Sunday, February 24, 2008

Entrepreneurship Week at Stanford

The DV Fellows (myself included) are presenting at Eweek today.

Today's event is two parts. First, a panel discussion about funding social enterprises followed by an open house the Digital Vision projects.

The panel began with a discussion of what social entrpreneurship is. Stanford's Center for Social Innovation uses Greg Dees' very specific definition of social entrepreneurship that firmly incorporates social returns with financial ones.

The first panelist is Jenny Shilling Stein, the executive director of the Draper Richards Foundation.

She first talked about the characteristics of a prospective social entreprenur, and specifically someone interested in investment by Draper Richards Foundation.
  • A candidate who is organized, who knows who the competitors, and funders are. It is critical that they know the market landscape
  • Personality, charisma. In the for-profit world, this would be a sales-type personality. Someone who fillls up the room with passion, excitement, and is willing to take a risk.
  • A good heart. This is critical to support funding, interest, and collaboration.
Some common mistakes that seekers make is trying to solve too many problems at the same time, for example tree farming and clean water. Also, an existing or large board of directors is a bad idea at the beginning, it's much better to be nimble and well supported.

Finally, great ideas really come from direct experience. It is critical to experience a problem or need first hand and move from there to solving it from an organizational perspective.

The second is Jessica Jackley Flannery, Co-Founder and Director of Business Development of

Jessica talked about her experience getting started, and how it was critical to meet and understand the people that Kiva serves. She emphasized the importance of really getting to know the people that they would serve. Jessica learned this by going to visit people served by the village enterprise fund in east Africa two and a half years ago, and that experience coupled with her passion for microfinance ultimately led to Kiva.

The stories were quite compelling, but she wasn't sure at the beginning how her friends and family could directly lend a few dollars to the people.

Specifically, her advice is:
  • Meet people
  • Stay focused
  • Follow what fascinates you
  • Talk to anyone who will talk to you, both to spread interest and be informed.
  • Don't plan too much, just give yourself a deadline and start, then interate
(On a personal note, this was one of the most important points to me as well. It was critical to break things down, start early, learn quickly, and get momentum. I loved using the ideas of using rapid prototyping and applying them to my project)

"Doing good, smart."

What did we do right? Figure what you want to do and do it. Don't be afraid to be scrappy. (One of my other favorite Kiva notions was from Matt Flannery, who mentioned his MDBS list in a talk at Stanford list -- the Must Do Before Sleep list. :)

Amy Clark, Ashoka, Global Fellows Program Leader

In terms of people, Ashoka fellows are typically creative, entrepreneurial, and trustworthy people. They start school newspapers, high school organizations, and others. They are interested in how people react to problems. They want to know if the person is interested in seeing a change happen, to make sure potential fellows are tenacious and bold.

  • Is it innovative?
  • Does it have broad scope?
Common mistakes grantees make are applying without a deep understanding of the social benefit to the recipients. Echoing what the previous panelists said, personal experience with problem areas to be solved is invaluable in social enterprise.

Ashoka particularly looks for trustworthy and credible applicants.

Suzanne McKechnie Klahr, Ashoka Fellow and Founder of BUILD

Suzanne was a law studend at Stanford during the first dotcom boom, working in East Palo Alto. She was passionate about working with low income entrepreneurs. What was so frustrating was they had great ideas but no access to funding just a few miles down the road. Here were crazy dot-com businesses getting tens of millions of dollars while a local restaurant couldn't get a thousand to expand.

She started a community law clinic, and a few months later, four kids came by and wanted to start a business, but to do that they would drop out of high school. Everyone dropped out of high school. So she made them a deal where she would help their business if they finished high school. And that was the beginning of BUILD.

Her advice for social entrepreneurs is:
  • Know what you want
  • Be prepared
  • Be ready to say no or 'we're not ready' so you don't go in half baked
  • Find a good mentor

EDIT: Michael Tsai has a great writeup of the open house with the Digital Vision fellows.

EDIT2: Neerja Raman, a Media X fellow at Stanford, also covered the open house in her blog.

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