SOCAP12 was bigger than ever before. Some 1,600 social entrepreneurs, impact investors, funders, advisers and other ‘social capital markets’ participants packed into Fort Mason Center on the San Francisco waterfront by day, and bounced from reception to merry reception by night. It was a four-day feast of rousing plenary addresses, meaty panel discussions, funky design workshops, private roundtables and those all-important side meetings, against a stunning backdrop of Pacific Ocean blue studded with America’s Cup sailing yachts.
But the word was that SOCAP12 was also more serious than ever before: while continuing to showcase inspiring entrepreneurs with the potential to help solve big problems, it also held up a much-needed mirror to the burgeoning field of impact investing. On the first morning, my colleague Katherine Fulton described how impact investing is at a crucial inflexion point, past its early days of budding promise but not quite established as a powerful force for good. She warned of the risk of a bubble forming, as investor expectations race ahead of realities on the ground. Kevin Starr from Mulago Foundation echoed this on the second day when he said that ‘the biggest risk we face is that this will be a market for nothing – not impact, not profit’. Matt Bannick from Omidyar Network observed that so many investors are ‘waiting around for fabulous deals but not doing the work up-front to generate those deals’. Our own panel session called attention to the ‘Pioneer Gap’ in funding and support that strangles innovative new models long before they become investable.