Foundation, Catholic Relief Services, Cooley, DAI, Oweesta, Fondo de Fondos, Schwab Charitable, Rockies Impact Fund, Seeding Sovereignty, Sonen Capital, Stasher (Idea Partner); Alliance Partners, Asian NGO, Conscious Company Media, Corporate Knights, Devex, Dumbo Feather, Impact Alpha, Karma, Next Billion, Stanford Social Innovation Review, The Plug, Thomson Reuters Foundation, Wharton Social Impact Initiative (Media Partner).

The “SOCAP19 Digital Experience,” which anyone from around the world can still join for free, will give passholders curated recaps of livestreams all the plenary sessions and main stage breakout sessions. The pass includes exclusive interviews and coverage of the conference from SOCAP19 media partners including NextBillion, Devex and ImpactAlpha; a digital SOCAP19 program book; a list of all companies and organizations at SOCAP19; and links to the full SOCAP19 video and online content library. To sign up visit: https://socialcapitalmarkets.net/socap19/digital-experience/


About SOCAP (Social Capital Markets):

SOCAP is the largest and most diverse impact investing community in the world. We convene a global ecosystem and marketplace – social entrepreneurs, investors, foundation and nonprofit leaders, government and policy leaders, creators, corporations, academics and beyond – through live and digital content experiences that educate, spur conversation, and inspire investment in positive impact. Our programming includes the annual SOCAP conference, SOCAP 365 regional events, SPECTRUM conference, and Money + Meaning podcasts. For more information, go to SocialCapitalMarkets.net; follow on LinkedInFacebookInstagramTwitter and YouTube; as well as #SOCAP19 and #SOCAPStories for this year’s conference. SOCAP19 is an Intentional Media company, the purpose-driven media platform whose brands include SOCAP, Conscious Company Media and Total Impact.

About Intentional Media:

Intentional Media is a purpose-driven media and events platform, catalyzing our transition to an economy that ensures that social, environmental and economic systems thrive together. Home to properties including SOCAPConscious Company Media and Total Impact – through the power of storytelling and networks, we connect, educate, and inspire people, transforming moments to movements, thoughts to action. For more information, go to https://intentional.co/; follow on https://intentional.co/social/

Catalyzing Collaboration Across the Planet with Conveners.org

Catalyzing Collaboration Across the Planet with Conveners.org

The Conveners team believes it is critically important that people come together to address the greatest challenges facing the planet. Conveners host events, connect businesses to accelerators and gather technology tools to help impact companies navigate the changing economy.



Episode Summary

We talk to Executive Director Avary Kent about their organization for catalyzing collaboration. In this episode, we talk about:

  • What is Conveners.org and what are you set out to solve?
  • Why are these different components important to an ecosystem?
  • What are some of your favorite accelerators?
  • How do you address Global Goal #17?
  • Can you share the business model?
  • How do you see the future of partnerships playing into getting these goals done?
  • What’s next for Conveners.org?

See their top recommended accelerators, hear about their platform for finding accelerators, and experience a mindset-shift around collaboration for impact businesses.


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What is Conveners.org and what are you set out to solve?

Well, I would say we’re the meta-meta. We are a global association of impact-focused conferences, accelerators, and mappers. So, anybody who is trying to build a more robust ecosystem, we love to build peer networks to serve them.

There are 3 major segments:

  1. Conveners Events
  2. Accelerators and Incubators
  3. Mappers

Why are these different components important to an ecosystem?

Group 1: Conveners Events

So when we see the conveners, these are the folks who aren’t doing conferences, they’re doing gatherings, they’re doing dinners, they’re doing meetings. But at the end of the day, they believe it is critically important that people come together, oftentimes in person to be able to address the greatest challenges facing the planet. And so, we think this is absolutely critical because every challenge we see from hunger to education, to poverty, to climate change, these are all really complex issues, which means that there’s a lot of pieces that are moving. You don’t know what they all are. And honestly you can only predict cause and effect in hindsight.

And so no one person, organization or even country is just going to fix these things overnight. It requires all of us to come together and to work together and to collaborate.

And so conveners believe that bringing people together is a critical ingredient to achieving their mission.

Group 2: Accelerators and Incubators

These are organizations that are enhancing the ability of enterprises and entrepreneurs to build organizations that are both doing well and doing good at the same time. Especially with social entrepreneurs, there’s a lot of help you need from your business model to your product market fit, how you’re going to run, how to grow your team and build your organization, and how to scale.

The incubators and accelerators have different curricula and most importantly relationships that they bring to the table with mentors and potential teammates and investors. We bring program managers together to learn from each other, share best practices, and hopefully identify ways that they can enhance one another’s programming and skills.

Group 3: Mappers

The third group are mappers, some of whom are incubators and accelerators themselves. Some are research institutions, some are conveners, but these are our people in organizations that are building tools and resources that help people navigate the impact ecosystem. It can be really hard to find your way around!

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Can you share with us the background of how you got started?

I was working at SoCap at the time and co-founding what became Impact Alpha and impact space, the media site and was just really shocked by the number of accelerator program folks who didn’t already know each other. 

I had been really inspired by Ian Fisk, the Executive Director of the Mentor Capital Network and the work he’d done on ecosystem building. I took the banner from him to help bring together program managers from incubators and accelerators around the world to help create a common application and create a cross promotion directory.

So when Topher (CEO of Opportunity Collaboration) and I teamed up after an Agora meeting, he was showing his new conversations with conveners. I was exploring my years of conversations with accelerators and we realize that we were serving different audiences who are doing the same thing, which was building peer circles and pure connection for communities that are oftentimes really isolated. At the time I was exploring what to do next and had left my last startup, but Topher really didn’t want to leave Opportunity Collaboration. So conveners.org was born a few months later.

We focused on what happens when you listen to the communities that need help and design your programming to be really responsive to that.

The Accelerator Selection Tool

An Accelerator Directory was one of the collective impact projects that came out of conversations with Ian Fisk of Mentor Capital Network and Andy Lieberman from Miller Center for social entrepreneurship. Uh, and I worked together to start to map out like what are the fields, what does the information that people actually need to make these kinds of decisions? And at the time enable impact, uh, actually was building an accelerator directory.

However, the problem was that the data was out of date all the time, and the platform would be expensive to run and offer it we kept it up to date. So The Accelerator Selection Tool works a little differently in two main ways:

  1. They don’t list individual programs, but list groups that have websites. That way, the company’s website will be adding updated information on its own.
  2. They offer an embed code for websites to offer for free, to outsource distribution.

What are some of your favorite accelerators?

I would say Miller Center for social entrepreneurship, as they have incredible longevity. They’ve been going for over 15 years. In terms of working in emerging markets, they’re amazing and they have a great mix of both virtual and in-person programming, especially around investment readiness.

Mentor Capital Network is also exceptional. Anyone who applies is going to get an incredible amount of feedback from hundreds of mentors from all over the world, if not thousands.

I would say Uncharted is also incredible. You may have known them as the unreasonable institute in Boulder back in the day, but they had a rebrand last year and they are really at representing the next iteration of impact accelerators. So they’re really focused on solving a specific problem.

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Other accelerators Avary recommends:



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What do you think the role of an impact ecosystem plays into a city?

I actually love the metaphor of ‘the roadies who make that awesome concert a reality.’

It’s the folks behind the scenes who are connecting the dots who are helping you see and meet the people that you might not otherwise have access to, and to gain the answers to your questions. I mean, Google is awesome. Obviously, they’re gonna rule the world one day, but at the end of the day that’s not necessarily how you’re going to find, not just the answer to your question, but the person behind it who you can really build a relationship with.

I think especially when you look at how silo-ed government is from everything else, how siloed corporations are from everything else, how siloed corporations are internally, how hard it is for universities to connect across things. These that were coordinators are the glue that’s holding things together, and they are the catalysts. From a true chemistry sense of the word, they are speeding up the reactions that are creating an impact because they’re connecting pieces more quickly.


How do you see Global Goal #17 going?

“So, partnerships for the goals (SDG #17) is obviously what we think we embody the most. There’s a lot of money and time and energy and focus going into ending hunger or improving education or fixing climate change and partnerships, many argue, is the most important ingredient.

You’re not going to achieve any of the other SDGs without it. And yet, there are very few funders and very few folks who are actually really prioritizing #17. It is overhead: it is salaries, it is people’s time. That is at the heart of the program that’s being delivered and it’s really hard to measure. You cannot attribute your impact nearly as easily as when you say, “Oh look, we, you know, sold x number of copies of this app serving x number of customers or we’ve delivered, why gallons of clean water to z communities.”

But there are metrics for it. They exist. They’re just much harder and take a lot more time to measure. We’ve been really focused on SDG 17 through our initiative convening 17 and this is bringing all of the parts of our work into one coherent strategy.”

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Can you share the business model?

“We’re a 501C3 nonprofit, but it’s the first nonprofit I’ve run. Everything else has been for profit. So, no surprise, about 75% of our income is actually earned at revenue level.

We do a mix of a lot of training, a lot of capacity development, working with foundations to help improve the capability of their team to facilitate a very participant-focused design with many of these folks and over time we also designed and ran full events for them that use this methodology.”

How do you see the future of partnerships playing into getting these goals done?

“I think we need to get ego out of the way.

There is a lot when you look at collaboration, there are a lot of challenges that honestly emerge because people need the credit and they think they can do it better than anyone else. And I think to some extent that’s true. Kickstarter is always going to go faster and be able to do more because they don’t partner. They just know what they do, they do it well and that’s the thing that they’re going to do.

But when you are trying to tackle a complex challenge, you can’t go it alone because too often the intervention that you’re trying to have is going to have unintended consequences and you can’t predict what those are going to be in advance. Then, the only way to address them is through relationship.”


What’s next for Conveners.org?

Avary talks about partnerships and building their accelerator pipeline moving forward.

“I think doubling down on how to build collaboration between conveners and how to really catalyze action. On the collaboration side we are working on a number of core partnerships for 2019 and 2020 that will enable us to take on more SDGs like SDG 2, hunger, and SDG 5, gender equality, and start really building the playbook so more folks can leverage conversations or cost conflicts to achieve really specific and measurable outcomes.

We’re also really excited to be doing more to integrate the accelerator community into that process because they are such a valuable pipeline partner in this.

MIT solve has been doing incredible work for the last few years in identifying core challenges and connecting to a global network to find solvers from around the world, and we’re excited to be talking to them about ways we can connect into the accelerator network that we’ve built.”

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