A new fundraising strategy: Winning social enterprise competitions

Recently I had the privilege to attend as a judge of the Global Social Venture Competition (GSVC).  Each March for the last ten years a semi-finals is held at the London Business School.  It feels like I have been a judge forever—and the competition and the competitors get better and better each year.

During the competition I overheard one judge say to another, about a particular competitor, “Oh yeah, XYZ has made a living out of winning social enterprise competitions”. It was said as a gentle putdown, though it felt to me like a rather commendable and positive strategy. The firm involved did not require substantial amounts of capital and “picking up” the odd £10,000-£20,000 or so seemed to keep things ticking over.

This approach will not satisfy the requirements of most social enterprises, but as an element of a fundraising strategy it seems to offer substantial benefits. First, all the firms competing on the day, and in other competitions, have the opportunity to hear the other presentations as well as to receive valuable feedback. Second, all the competitors gain access to a varied group of experts–who in turn provide valuable resources directly and make connections with others who may add value.  Third, there are normally prizes awarded. In the case of the GSVC, there will be $50,000 worth of awards to the winners.

In my view, such competitions also serve a very useful purpose in that they help social entrepreneurs to practice and refine their pitches in a relatively safe environment. The GSVC is generally focused on the business plans of students who have recently received their business degrees. Otherwise I would consider making such events mandatory for all social businesses and enterprises ClearlySo eventually introduces to angel investors. Such competitions are just a fantastic way to get practice.

And who was the winner this year? An excellent and interesting business from Lithuania called Sveikas Vaikas (the English name is “InBelly”—do not ask me if it means the same thing!) which seeks to do for additive free food what the Soil Association and the Fair Trade Foundation have done for organic food and fairly traded goods, respectively. The entrepreneur who pitched at the event, called Kristina Saudargaite, was simply outstanding.

First Published in Third Sector in March 2015.

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