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Diving Deep, Crossing Boundaries: A SOCAP WrapUp

This post was written by SBS MBA Nikhil Neelakantan, who has just returned to Oxford after 3 days at SOCAP/Europe.

Courtesy of twentytwentystudios

Last night’s six-member panel brought SOCAP/Europe to an appropriate end.

The panel consisted of social entrepreneurs, volunteers and the founding members of SOCAP/Europe, Kevin Jones and Frank van Beuningen. This was typical of the conference: people from all backgrounds brought together by an interest and passion for impact investing.

This resulted in conversations that frequently needed translation (No, structured banking does not deal with the architecture of banks!) but it also meant that people were exposed to different points of view.

This also meant that there was space for a deep-dive into the details of impact investing as well as an opportunity to learn about innovative organizations using SMS technology in developing countries.

Another feature of the conference were the participant-driven Open Space sessions. I was able to attend two of these sessions, which were “held” in an Unconference format. The first described the work of the World Bank in creating the Development Marketplace. The World Bank Institute created the Development Marketplace over 12 years ago to provide grants to innovative social ventures. Now it is looking to help these social entrepreneurs get commercial investments.

The second Open Space session that I attended was built around the question of providing financing to SME’s trying to build businesses in rural India. We had participants who were eager to start asking questions of those who had already built these links in India. The consensus was that there was lots of opportunity but that one had to proceed by developing partnerships with Indians who were already working in this space (this includes government agencies such as IDBI).

The conference also brought some reflection on the future of SOCAP/Europe. Where is it going next? It seems logical that it will stay physically in Amsterdam (The Dutch have $7bn invested by retail investors in social enterprises through organizations like Triodos Bank and Oikocredit. They are surely the world’s epicenter in social investment).

However will the format remain the same? Will more policy makers and government entities get involved? Despite the lingering questions, we left the conference buoyed by the fact that we were setting the foundation for a larger group of people who were willing to venture forward into the brave new world of impact investing.

SOCAP Report: What Layer Cakes have to do with Social Finance

This post was written from SBS MBA Nikhil Neelakantan, dosage live from SOCAP/Europe in Amsterdam.

What does a recipe for a layered cake have to do with impact investing?

I would have said “nothing”. That is, healing until I attended the session titled “Layer Cake Deals”. This panel featured speakers from organizations like Triodos Bank (old hands at impact investing) and ABN Amro (a relative newcomer to the field).

According to the panel, medical “layer cakes” are created by putting funders with different priorities in the mixing bowl.  That means funders providing grants, subsidies and soft debt can work with risk-taking venture impact investors to create bigger, faster and more scalable solutions to some of the world’s biggest problems.

Triodos Investment Management has developed a fund that adopts this structure to fund agricultural entrepreneurs in the developing world.  Governments and social investors form the first layer of the cake, providing external guarantees against  default. Social investors seeking lower returns form the second layer, providing subordinated debt. Triodos Bank provides the final layer with a commercial credit line (which it is comfortable doing, partly because of its confidence in the other layers).

However there is a darker side to layer cake deals. The senior debtors are those who often receive the lowest returns. This can partly be explained by the fact that donor agencies and other social investors are willing  to fund high-risk ventures in order to bring in more mainstream funding, therefore providing a “multiplier effect”.   Thus, how to balance the different “ingredients” of the layered cake is a discussion certain come up at impact-investing conferences and offices of funders across the world.

SBSers everywhere

SOCAP has made realize once again that Saïd Business School is extremely well represented in the impact investing space.

I have met practitioners, speakers and leaders of social enterprises who are alumni of the Business School. Some of my “networking time” was spent swapping stories with other SBS’ers about everything from rowing to exams (Am I glad that we don’t have to come back for exams in August that cover material taught over one year!)

My classmates – including budding entrepreneurs building social enterprises in Chad and India – are also representing SBS at SOCAP.  I am impressed by the reach of this strong and cohesive group of former and current students – and I am looking forward to being part of this contingent in the years to come.

Debating the future of social finance at the house of lords

This post was written by Elizabeth Ritchey, member of the SBS  2010-2011 MBA class, and co-chair of the Social Finance OBN.

What's the future of social finance in the UK?: MBAs outside the House of Lords

On May 24th the Social Finance OBN (Oxford Business Network) and the Social Entrepreneurship OBNs teamed up for a joint trip down to London to visit the House of Lords.

Tim Jones, the Social Entrepreneurship sector consultant for SBS, hosted a lively panel discussion on the current state of Social Finance and Entrepreneurship.

The panel consisted of

We discussed everything from social impact bonds to how to build a sustainable future to getting back to the fundamentals of ‘social’.  After the panel we were treated to an insider’s tour of the House of Lords by Lord Mawson and Baroness Steadman-Scott.

It was a wonderful afternoon packed with ‘social’ of all forms. Thank you again to Tim Jones for making it possible!

Announcing the 2011-2012 Skollars!

Drumroll, please!

It’s a special day here at the Skoll Centre, as we can finally introduce you to our newest class of Skoll Skollars!

After a rigorous 6 month search, we have selected four fantastic social entrepreneurs who have made significant contributions to the field already – and who will continue to do so long into the future.

The annual Scholarship funds social entrepeneurs to undertake their MBA at Said Business School and welcomes them into a community of innovators spread across the globe (now 39 Skollars strong over 8 classes).

It was a difficult process and we’d like to thank all the amazing candidates we met along the way.  We look forward to having you all with us next year and making social impact happen together.

Congratulations David, Daniela, Sydney and Andy!  We can’t wait for you to join us next year.

(Read their full bios by clicking on their picture)

          

SBS Venture Fund gives flight to big ideas

This post was written by Vannary Sar, of the Skoll Centre.

Last night hundreds of students, alumni and people from the business community gathered at Saїd to watch the Venture Fund Final (or should I say “show-down”) and let me tell you, what a fun night!  The Venture Fund happens once a year and is an opportunity for SBS entrepreneurs to battle it out for a chance to win seed capital for their venture.  To date, the Fund has a portfolio of five promising start-ups, with a total investment of £675,000 – and we were all hoping to see another cheque with many zeros being handed over.

The four ventures competing were Contego, TheySay, Off.Grid.Electric and Green & Grow.  The teams pitched their ideas with passion filling the theatre, and you could feel the drama (at one point a £250,000 cheque was waved in the air!)  All entrepreneurs did extremely well, fielding difficult questions and justifying their projections – but the two ventures that impressed the investors the most were Green & Grow and, Off.Grid.Electric.  Congratulations to both teams, and especially Skoll Skollar, Xavier Helgesen and Skoll Centre Associate, Erica Mackey of Off.Grid.Electric. We are SO proud of you!

The celebrations continued throughout the night with cocktails and live performances from Oxford’s a cappella group ‘Out of the Blue’ and it was great to be part of such a supportive and entrepreneurial atmosphere.  While this event isn’t run by the Skoll Centre (congratulations to our SBS colleagues for their hard work), it is a vivid reminder of the incredible resources and networks out there in the wider Oxford ecosystem for entrepreneurs.  These support systems are so critical to entrepreneurs – especially those with ideas for social impact ventures, where seed funding is even more scarce.

A great night all around, where little (or BIG) ideas can turn into a reality.   Here’s to the winning teams!

Student Treks: A week in the Bay

We’re pleased to welcome guest blogger Patrick Keenan, MBA ’10-11.  Along with dozens of his classmates, Patrick traveled to Silicon Valley over spring break with the Oxford MBA trek to experience the region’s entreprenerial energy first-hand.  The post originally appeared on Patrick’s blog.

Trickling into the Carlton hotel one Oxonian after another. It was Sunday night and we knew, despite the long ride, we would need all our energy for the week ahead. The schedule was packed. We certainly had options: Google, Facebook, Twitter, Box, IDEO, The HUB, Path, Genetech, LinkedIn, CurrentTV, and YCombinator.

What stuck about the Bay area was the contrasts. From one block to the next, from one hour to the next it was a place of:

  • Perfect Weather vs  Cold Fog
  • Delicious Tastes vs  Fast Food
  • Optimism vs  Destitution
  • Opportunities vs  Workaholics
  • Thought Leaders vs  Deluded realties
  • High quality of life vs  High cost of living
  • Freedom vs  Income disparity
  • Beautiful Public Space vs  Urine soaked streets

We heard many contrasts at our visits as well. Entrepreneurship and Innovation often come from making unexpected connections, here are a couple we saw:

Path: Anthropology + Online Networks

Drawing from Professor Dunbar at Oxford, Path is working to create a smaller social network. The venture is based on 2 of Dunbar’s magic numbers of 150(the amount of people you can know) and 5(the amount of people you can trust). By limiting your social network, the idea is that you’ll share more of your life(photos). Download the app, its beautiful.

IDEO.org, one of many entrepreneurial highlights (photo courtesy of ideo.org)

IDEO.org: Human Centred Design + Social Issues

We were privileged to hear from Jocelyn Wyatt about IDEO’s venture into the social innovation space. They’d be launching an incubator for ideas, and a kit around HCD. Design and Development have been too far for too long, we have 90% of designers designing for 10% of the population. Great to see this connection, apply for the fellowship here.

SYPartners: Strategy + Design

I took the liberty of visiting a firm I’ve been inspired by for a while. SYPartners has worked with top tier clients on changing culture for the better. By their material you might think they were a design studio. What they do well is assist leaders to develop new visions for themselves. I hope to see more work that hits the high note of both core strategy and quality execution, check them out here.

O’Reilly: Communities + Venture

Another fortunate meeting was with O’Reily Alpha Tech Ventures. They work with the alpha nerd, and the communities that surround folks who are doing for the sake of it. Some familiar technologies line the walls here: Drupal + Aquia, Foursquare, Strobe + SproutCore, Get Satisfaction.

The highlight of the trip for me though, wasn’t a company, but a talk. I’ve been an avid listener of the Long Now Foundation for years. As fate would have it, the dates matched.  In the talk many contrasting visions were reconciled, from the singularity, to nuclear power, to the importance of geography, and more. Check out the talk here.

Its clear I’ll have to go back. There’s an attitude, a culture, and an ecosystem in the bay area that can’t compare. Entrepreneurs live on the fault line of ideas, and the Bay area is wrought with tectonic activity.

For more on the trek to Silcon Valley, read what other student’s had to say