ENTREPRENEURSHIP ABROAD IS ALIVE AND WELL – WITH A STRONG SOCIAL CONTEXT

I love entrepreneurship. I have dedicated my life to it. But seeing it flourish globally with a strong social emphasis gives me an even greater sense that it is a force that can and will change the world.

Last week I had the honor of serving on a panel of judges in the 12th Annual Global Social Venture Competition (GSVC) at the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship of the University of California at Berkeley. (See GSVC for more information about the competition.)

Twelve finalists came to California to present and defend their business plans. They had been chosen from a slate of 850 proposals from 31 countries. The nine judges represent many different skills and areas of business. Some are leaders of venture capital divisions of major global companies like Dow and Intel. Some lead practices in major law firms. Some run their own venture capital firms. And some, like me, are retired or acting business executives. Several are headquartered abroad and traveled internationally to be judges at this competition.

Just the sheer number of applicants gave me a sense of the scale of interest in social entrepreneurship around the globe. Looking at the 12 final business plans showed how serious the effort is. The concepts were thorough, the analysis sophisticated, and each plan showed a good balance between sound business and social responsibility. But what really touched me most were the entrepreneurs themselves. Some had traveled from far away to be there, and their excitement – and awe – was palpable. Many had brought along prototypes of their products, and had assembled good management and advisory teams. In some cases they invested their own money to test the ideas. Their business concepts were diverse, including, among others: fuel efficient, clean burning cooking stoves (Prakti Design); reliable information on potable water availability (NextDrop); cheap, eco-friendly construction materials for low income housing (Beti Halali); low cost detection of cervical cancer (DeepScan); water puirification products (Findg One Drop); more cost effective sanitation systems (Sanergy); improved supply chain for coffee growers (Ikawa); and even a smartphone app that allows game-players to participate in reforestation efforts around the world (TreePlanet.) Learn more about the finalists and winners by going to Finalists.

Listening to the entrepreneurs and sensing their commitment and pride in their endeavors took me back to the early stages of my career when I was pitching our incipient concepts to investors. Yet while we had a strong notion of how our ideas would change the world for the better, our sense of social responsibility was much less substantive than what I saw in these plans. Initiatives like Berkeley’s GSVC are a wonderful way to stimulate and promote the creation of profitable ventures with sustainable and meaningful social value. Above and beyond the prize money, the exposure generated for these young enterprises will serve them well. I fully expect that many of these businesses will succeed and thrive.

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