Behind the Scenes with the Judges of #FacesofFounders

As part of the Case Foundation’s work in catalyzing the inclusive entrepreneurship movement, we launched the #FacesofFounders campaign last fall to change the narrative of who is and can be an entrepreneur. In October and November, over 3,000 people created a custom photo with a caption of what entrepreneurship means to them and nearly 750 founders submitted their entrepreneurship story. From our launch at the White House’s South By South Lawn festival, to Jean Case’s talk about unlocking the American Dream for all at TEDxMidAtlantic, #FacesofFounders has inspired and energized us all to join the movement for inclusive entrepreneurship. After some challenging choices and deep analysis by our guest judges, we’re excited to announce that the five winning stories will be featured on Fast Company starting February 27th!

In preparation for this reveal, we asked a few of our guest judges to share some behind the scenes insights and words of wisdom about the opportunities and challenges of being an entrepreneur. Thank you to all of our judges—we could not get to this point alone! We were joined by forty guest judges who are experts in entrepreneurship ecosystem building, investors or entrepreneurs themselves. Here is what they have to share with us as we all find new ways to #GetInTheArena and fight for meaningful inclusion in entrepreneurship.

What is a piece of advice you wish you had known when starting out in the entrepreneurship field?

Take action when you’re 80% ready. There are lots of people with great ideas, but the real traction is gained by those who take continuous action on those ideas.
– Carolyn Rodz, Circular Board

Surround yourself with a community of supporters. Ideas are born out of dreams for something new, different, and impactful. It takes a lot of time, nourishment, and most importantly a community of supporters to enable an idea to truly flourish into a venture. Every entrepreneurial success has taken hundreds of small and big connections to bring it to life.
– 
C’pher Gresham, SEED Spot

Entrepreneurs are explorers. Your adventure will have extreme highs and lows, but the journey will be worth the destination.
– 
Elizabeth Gore, Dell

As an intrapreneur, I wish I knew that you don’t have to be perfect to launch a new project or endeavor. It’s so easy to get caught up in making something absolutely excellent, but the important lesson is don’t wait to launch. When we interviewed Eric Reiss of the Lean StartUp, I started to realize the importance of letting go of being a perfectionist and launching. Some of my favorite accomplishments have come from a Lean StartUp approach.
– Gabrielle McGee, Tory Burch Foundation

I wish I had known that making an impact or doing meaningful work is not enough to build a sustainable, impactful venture. For social entrepreneurs, we must do the work that changes lives but we also have to constantly build and cultivate relationships with supporters and stakeholders as well as be compelling advocates for our cause. Making a measurable impact on someone’s life is the hardest and most meaningful part of social entrepreneurship, but it takes even more than that (like fundraising skills, management know-how, etc.) to be a successful social entrepreneur.
– 
Darius Graham, Social Innovation Lab at Johns Hopkins University

Plenty of smart, dedicated, and passionate entrepreneurs with promising viable business ideas have lost out on opportunities or money due to horrible pitches. Here’s how not to be one of them—don’t try to tell your life story. These are the pitch perfect things to you want to convey: how the product, service, or technology you are offering solves a problem or pain that you are familiar with; how much of your own time and money are you willing to risk; who is your competitor because every business has one; how are you going to acquire new customers and keep any existing customers happy; and what is your business model and how it will make you money.
– 
Carolyn Brown, Black Enterprise

In every meeting, focus on the value you are providing—not the value of your company, but the value to the other person! If you’re fundraising, you should understand the problem the investor is trying to solve, and focus your conversation on how you help them solve the problem (not why you’re great!). If you’re talking to a customer, understand what their pain point is and focus on how you help them solve it (not why you’re great!). When talking about value, it’s better to be specific and wrong than vague and right, so try and be as specific as possible: not just “better” but “3x faster”; not just “cheaper” but “half the price”.
– Ross Baird, Village Capital

Hire slow and fire fast. When you’re starting up you might have a tendency to try to hire people quickly because it feels like momentum. The problem with that is that you may be compromising culture fit and you’re signing up for more as you’ve added payroll which means you now have to do more to sustain the team.  Additionally, in a startup every moment matters so if you find yourself with a hire that is not working out, make a change as soon as possible. Most likely the hire in question knows that they’re not the right fit – so it shouldn’t be a surprise.
– 
Frank Gruber, Tech.co

Remember, everything you see is just a thought manifested. Your job is hustle, manifest and hustle some more! – Talib Graves-MannsBlack Wall Street Homecoming

What do you think distinguishes a promising entrepreneur?

I always keep an eye out for founders who are personally committed to their mission, and who have engaged others in making it come to life. When it becomes more than a solo mission, entrepreneurs hit a point where failure is no longer an option, and that’s where the real magic happens.
– 
Carolyn Rodz, Circular Board

I look for evidence that the applicant has a deep, intimate understanding of the issue being addressed and the population being served. This can be shown in different ways such as through work experience, academic study, or – most often – life experience. In my years of work supporting social entrepreneurs, one of the key things that sets apart the highly-impactful entrepreneurs from the less-impactful ones is an extensive understanding of the issue being addressed and the population being served.
– Darius Graham, Social Innovation Lab at Johns Hopkins University

Relationships matter, which means people matter. Successful entrepreneurs understand this and have fostered important relationships to propel themselves to success. As much as it might sometimes seem, nothing is an overnight instance success.
– 
Frank Gruber, Tech.co

What surprised you about the #FacesofFounders applications?

What surprised me the most about #FaceofFounders applicants was how diverse the businesses were. Innovation is alive and thriving! It’s exciting to learn about businesses that are disrupting, creating new ways, new products and many of them are making a difference in the world and their local communities.
– Gabrielle McGee, Tory Burch Foundation

The sheer size of the positive energy around problem solving for experiences each founder had all over the country! My hope is #FacesofFounders has helped diverse entrepreneurs feel a community around them and that it doesn’t matter the color of your skin, where you grew up, or your political beliefs, but that ANYONE can start a venture with enough passion, true grit, and belief in creating a better future.
– C’pher Gresham, SEED Spot

Thanks again to all of our guest judges and partners Blackstone Charitable Foundation, Google for Entrepreneurs and UBS who made this campaign possible. Because of these partners and the thousands that have committed to join the movement for a more inclusive approach to entrepreneurship, we are opening doors to innovators everywhere to start and scale their businesses. Come back on Monday to read the featured stories of fearless, problem solving founders on Fast Company!

UPDATED: 12 Can’t Miss Sessions at SXSW Interactive 2016

It’s that time of year again: We’re less than a month away from SXSW Interactive—a five-day festival that showcases a mix of digital creativity, emerging technology and unique networking events. With nearly 34,000 participants and countless panels, workshops and sessions, narrowing down your schedule can be a little overwhelming, but our staff of SXSW veterans have put together a list of 12 sessions you can’t miss.

From March 11 through 15, members of the Case Foundation team will be on-site learning about new trends in social good, philanthropy and technology from thought leaders in the sector and leading eight sessions on social good issues, inclusive entrepreneurship, philanthropy, innovation and more that we hope you will join us for:

FRIDAY, MARCH 11

11:00 am: Jean and Steve Case: A Roadmap for Innovators
Austin Convention Center, Room 18ABCD
Join our CEO Jean Case and Chairman Steve Case, two of the world’s most prominent technology pioneers, investors and philanthropists, as they talk with Ben Johnson of Marketplace Tech and share a roadmap for innovators and entrepreneurs who want to change the world.

2:30 pm: Inclusive Entrepreneurship Panel at SoFin @ SXSW
Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que, 217 Congress Ave.
Case Foundation SVP of Communications, Allie Burns, joins a panel at SoFin @ SXSW to explore the subject of inclusive entrepreneurship and why supporting entrepreneurs from under-represented backgrounds is the key to building a stronger future.

SATURDAY, MARCH 12

11:00 am: #Movements: When a Hashtag Breaks the News
W Marriott, Salon C
Our Senior Director of Communications, Jade Floyd, leads a discussion with researchers and journalists on how, in an age where more than half of all Facebook and Twitter users get their news from these sites, powerful hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter, #BringBackOurGirls, #GivingTuesday and more, are able to take over social media and momentous moments in time.

3:00 pm: Village Capital 2016 FinTech Showcase
Maggie Mae’s, 323 E 6th St
Our CEO Jean Case joins our friends at Village Capital as a judge for their pitch competition focused on supporting financial inclusion entrepreneurs from around the US, particularly entrepreneurs from under-represented backgrounds in technology.

SUNDAY, MARCH 13

4:00 pm: #WhatsGoodMixer at SXSW 2016
The Connected Yard, 83 Rainey Street
Hosted by our CEO Jean Case, join CauseMedia Group and What’s Trending for a social good mixer, bringing together nonprofit leaders, social activists, technologists and corporate partners for a look at innovations in social good. You must RSVP for this event. Click here and use password whatsgood to RSVP today.

MONDAY, MARCH 14

1:15 pm: SXgood Stories: Myth of the Entrepreneur
Palm Door on Sixth
The Case Foundation hosts an entertaining and eye opening storytelling session featuring four entrepreneurial thought leaders. These dynamic individuals will each share a brief story about the challenges and opportunities they face as entrepreneurs… but only two will be true, while the other two are false. Will you be able to tell fact from fiction?

2:30 pm: SXgood Lab: The Future of Entrepreneurship presented by the Case Foundation
Palm Door on Sixth Patio
Join the our SVP of Social Innovation, Sheila Herrling, and the Case Foundation for a lively group discussion to inspire ideas for how we can create a new narrative for the future of entrepreneurship together. This session is aimed at crafting actionable concepts for how we can create a more diverse and inclusive reality for our entrepreneurial community. Following the session, join us for a networking happy hour.

3:45 pm: Global Innovation Challenge: Lifting 1 billion people out of poverty presented by USAID
Palm Door on Sixth
USAID is calling on innovators everywhere to help end extreme poverty. Three social entrepreneurs will pitch their ideas to solve global development challenges in an interactive competition, and our CEO Jean Case will be one of the pitch competition judges.

We’re also excited to take part in the many sessions that promise to stretch our minds, inspire our creativity and just have fun, like the three sessions below. Have another can’t miss SXSW session we should know about? Tweet us the details using @CaseFoundation so we can share it with our community.

FRIDAY, MARCH 11

11:00 am: New World of Photography and Visual Storytelling
Hilton Austin Downtown, Salon F
Seasoned National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore has put the reach of modern media platforms to work through Photo Ark, using the power of both traditional and social media on National Geographic’s many publishing platforms to create a connection between animals and the people who can help protect them. Share in this panel’s lessons of making media meaningful, while enjoying amazing photos and videos.

12:30 pm: Social Activism: How to Ignite a Movement
JW Marriot, Salon C
What does it take to transform an idea into a viral movement for social good? Author and researcher Derrick Feldmann has spent the past two years talking with the people behind the biggest social movements of our time. He’ll share their stories and some of their secrets and what you can do to make your cause go viral.

MONDAY, MARCH 14

9:30 am: Tech at Issue in 2016 Election
JW Marriott, Salon 5
With the 2016 presidential campaigns in full swing, we will take a deep dive into how issues around technology and entrepreneurship will impact politics and the presidential election.

TUESDAY, MARCH 15

12:30 pm: Swipe Left or Right: The Latino Millennial Vote
Austin Convention Center, Ballroom EFG
Join Maria Teresa Kumar for a deep dive into the mind of a Latino millennial: why and how they vote and how they’ll shape our political landscape for years to come.

Not headed to SXSW this year? Follow along with the Case Foundation team members on Twitter at @CaseFoundation, @JeanCase, @Sherrling, @AllieB, @JadeFloydDC, and our chairman at @SteveCase.

Photo credit: shelbysdrummond.

The Myth of Combat

The Myth of Combat is the third post in the Case Foundation’s Myth of the Entrepreneur series. This series is intended to intentionally examine, and change, the stories our culture tells about entrepreneurship. For more information on the Case Foundation’s approach to the Myth series and Inclusive Entrepreneurship, please check out our introductory piece. We encourage you to join the conversation using #Ent4All on Twitter.

The Myth of the Entrepreneur series is based on research conducted by Michael Chodos, former fellow with the Case Foundation and currently at the Beeck Center for Social Impact & Innovation at Georgetown University, with contributions from Aaron Coleman, former Case Foundation intern.

There’s no denying the natural draw of drama that comes from a good battle, whether in a sport arena, a courtroom or a theatrical stage — we love to see truth, virtue and value emerge from a defining moment of clash and competition. Think: Monday Night Football, Law & Order, Game of Thrones, The Voice, Hamilton.

So, it’s not entirely surprising that the act of proving worth through this type of “trial by combat” has also become prevalent in the entrepreneurial narrative — largely in the form of the ubiquitous pitch competition. Whether part of mainstream pop culture or down the street at our local accelerator, the dozens of pitch competitions that take place every day deliver one clear message: an entrepreneur’s true worth — and a venture’s true likelihood of success — is proven by how they perform at the pitch competition.

The ultimate example of this narrative plays out on the ever-popular reality TV show, Shark Tank. Contestant entrepreneurs appear in front of world-famous investors who hold the promise of tens of thousands or even a couple million in start-up money. They get the added benefit of face time in front of an at-home audience of nearly 10 million, and if your business and pitch sound right — and you can handle the volley of difficult “gotcha” questions from the investors — you can close a deal right then and there and the audience is left thinking your success is guaranteed.

But in reality, “winning” a pitch competition itself is a small and rare moment in most entrepreneurs’ journeys, and an over-celebration of pitch events runs the risk of perpetuating the myth that it is the only pathway to building a successful, sustainable business. Stories of winning pitch competitions do not ground the success narratives of Oprah Winfrey, Mark Zuckerberg, Lucy Peng or Steve Jobs. In fact, many of today’s most celebrated entrepreneurs would probably tell you that they would likely have lost a pitch competition in the earliest days of their companies (check out Brian Chesky’s Medium post on the many rejections he received on early pitches to raise money for AirBnB).

Building, scaling and sustaining a new business requires more than a “winning” pitch. It requires an entire support system — founders, investors, policymakers, consumers and many others — who can offer the long-term support of the entrepreneur’s dogged pursuit to solve the one problem identified as worthy of immense investments of their own time and treasure. Ecosystem builders like Mara Mentors, Forward Cities, PowerMoves and 1776 understand this; they see the pitch and everything else. For those who have concerns that the pitch competition — and the myth that it is the only path to successfully starting a business — may be disadvantaging women entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs of color, innovations on the model are cropping up. Village Capital has introduced a “peer selection model,” and Springboard Enterprises has its “Dolphin Tank” which, in their words “isn’t… a competition for the best idea, it’s about channeling the expertise of the people in the room to provide connections and advice to help entrepreneurs take the next step.” And crowdfunding platforms are proving to be a more successful onramp for women and minority entrepreneurs. Groups and models like these provide entrepreneurs with access to the collaborative networks and connections they’ll need to scale and solve meaningful problems.

Wins and losses, and the learning that comes from both, are inevitable in entrepreneurship. No doubt pitch competitions can be great forums for showcasing entrepreneurial talent, surfacing new ideas, helping entrepreneurs hone in on their value proposition and generating feedback critical to the constant iteration that is part of building a business — and platforms like Shark Tank are tremendously helpful in raising the profile of entrepreneurs and innovators. My colleague Sheila Herrling and I also recently defended the role of pitch competitions in the nonprofit sector.

But as we seek to broaden the narrative around entrepreneurship it is important that we see beyond the excitement and drama that comes from a no holds barred “business death-match,” to the full scope of developing, nurturing and growing a diverse set of entrepreneurs leading sustainable businesses.

Join the conversation on Twitter at #Ent4All and be sure to check out the full Myth of the Entrepreneur series!

Village Capital: Getting Startup Funding to Nontraditional Entrepreneurs

As part of our ongoing series on social entrepreneurship with Entrepreneur.com, in partnership with ImpactAlpha, this week’s spotlight is on Village Capital. This startup accelerator is banking on the idea that the best solutions to community problems come from local entrepreneurs who have firsthand knowledge of the challenges being addressed.

Village Capital is specifically focused on the difficulties facing the “unbanked” and “underbanked,” which are terms used to define an individual or household that has a bank account but also uses alternative financial services (AFS). Examples of AFS include: payday loans, rent-to-own agreements, money orders, car title loans, etc. While some AFS have been developed to help those who are underserved by traditional lending services, many are characterized by short-term repayment schedules and generally have very high interest rates. These qualities make them less than ideal lending options for entrepreneurs who are considered too risky for traditional bank loans and credit, thus leaving them with few opportunities when seeking startup capital.

To tackle this lending challenge, Village Capital is recruiting minority and women entrepreneurs from unbanked and underbanked communities. They are then exposing these entrepreneurs’ marketable ideas to venture capital funding—to which these nontraditional entrepreneurs would otherwise have limited access This allows for the development of businesses that are potentially both lucrative and effective at changing the dynamics around opportunities for people who struggle to access necessary financial services.

While many categorize these programs as impact investments, Ross Baird, executive director of Village Capital, explains that his organization’s investors do not usually self-identify as impact investors. A number of those whom they invest with believe that impact investments require conceding some financial returns for social impact—and that is not the case here. Despite the obvious positive social outcomes Village Capital’s entrepreneurs deliver, its investors first, recognize the fundamental value of exciting, smart investments with the potential for consistent and/or impressive returns. Through events like the FinTech Forum, Village Capital continues to introduce investors to opportunities that generate greater outcomes with their dollars. At these forums the stage is given to nontraditional entrepreneurs, like Brian Ferguson of Start Line, who translated a wrongful imprisonment that could have destroyed his professional future, into a powerful startup that has the potential to counter recidivism issues.

For more on Village Capital and the entrepreneurial solutions to the financial and community challenges it promotes visit the Entrepreneur.com impact investing hub.

Let’s Get Ready to Rumble

This post was written by Ross Baird on behalf of the Case Foundation:

This past Monday, I participated in the “Impact Investing Rumble” at SXSW, a, lively debate hosted by Jean Case and the Case Foundation. At the heart of the Rumble was the question: “Does ‘impact investing’ necessarily mean concessionary returns?” To some, it seems completely logical that there is a class of investors that would be willing to sacrifice a little bit of profit if it meant more impact in businesses.

But I think that argument is wrong. I believe strongly that people who invest in businesses that positively impact society will make outsized returns in the next decade. Why? On Saturday (also at SXSW), Steve Case provided an excellent framing for the panel proposing the concept of the “Third Wave” of the Internet. The “First Wave”—from 1985-2000—got people online, and Steve and Jean Case had a lot to do with that. The “Second Wave”—from 2000-2015—used the infrastructure of the Internet to connect people. Mark Zuckerberg, Google, and Twitter have evaporated the distance between us and anyone else in the world in a constant conversation. Steve proposed a “Third Wave”—sharing his predictions on how the Internet, over the next 15 years, will pervade the rest of our lives, from our health, to education, to how we power and feed ourselves as a society.

The billion-dollar companies of the next fifteen years will be found in the areas that have the highest impact on people’s lives.

As Steve outlined at SXSW, the Internet has poised to transform sectors from health to education to food/agriculture to energy to financial services. At the organization I run, Village Capital, we are seeing this every day. We have an investment in Salt Lake City called TruClinic that is powering telemedicine across the world. Another investment, Spensa, in West Lafayette Indiana, is dramatically reducing the cost of pesticide application through smart insect monitoring. eMoneyPool in Phoenix, Arizona, is targeting the billion Americans who use informal savings groups as their primary bank account worldwide to credit. And PearDeck, an Iowa City company in our current education program, is transforming how teachers interact with their classroom through real-time interaction. We’re seeing these businesses get significant traction in mainstream markets—most recently at SXSW, PearDeck won the “Rise of the Rest” pitch competition as the best startup from Steve Case and Revolution’s 2014 “Rise of the Rest” tour.

Businesses in these sectors have the ability to transform things that everybody does every day—not just build apps that make the lives of the best-off in society more convenient through live social media streaming or on-demand valet parking. And the single thing they all have in common is they are under-valued by the market. At SXSW, I met a venture capitalist from a well-known Silicon Valley venture firm and we were discussing our investments in common. When I mentioned the industries we work in—health, food/agriculture, energy, education, financial services, he said “oh, we don’t touch those—they’re regulated industries.” And when I mentioned the cities we work in, he said, “oh, we only invest close to home.”

While Silicon Valley is the most amazing entrepreneurial ecosystem on the planet, current Silicon Valley investment attitudes are undervaluing 98% of entrepreneurs worldwide. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this argument. The sectors that have the potential for the most impact on our lives, positive or negative, are usually regulated (and probably should be). And the entrepreneurs who have the most potential to transform core industries such as energy or agriculture are typically placed closest to energy and food production—and sometimes far from the most active entrepreneurial hotbeds.

The bottom line: the investors in the market who do not incorporate impact into how they invest, and look for the companies that are solving the problems faced by the most people, are missing the billion-person and billion-dollar opportunities of the “Third Wave” of the Internet. And investors who overlook entrepreneurs in industries that have the highest-impact, and in locations outside of the most developed entrepreneurial ecosystems, are ignoring 98% of businesses worldwide—and missing out on transformational opportunities.

In the Rumble, Sonal Shah, executive director of the Beeck Center for Entrepreneurship, said that regularly, entrepreneurs seeking an impact automatically relegate themselves to the “kid’s table”—looking for just philanthropy and concessionary capital. Jigar Shah, founder of SunEdison, pointed out the problem with this: real transformation (wireless power, thermal storage) requires in the hundreds of millions of capital—which only the mainstream markets can bring.

Yet the way the world is going, tremendous opportunities will only explode in the areas with the highest impact. To get there, though, impact investors—and entrepreneurs seeking an impact—have to identify, explore, and invest in the markets with the highest potential for impact—though they may be harder initially to develop. Entrepreneurs and investors will have to work at least twice as hard in more difficult to navigate sectors and ecosystems. The “train is leaving the station,” though, as Jean Case said at the end of the panel—and the payoff will be well worth the effort.

Ross Baird is the Executive Director of Village Capital