Located at the San Francisco waterfront with a stunning view of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge, the largest conference and gathering of the impact investment and social enterprise scene worldwide took place 3-6 September. Since 2008, the SOCAP (Social Capital Markets) conference brings together impact investors, fund managers, accelerators, and social entrepreneurs for four days of meeting, learning, and of course networking.
Every year SOCAP give scholarships to 100 social entrepreneurs, enabling their attendance at the conference. In turn, selected applicants are invited to participate in the Impact Accelerator Weekend, a two-day pre-conference and mini accelerator. This years’ Impact Accelerator Weekend brought together around 80 entrepreneurs from around the world and 50 leaders of accelerators such as Village Capital, the Unreasonable Institute, Global Social Business Incubator (GSBI), and many more.
Among the 2.000 participants inventures.eu found familiar faces: Lena Gansterer took part as programme manager of the Investment Ready Program, an accelerator programme for social enterprises in CEE. The entrepreneur cohort, also saw three graduates of the Investment Ready Program: Ioannis Tarnanas from Alterniity, a virtual reality software helping diagnose and delay the progress of Alzheimer and dementia, Moriz Piffl from Gebrüder Stitch, and Miro Vrankic from E-Glas.
Miro Vrankic of E-Glas Photo credit: Sarah StamatiouEnhancevisibility
inventures.eu talked to Miro, CEO of E-Glas about his entrepreneurial experience at SOCAP. Based in Rijeka, Croatia, he and his two co-founders developed a voice-controlled home automation system for handicapped people, allowing them and their families to regain independency.
Miro enjoyed getting to know entrepreneurs from around the world, the sessions, products and services showcased, and the fact that he could connect with accelerators and mentor networks. “It is a nice way to get in touch with US investors and understand their mindset,” Miro said, adding that US impact investors seem to think globally, and look at markets beyond the US, which might open new horizons for him. He also got the opportunity to present Servus Control as part of the innovation showcase and was excited about the enhanced visibility of his product at the conference. Still, it was a challenge for him to find the right people among the 2.000 participants. An app specifically developed to allow the conference participants to connect helped Miro scope contacts and set up meetings.
Not an investor demo show
Moriz, co-founder of Gebrüder Stitch, a Vienna-based sustainable jeans label, took a slightly different stance. Instead of contacting people through the app, he rather tried to get recommendations through personal conversations. Moriz started Gebrüder Stitch together with his business partner Michael Lanner. (Read more about them here).
Moriz and Michael were part of the first Investment Ready cohort and put a lot of effort in consistently reducing the environmental impact of their jeans. For Moriz it was a great chance to participate in SOCAP. “Seeing how mature the market is here is really eye-opening,” he said. An issue he faced, however, were language and cultural barriers. “People’s reactions to our business have been good. But in the end I don’t really know how to evaluate the ‘it’s awesome’ and ‘so cool’. If they really mean it.”
Also, Moriz added that one should not come with the expectation of coming to an investor demo show. In his opinion, the focus of US impact investors lies on emerging markets and the majority are large funds looking to invest amounts that are too high for early stage startups. “The number of investors looking for direct investment here is in the single-digit range,” he said, “and then only a small group of those investors would look at seed stage social enterprises. Most social entrepreneurs actually need angel investors and not institutional funds.”
In this line of thought, SOCAP ended with an announcement by Impact Assets, which is managing a donor advised fund. The financial services company is building a seed ventures platform to address the lack of funding for early-stage social enterprises. The accelerators Village Capital and Hub Ventures will function as venture sourcing partners for Impact Assets. By bringing their cohorts onto the platform, they enable seed stage companies access tocapital in a range of 10.000 to 100.000 dollars.
The ventures will be offered for investment to Impact Assets’ donor base, allowing them to invest small individual amounts from 2.500 dollars upwards, and to build customised portfolios of a range of ventures. The platform is accessible for early stage social enterprises that are part of the Hub Ventures and Village Capital cohorts, and as such is not limited to the US but has a global reach.
CEE startups, the opportunities seem to be out there – go for them!