Posts Tagged ‘entrepreneur’

SVN Launches “Best Advice I Never Got” Video Series

Posted on: July 1st, 2014 by social venture network No Comments

Posted by Social Venture Network, @SVNetwork

We hear a lot of advice from business leaders focused on profit. But what about the growing community of mission-driven business leaders who are leveraging their company to do good? What does it take to align profit and purpose?

Social Venture Network members have launched some of the most innovative organizations in the mission-driven business community. They’ve experienced success, failure, setbacks and breakthroughs…and are very candid about the lessons they learned the hard way.

From learning how to deal with unaligned investors to transforming a company culture gone sour, these leaders have a lot of wisdom to share about dealing with the challenges and opportunities entrepreneurs face every day.

Check out the advice SVN members wish they had heard when they were just starting out, now in our new video series, “The Best Advice I Never Got.

Entrepreneurs Lead the Way at 2nd Annual TEDxPresidio

Posted on: September 10th, 2012 by social venture network No Comments

Written by Evan Coller, Social Venture Network

The 2nd annual TEDxPresidio, co-hosted by Deb Nelson of Social Venture Network, and William Shutkin and Jennifer Taylor of Presidio Graduate School, attracted over 700 attendees eager to hear from an array of inspiring speakers on their vision of capitalism, reinvented. SVN members were well-represented as their innovative entrepreneurship, activism for social justice and business leadership found a fitting arena to collaborate on a vision of a better world through business.

Van Jones, former Green Jobs Advisor for the Obama White House, and longtime member of the SVN community, kicked off the event by exposing the ‘trapdoors’ of poverty that are preventing the growth and expansion of the middle class. Van told the story of his father whose college education was an opportunity for social mobility. Jones said, “The ladders that were once pathways out of poverty are now trapdoors back into it.” His most valuable lesson was that this isn’t a fight between “us and them”, but rather how can we work together to overcome the isolated self-consumption that prevents our collective progress.

Gary Erickson of Clif Bar stressed the importance of removing yourself from your work in order to get a clear picture of the values and motives that are driving the success and identity of your business. Playing with the idea of being 120 million dollars richer, Gary shared that the most critical action he took before deciding not to sign away his company was stepping away from his desk to take a walk outside. Reconnection to the outside world helped him realize the risks of selling his social enterprise to a company that doesn’t look beyond profit to find its core values.

Van and Gary’s innovative thinking inspired the crowd to ask how we can empower ourselves to be better leaders and better citizens. As SVN Hall of Fame Honorees, their successes over the past three decades show that creating new social, environmental, and economic paradigms will lead us to a more just and sustainable economy.

Just as important as the big ideas are the small steps we can take to create change. Session two at TEDxPresidio focused on the qualities that define a values-driven entrepreneur and how reinventing ourselves is a key step in reinventing capitalism. SVN Member and former member of the Board, Marc Lesser, shared the stage with Google’s Jolly Good Fellow, Chade-Meng Tan. The mission of their venture, Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (SIYLI), is to help business executives and employees incorporate meditation into their decision making process. Marc and Chade-Meng are strong advocates for patience and the value it brings to the business world. In their talk they offered important steps toward a better world: start with ME, make meditation a field of science and align meditation with leadership. For more their work click here.

2012 marking SVN’s 25-year anniversary, we are well down the line in the creation of a more just and sustainable economy. In today’s financial distress we are facing an opportunity to continue to push boundaries in the business arena to scale up the social impact of business. The SVN members at TEDxPresidio spoke not only of ideas that will reinvent capitalism, but action we can take to direct a successful social enterprise. SVN members Marc Finser of RSF Social Finance, and Alejando Velez and Nikhil Arora of Back to the Roots took the stage in afternoon sessions to be an example for emerging social entrepreneurs and capitalists that want to become leaders of socially responsible business.

For more on the 2nd annual TEDxPresidio event visit

Special thanks to TEDx, Presidio Graduate School and all of the viewers in attendance and online for sharing the ideas that will help reinvent capitalism.

Ignore Election Year Politics, The Solar Industry is Booming and Sungevity is Leading the Way

Posted on: July 5th, 2012 by social venture network No Comments

Written by Evan Coller, Social Venture Network

How the fastest growing solar company in the U.S. is using solar entrepreneurship and social good to drive the rooftop revolution.

This past year, eighty percent of presidential campaign ads against Obama have targeted energy, sixty percent Solyndra specifically. With another government funded solar company announcing its bankruptcy this week, Abound Solar, support for the solar industry looks grim. But don’t be deceived that the clean energy movement isn’t making rapid progress and that converting to solar is an unrealistic investment.

After SVN’s recent Call-to-Action call with Sungevity’s President and Co-Founder, Danny Kennedy, and Vice President, Sherri Pittman, it is clear that the solar community is expanding, solar technology is advancing, and there are steps we can take in support.

As Danny points out, “The tariffs on Chinese solar panels imports haven’t crippled the market and it acts against our broader goal to expand clean energy on a global level. The real work that needs to be done is to build a community around the clean energy space so we can start to educate energy consumers and families.”

Sungevity, a four and a half year old residential solar company, has been a driving force in expanding this clean energy community, making the solar experience more engaging for consumers with interactive iquotes and solar mapping, offering incubation and training services to emerging solar entrepreneurs, turning their workspace into a solar hackathon, and partnering with non-profit organizations like Social Venture Network to help raise funds for their important work by spreading solar solutions to their supporters.

Even with all of these tools in place, Danny believes that giving the solar market room to grow is vital to expanding the market for clean energy:

“It’s more about electricity costs and whether the policies exist to allow net metering”

Sungevity’s Rooftop Revolution campaign offers a promising action plan people can use to support the growth of the solar industry and the affordability of going solar.

But is solar technology still an issue? As environmentalist and entrepreneur Paul Hawken points out, “Until there is a solar-PV technology that can be made with minimal, nontoxic, abundantly available inputs and be made entirely with solar energy, incumbent solar does not move the ball down the field but diverts us from achieving the critical energy transformation required.”

Danny offered that solar technology certainly hasn’t been static and silicon photovoltaics, a semiconductor that converts light energy into electrical power, will dominate the next decades, bringing us closer to the sustainable supply chain that will help free us from our dependence on fossil-fuels.

As it stands, coal consumption is dropping to levels similar to World War II, and companies like Tri-State BiodieselSoluxe SolarTendris, and Sungevity are providing a cleaner, consumer friendly energy alternative.

Help SVN ensure that clean energy stays at the forefront of the responsible business movement by supporting the Rooftop Revolution!

View SVN’s Products and Services Directory to see a list of entrepreneurial companies that have been advancing the clean energy movement, and perform with a triple bottom-line.

Questions? Insights? We encourage you to spark conversation by leaving a comment below.

SVN Europe A Splash Hit for Networking Entrepreneurs

Posted on: May 30th, 2012 by social venture network No Comments

Written by Evan Coller, Social Venture Network

In the Social Venture Network integrity isn’t an ideal, but the standard. Pioneers who have led the way in values-based business and the emerging entrepreneurs who are driving the movement forward engage, connect, and inspire each other to show that the best way to have fun making profit, is by exemplifying the common-good enterprise.

On the heels of SVN’s Annual Spring Gathering that spark of energy transcended across the Atlantic to Egmond Aan Zee, a coastal town 45 minutes from Amsterdam, Netherlands where conversations in SVN’s ecosystem of entrepreneurs continued at SVN Europe.

SVN Member, Lori Darley, unleashing creativity and expression at the individual and corporate level, was in attendance:

“I had been invited by Engbert Breuker after meeting him on the dance floor first at SVN in Philadelphia. I was asked to make a proposal, which I did. I made three offerings: Ecstatic Dance, Women’s Circle and an embodied leadership workshop called ‘Moving through Chaos: Grounded, Centered and Connected.’ They took me up on all three.”

It’s no surprise that they met on the dance floor, as, in addition to his work as Chairman of SVN Europe, Engebert has built a reputation of excitement in the SVN Community as a marvelous DJ who’s enthusiasm and passion puts emphasis on the fun in doing good.

As a co-host for the conference Lori got a great feel for the group and the growing community of like-minded entrepreneurs that are finding a unique value in SVN events. In only its second year, the SVN Europe conference had about 80 thought leaders registered and featured amazing speakers such as Leen Zevenbergen, Gary HirschbergTom SzakyNicholas YouDaniel ErasmusGunter PauliMirran RaphaelyPeter ter Weeme and Lesley Williams, with various workshops in between.

Memorable for Lori was how “you could feel the growth and evolution of this community already underway” with moments like:

  • Gary Hirshberg’s speech on the actual data that shows the profitability of social enterprise.
  • Gary’s wife Meg giving an amazingly transparent talk on the spousal perspective of the entrepreneurial journey.
  • Men’s and Womens circles that were so transformative people shared things they had never shared.
  • Shyla Nelson’s opening with her song.
  • The walk on the beach following the flying squid to the Friday night dinner.
  • An energized Ecstatic dance with a surprising turn-out given people didn’t know what it was or what to expect. “What do you mean by Ecstatic exactly?” The participants rocked the room!
  • And yes, even a late night hospitality suite!

The word is out that Social Venture Network is a centerpiece in the sustainable business movement. For upcoming events visit our website.

Creating a Sustainable Enterprise and a Sustainable Future

Posted on: April 27th, 2012 by social venture network No Comments

Written by Teju Ravilochan Co-Founder and VP of Partnerships and Communication

Not that many plenary sessions include speakers who include their own DJ to illustrate their points through sound. But this one did, leading to spontaneous dance sessions of the 200 or so entrepreneurs and investors in the room.

The spirit of joy and dancing ran through the whole not, framed as speakers Bryan Welch and Leen Zevenbergen recalled Emma Goldman’s quotation, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.”

In the same way, Bryan and Leen illuminated simple truths about starting a business by challenging fundamental assumptions about it. Bryan Welch, who runs a media company dedicated to sustainable lifestyles called Ogden Publications, began by talking about what it meant to build a business. He explained, “The process of building a business is inspiring others to see a piece of the world the way you see it.” He explained that rallying the participation of others then was the chief job of an entrepreneur. “The one thing that inspires others to that participation,” he expanded, “is beauty. Yet we don’t talk about it when we build businesses. The other part of inspiring that vision is abundance.” In other words, people are drawn to a world they can marvel at and a world of plenty. “What we call abundance is referred to as capital in business. With insufficient capital, you can’t innovate, you can’t take risks.”

Bryan explained that the lack of money is one of the chief concerns of all entrepreneurs or even those who think about becoming entrepreneurs. “But we invented money!” he bellowed. “So, there’s always enough money! There may not be enough belief, enough beauty, but there’s always enough money.” The pursuit of money through work, in essence the “service of money” is not how the world ought to be. Instead, money, our creation, should serve us. “Entrepreneurship is the process that makes this possible,” explained Bryan.

Leen took his turn to explain that in entrepreneurship, it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission. Most people with jobs and bosses explain that if they lived according to this maxim, they’d get fired, to which Leen retorts, “Good! If you’re fired, you finally get rid of your boss!”

The courage and inspiration it takes to leave beyond a job where you’re not producing the value that you can and to strike out to create something on your own is not easy. And Leen attributes that heavily to the how little our education teaches us about creativity and about inspiration. He explained there’s no “sparkling” in an MBA program, no sense of inspiration. This was painfully clear when he once gave a speech at a hospital where 20 of the attendants had Down Syndrome. He asked the audience, “What inspires you?” and every single attendant with Down Syndrome stood up immediately and said exactly what came to mind. The rest of the attendants, consisting of hospital administrators and leaders, had to think deeply about the question.

Fundamentally, without understanding what inspires you, you cannot effectively create a vision of beauty and abundance for other people. Without such a vision, you cannot engage the participation of others to build a business. Through simple stories, Leen and Bryan drove home a crucial point: building a business isn’t all business. Business is offering others an opportunity to step into their humanity and in so doing feel compelled to participate in the creation of something greater than themselves, and that is most assuredly the ticket to a sustainable future.

Sowing Seeds of Success at Social Venture Network

Posted on: April 27th, 2012 by social venture network No Comments

Written by: Lara Pearson, Rimon PC Chief Sustainability Officer & Partner

Sitting on the back deck of the home of pioneering serial socialpreneur (aka social entrepreneurJulie Lewis, I noticed a sole tree in full bloom in the middle of the woods. Though only partially visible in a sea of evergreens, the white blossoms really stood out in the Fraser.

We all want our enterprises to blossom and stand out like that tree. In the social enterprise space, the better our businesses do the greater good we can do for our people, communities and planet. Brand building is all about building relationships, no matter what industry. Social enterprises in particular can expand the reach of their brands through storytelling. This was demonstrated by the Saturday afternoon panel Creating Value Through Storytelling at SVN’s annual Member Gathering last week. The Session was moderated by Dr. Melanie Moore of See Change, whose co-panelists were Amy Hartzler from Free Range Studios and Fraser Wilson from Axiom News.

Without any prompting from me, Melanie began her introduction by explaining that her company’s name — See Change — is “totally untrademarkable” because she didn’t do her homework before adopting it and it’s used too commonly for her company to claim exclusive rights in it. I just love it when a workshop begins with a lesson in trademark law! While brands are important, Melanie said she finds stories to be even more so.

She began with a story about her discovery of her inner entrepreneur while a graduate student at the Stanford School of Education. Melanie had the good fortune of needing to land a job or a fellowship at the same time a leader in her field, Ira Sachnoff, needed help evaluating a school program via a social impact assessment. Ira hired Melanie and assured her that she would figure out what to do. She knew she had to study the stories of the kids in the program, but it wasn’t until a chance encounter with a video camera that she knew she found her calling. In Melanie’s experience, even the most metrics minded person is moved by stories. Metrics are only one part of the portfolio of evaluation, stories are the other. Melanie and her colleagues at See Change hang out and get to know people in order to provide qualitative data analysis along with a translation of the data from left brain to right brain. Before turning over the floor to Fraser, Melanie left us with this thought: Good stories are sticky like a seed; it may take a long time for the seeds to grow, but eventually they form a Forest.

Fraser ran OMNI Health Care, a long-term care business with 1500 employees in 16 homes caring for 1300 patients. He asked us to recall Chip Conley’s inspirational story about Joie de Vivre’s (JDV) bell hop who worked double shifts for three days straight when the hotel elevator (used to be a trademark but fell prey to genericide!) broke down. This gentleman was thanked for his dedication by someone in an entirely different department, which became a custom of caring and sharing at JDV. Under Fraser, OMNI elevated (ha!) that practice to a whole new level by celebrating two employees company-wide on a daily basis. This resulted in 500 stories a year, or 10,000 stories over 10 years. After Fraser sold his business, the new owner maintained the story telling policy & now has a huge bank of stories on its website, which gets 4500 unique website visits daily because it demonstrates what is possible. OMNI also sends newsletters to all of the care providers in its region to inspire them to innovate. Fraser and OMNI aren’t the only ones inspiring people to action; Amy and Free Range Studios have inspired millions to act more responsibly through The MeatrixStory of Stuff and its progeny: Story of BrokeStory of Citizens UnitedStory of ElectronicsStory of CosmeticsStory of Bottled Water and the Story of Cap & Trade, among other work of theirs.

Amy said that she drank from the SVN fire hose of intention, inspiration and action at her very first meeting (I think most of us do!) Along those lines, a founding vision of Free Range studios was to boldly and ambitiously use new tools to create broader access to the stories that will help people build the future they want. Amy and her Free Range colleagues (to whom she refers as Free Rangers) fully believe that great stories make great change, and “the next great story is yours.”SM To Amy, brands are an epic made up million different stories. The stories include the company’s engagement with its employees, whom the company should strive to make their best selves. Free Range values optimism, courage and empowerment, which is evident time and again in the way it shows up in the stories it helps its clients tell.

Unsurprisingly, many of the people who attended Meaningful Media: Access, Engage & Mobilize (about which I wrote here) also attended this session. Rich Cohen from sustainable packaging company, Distant Village, launched the interactive part of the discussion by asking whether there is a formula for unfolding your story, in terms of where to start as how to build it. Melanie responded that although she usually is hired to tell stories to funders and investors, she starts with the stories from inside the organization first. Amy emphasized the importance of recognizing that half your brand story is told by your audience with which you must engage. Fraser said that telling stories daily helped OMNI create stakeholders in the stories & influenced fresh and open dialogue.

The panelists then were asked to explain how they work with social media. Everyone agreed that content is important. Amy described how none of us create relationships with organizations; rather we create relationships with people. Having a personality that’ is presented in a way that’s consistent is really vital, Amy said. Free Range tells its clients that they cannot control the story. If you’re not living the truth of the story you tell people won’t want to engage with your brand.

Maggie Kaplan, Founder & Executive Director of Invoking the Pause, shared 3 terms she coined to measure metrics she calls Right Brain Measures of Success: ROR – Return on Relationships; Collateral Delights (instead of collateral damage) and ROC — Return on Collaboration. Maggie asked us to be critical consumers and really consider the stories we’re being told. Maggie and Melanie agreed that at the end of the day it’s about what we choose to value and measure. Melanie added that if you can measure it quantitatively and do not, that is irresponsible but first you must be able to measure it qualitatively.

Lance Laytner from Public Good Relations asked how to invite people to join the conversation. Fraser said he helps his clients identity themes by interviewing employees and finding those who are doing good work. Amy said it is important to speak to your audience’s core values and to do something to help people embody them, whatever that means for them (sure sounds simple, or not!) Melanie said metrics tell you whether you are making a difference, but not how. You need stories to understand how so metrics and stories are a stronger way of evaluating impact.

Melanie gave an example of stories effecting stakeholder engagement when after the Seafood Summit — during which business and activists come together to discuss sustainable seafood – the stories shared at the event inspired Wal-mart to commit to selling only sustainable seafood. Fraser said it is hard to put a value on culture but we all know that when the culture is better the outcome will be better. Malachi Leopold from Left Brain/Right Brain Creations shared a story he heard about Dunkin Donuts (DD) sources an enormous amount of fair trade coffee and has since 2004, though this was not something it advertised. Enter the sustainability movement and DD decided to promote its fair trade practices. This, however, led to a consumer backlash who found fair trade it to be inauthentic to the DD brand. DD has continued its responsible sourcing practices but doesn’t stopped advertise them since that is not what its consumers want to hear. One suggestion made was to create a blog theme and then source the content from experts outside your organization, which extends both parties’ audiences creating low time commitment and free of cost win-win for both parties.

Eric Friedenwald-Fishman of Metropolitan Group who co-wrote Marketing that Matters with Chip Conley said he and Chip found that people who bought into authenticity and transparency tended to put out too much data and forget that emotion trumps data. We all need to remember what we are trying to accomplish, and if it’s brand development then stories are more valuable than data. Amy said stories are a meaningful mechanism to allow our stakeholders to be more who they want to be. We are bombarded by messages by put if a story resonates with someone they will not only react to it, but they also will want to share it with everyone, which is magic. Fraser said that during normal days we are busy running our operations and can forget the purpose we serve. OMNI’s daily stories reminded him what he was doing to serve, even when he was consumed by working on/in the organization.

One attendee who earned a degree in social media admitted that social media feels inauthentic when it comes to promoting her services. Amy responded that it’s important to speak not only with an authentic voice but also in an authentic way, via whatever means works for you.

Terry Gips of Sustainability Associates asked about things didn’t work. Amy said a video her team created for the Alliance for Education flopped despite having done their homework (ha!) and involving kids in the creative process. Fraser said because they work directly with organizations there has to be a spirit of trust and authenticity between his client and his team and in one case where there wasn’t he withdrew. Melanie shared a story about a video she created for a community that treated a dynamic issue as static ultimately mis-portraying the situation as time passed. One pervasive theme of the discussion that emerged during this session was the need to understand the relevance and context of your story to your audience.

We all want to blossom and stand out in the crowd. The main lesson from this panel was the ability of genuine stakeholder engagement and storytelling to help our brands extend their reach, which in turn helps our organizations increase their positive impact.