A gamut of young – but nonetheless experienced – innovative minds surrounded the recent SOCAP 13 conference, in the breathtaking waterfront setting of Fort Mason, San Francisco. A plethora of investor-investee jargons were used, ideas were pitched, deals were cracked, handshakes were done, and future possibilities were discussed. A wide range of opportunities was present throughout the conference for developing budding ideas from organizations in nascent stage, organizations that are establishing themselves and those that are already established.
We at ONergy, a social enterprise based in India providing clean energy solutions to underserved households, were also pitching our ideas to impact investors as part of our campaign to raise $1.2 million. SOCAP also provided a perfect opportunity to make a number of connections with other social enterprises and support organizations.
The talks at SOCAP covered how an investment can contribute to solving the pressing issues of the social and environmental space as well as have ROI. Some investors were looking more for ‘value’ (return on investment), while others were focused on ‘values’ (impact in the social space) and some were trying to make a cool balance of both.
Dr Audrey Selian, director of the Artha Initiative at Rianta Capital, quite aptly summarizes her experience at SOCAP and its growth in recent years: ‘I have attended SOCAP since 2008, its year of inception. It has evolved significantly, growing not only in size and scope, but also in terms of the maturity of the conversations and the level of the discourse as a whole. I enjoyed it because it is so diverse and because it weaves themes like spirituality that are not often embedded in conferences of this nature.’
A series of interesting sessions formed part of the conference, including Basics of design, Keeping the investor and entrepreneur happy, F*ck up stories, and also some offbeat sessions like Meditation.
F*ck up stories heard the humour-tinged stories of investors like Morgan Simon of Transformative Finance Network, Francesco Piazzesi of Échale a tu Casaraw, and Tony Carr of Halloran Philanthropies in a forum where panellists discussed their initiatives that had gone wrong. A hearty discussion covered the trail to finding the right entrepreneurs, admitting things had gone wrong and how they had built success stories on it.
Basics of design covered how simple data could be innovatively displayed with loads of infographics by Elephant Design, a San Francisco-based organization giving design solutions to NGOs and non-profits.
The sessions at various other venues inside Fort Mason were happening simultaneously as the investors and the investee discussions were going on at the Impact Hub. Every corner of the Impact Hub, which was massive in size, was filled with piping and meaningful discussions. This year’s SOCAP also saw some Wall Street entrants, some large multinationals like HUL and an interesting drink company with a social message called ‘Honest-Tea’. The conference saw a huge gathering of intellect and a diverse range of investors – seed-stage investors, growth-stage investors and final-stage investors.
Dr Audrey Selian, one of the investors, quoted her goal at SOCAP: ‘to identify peer investors keen on India, meet with entrepreneurs in India, and learn from those who have more portfolio experience than we’. She also gave a short definition of the investees: ‘our ideal investee is one that is for profit and that can absorb equity or quasi-equity capital, with a long-term view and a willingness to ratchet up valuation based on performance.’
All in all, SOCAP was an experience that covered diverse points for a multitude of young talent, and it surely is one of the best conferences for creating a platform for talks between investors and investees in the social space. Undoubtedly it has transformed into a mecca for people in the social space.
Shweta Maheshwari is communications manager at ONergy in India