Four Starting Points for Social Business Founders

If your search landed you straight on this post, I’m guessing you’re a new social entrepreneur and trying to figure out your strategy for this whole “social venture thing.”

I can help you. I’ve started a social business, and lived to tell the tale. Here are some things you should be aware of early on in the process.


1 – On Incorporating a for-profit vs a non-profit 

Unless you have compelling reasons to establish a non-profit, establish a for-profit organisation instead. Establishing a non-profit comes with a boatload of bureaucracy and paperwork. Besides, while for-profit startups are generally seen as iterative business, this doesn’t apply to non-profits. Being a for-profit organization gives you, the founder, both the flexibility and credibility to build a viable business. It allows you to raise capital from private firms and investors. Having said that, if your intent is to heavily rely on grants and donations from individuals, foundations or corporations to fund your mission, then by all means, establish a non-profit.


2 – Who will you be able to raise capital from? 

Let’s assume you’ve established a for-profit. This means you’re not running a charity. You’re running a business. Unless you’re a bootstrapping miracle, you’re bound to need a cash infusion at some point during your starting-up-phase.

Are you targeting a larger market? Do you have proprietary technology? Unique assets that will make you a success? If the answer to any of these questions is YES, then don’t put yourself into a niche and just raise capital from mainstream investors – provided they will go along with your mission. Don’t put yourself into the tight niche of “social business” investment opportunities. Just build a scaleable organisation with a business offering that happens to have an insane positive environmental impact, but also appeals to a regular investor. Take Elon Musk as an inspiration. Few would describe Tesla or SolarCity as “social businesses” right off the bat – yet their core product has immense social value. He just didn’t put himself into a tiny niche, and went out to dominate entire markets instead.

If you’re targeting a niche market and are anticipating below-market returns, like we were with my former startup – a mobile application focused on the needs of immobilised people, then you need to figure out your fundraising strategy. Your case isn’t lost, but it’s going to be a little trickier. You have a bunch of options at hand: Impact investors, mission-driven angels and crowdfunding (including ICOs). Anticipating below-market returns isn’t all bad in itself, but you need to very clear about WHY you’re building this. The stronger your social mission, the easier it’ll be for you to crowd-fund your project on sites like Kickstarter, IndieGogo and others.


3 – Getting certified as a B-Corp

There are many reasons to become certified as a B-Corp, or “benefit corporation”. If you have a consumer-facing product and want to make “social” part of your company identity, this can make a huge difference for your business. Spend a few hours researching requirements for B-Corps early on in the process before things get too crazy. Then focus on getting your business off the ground and get yourself certified after the initial startup-phase – if at all. Why? Getting that B-Corp logo takes effort. Time that you could spend building your business instead.


4 – Checks and Balances – A great board of advisors is key

Put regular checks in place to make sure you are staying on course. Especially pivots in the early phases of building your business could affect your original mission and long term impact. Recruit a strong board of advisors early on in the process and enlist their help to stay on course. A great tool to get advisors involved and actively engaged in your business at an early stage is the FAST agreement by the Founder Institute. It’s used by tens of thousands of entrepreneurs every year, in order to establish strong working relationships for their startups.


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5 Ideas How to Make Conferences More Sustainable

Conferences are inherently really unsustainable – even those that take place, in order to counteract climate change and foster sustainable innovation.

Bringing thousands or even tens of thousands of attendees together to a single location takes a colossal toll on the planet, comprised of carbon emission due to air travel, hotel stays, local transportation, waste at the event, increased energy usage and more. Exact numbers seem hard to come by, but take for example the United Nations Climate Change Conferences in Copenhagen in 2009 – it generated a carbon footprint of 42,000 tons of carbon solely due to air travel – and that doesn’t take into account the damage incurred from the actual event.

However, there are many things that event organisers of large conferences CAN DO, to make their events more sustainable. Here are five ideas.


1. Eliminate the paper trail by using an event app

Don’t give out any printed conference schedules or brochures. Instead, utilise an app for the event. It’s cleaner and zero-waste.  There are many providers of event apps – start with guidebook.com, or crowdcompass.


2. Ban drinks in disposable packaging and use refill stations with durable containers

Instead of handing out countless little cans of soda, and water in plastic bottles, set up several water and soda fountain stations. If you have a bar, then serve beer from the tap, and wine from the barrel. Forego cheap paper and plastic cups and hand out a conference-branded stainless steel pitcher to each attendee that needs one. This will add a classier feel to your conference and significantly reduce the waste impact of your event.

3. Offset the impact of travel through a carbon offset service

Use a carbon offset service like Atmosfair or Terrapass to “neutralize” the carbon footprint caused by air travel for the conference. You can guesstimate your carbon footprint or reach a more accurate estimate by asking people for their location and intended method of transportation when signing up for ticket. This doesn’t address the root cause of the issue, but treating the symptom will help create awareness.


4. Offer shareable experiences instead of goodie bags

Instead of having exhibitors give away tons of goodie bags and leaflets, provide exhibitors with support from your organisation to create an attention-catching banner or oversized mascot for people to take pictures with. Let’s face it, people won’t do anything with the usual set up mini give-aways anyway. Providing attendees with branded photo stations instead will give your brands the exposure they need – and it’s more fun!

5. Zero emission shuttle service 

I’m a huge fan of the Arcimoto. An Arcimoto is basically the electric 5.0 version of a TukTuk. They’re not yet available to purchase or rent without a pre-order, but they will be in 2018 – and these things make for a perfect shuttling vehicle for events like this. Depending on your budget, you can shuttle your VIPs around in rented Teslas, or hire a bunch of bicycle cabs for the event. Consider renting out hoverboards, bike, e-bikes, Arcimotos, and more to event attendees. If applicable, provide free public transportation passes with your tickets. Some hardliners might still take a gas car or Uber, but they’ll eventually come around. The opportunities to create a zero emission transportation culture around your event are pretty much boundless.

… Let’s be more conscious!

Conference organisers have the opportunity, and also the responsibility to promote sustainable practices to key influencers and business leaders.

None of these steps will turn a conference into a zero-impact event. Unfortunately, the only conferences that have ZERO impact are the ones that aren’t taking place. Even online conferences utilise some resources. However, as a society we need to take steps to proactively protect the environment in ALL AREAS OF BUSINESS. Conferences are not an exception. While it may be easier to just go on autopilot and let the plastic cups pile up at the event, we need to take charge and change our ways of conducting events. Being environmentally responsible will help raise awareness among conference attendees, which could contribute to greener practices for many businesses around the globe.

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14 Must-Attend Startup Conferences in the US, Europe and Asia for 2017 and 2018

With the level of digital connection we are accustomed to in 2017, it has become incredibly easy to connect with other entrepreneurs and stay up to date on the latest developments in tech. But, there is something really special that happens when you step out and actually connect with industry experts and entrepreneurs in real face-to-face interactions. When you bring a lot of creative people into a giant hall, there is a special kind of energy in the air, an energy that fosters deeper connections, and a kind of collaborative creativity, that is impossible to find in the virtual networking space.

If you’re a budding entrepreneur, you might feel overwhelmed by the crazy amount of conferences out there. It doesn’t take much to start a conference, and not all of them are worth the financial investment and time investment to attend. However, some conferences are just  THAT GOOD that you shouldn’t miss them under any circumstances. If you’re currently growing your business and want to get exposure, you’ve come to the right place!

We’ve collected a list of 14 amazing conferences, that will get you lots of exposure and that are coming up soon. All of the conferences on the list take place between late in 2017 and the summer of 2018. Make sure to sign up for tickets in time!


#1 Summit in Los Angeles / November 3rd-6th, 2017

Summit in LA is an invite-only conference for 3500 attendees, frequented by conscious leaders in technology, startups, arts and culture. If you’re not part of their network yet, get your online profiles up to date, apply on their site and keep your fingers crossed. It’s well worth going.

#2 Web Summit in Lisbon – November 6th-9th, 2017

Web Summit is the largest technology conference in the world! If you’re looking to reach a broad audience, go to Web Summit. This conference presents incredible networking opportunities, due to its sheer scale. The list of speakers at Web Summit includes political heavyweights like Al Gore, the president of Microsoft, the CEO of Reddit and many others.

#3 Slush in Finland – November 30th – December 1st, 2017

Slush is an interesting conference, in an unusual setting. It has often been described as “Burning Man meets TED.” Run by a committee of students, their setup changes yearly. It takes place in extreme weather conditions (Finland in the winter) and is extremely popular with the Silicon Valley crowd as an amazing getaway + networking event. Sign up early and pack your warmest clothing for an unforgettable experience at Slush!

#4 TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin / December 4th-5th , 2017

TechCrunch Disrupt is an authority in debuting startups, introducing new technologies and introducing new topics into the worldwide startup ecosystem. It features a Startup Battlefield competition, a 24-hour Hackathon, Startup Alley, Hardware Alley, and After Parties. As an added bonus, this year’s Disrupt is taking place in Berlin, one of the biggest, thriving startup cities in Europe.

#5 Startup Grind Global in Redwood City, Feb 12-14 2018

Startup Grind Global is a great meeting place for startups and Silicon Valley. Held in Redwood city, Startup Grind Global has featured speakers from Lyft, Google, YC, Instagram… With 5000 founders and investors, more than 40 keynote and fireside sessions, and over 50 exhibiting startups, this is Startup Grind’s largest event ever.

#6 SXSW / South by Southwest, March 9-March 18 2018

The South by Southwest festival, usually abbreviated to SXSW combines, or shall I say, converges technology, arts and humanity during a 10-day long 72000+ people event. It provides an opportunity for professionals at every level to participate, learn and network.  SXSW is a unified conference that provides 24 tracks, plus an Eco Cities Summit and has features past speakers like Barack Obama, and many others.

#7 Launch Festival in San Francisco, April (dates TBD)

Launch is an incredible festival in the heart of tech-country (San Francisco). It was founded by renowned angel investor Jason Calacanis and celebrates innovation and product launches. During the conference, 50 startups reveal their concepts and “launch” right at the event. They all compete for 100000$ in price money. Aside from the startup competition, Launch has featured past headliners like Mark Cuban, or Paul Graham.

#8 Collision New Orleans April 30th-May 3rd, 2018

From the organisers of Web Summit, Collision prides itself on its status as the “world’s fastest growing tech conference.” It attracts a high profile crowd and takes place right before JazzFest in New Orleans. Lots of Collision attendees stay for JazzFest, which might explain, in part, why it’s such a popular conference. Collision has about 20 000 attendees of which over 3000 are CEOs.

#9 StarUp in Bangalore, India May 6th to 7th, 2018

StarUp is India’s biggest and best startup summit. It’s held place in Bangalore, which is often described as the “Silicon Valley” of India. It’s a relatively small conference (2000+ attendees) which is growing rapidly every year and brings together the Indian, Asian, Israeli and European startup ecosystem. If you are interested in the Indian startup ecosystem, StarUp is THE conference to attend.

#10 Future of Fintech in New York, June 19th – 21st, 2018 

The Future of Fintech conference is an exclusive gathering of the world’s largest financial institutions, best fintech startups and most active venture investors. Topics covered range from the blockchain, to emerging markets, regtech, algorithmic hedge funds and trends to watch over in the next year. Even if you are not specifically in Fintech, Fintech is nearly everywhere around us, and at this conference, you will be able to see a lot of current trends and developments in the industry that might have a major impact on the future of your startup, no matter what field you are in.

# 11 World Domination Summit in Portland, June 26nd to July 2nd, 2018

World Domination Summit in Portland explores one central question: “How do we live a remarkable life, in a conventional world?” Consider attending this 10000 person conference if you’re looking for a sense of disruption and possibilities. World Domination Summit is a great conference to attend if you are looking for inspiration and want to meet like-minded people who want to build the future.

#12 RISE in Hong Kong, July 8th – 11th, 2018

Rightfully dubbed “the new hot ticket on the tech conference scene” by Forbes, RISE is yet another growing conference produced by the Web Summit team. It is packed with tech startups from Asia, and all other markets, features VC heavyweights and speakers from the world’s biggest brands. RISE has become very successful, because it launched in a market that had a deep-seated need for a conference of this type. Connect with Hong Kong and the rest of the world at Rise.

#13 Startup+Fest in Montreal, July 11th-14th, 2018

The Mission of StartupFest is, “to inspire the global startup community through the unforgettable + unconventional.” It’s a global gathering dedicated to the growth of startups and brings together founders, innovators and entrepreneurs. It features speakers from Reddit, Paypal, Shopify and many more, and over 500K in prize money. It also has many premium high value premium “fests” that require separate registration. The list includes an Angel Fest, Hacker Fest, Scaleup Fest, Accelerator Fest and more.

#14 Tech Open Air Berlin, 11th-14th July, 2018

Tech Open Air, usually abbreviated to TOA Berlin is a leading interdisciplinary tech festival, held annually in Berlin. Their mission is to “connect, grow and inspire the human spirit through in interdisciplinary knowledge exchange and collaboration.” TOA is a super popular festival with founders, VCs and CEOs around Europe and the US. It has been called “Berlin’s answer to SXSW” by Venture Village and got its’ start in 2012 through crowdfunding. TOA is cool, edgy and should not be missed by any aspiring or successful startup founder.

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What it’s like to take a ride in an Arcimoto

First of all… What, the heck is an Arcimoto?

An Arcimoto, in black and yellow

The Arcimoto is a new electric transportation device that technically qualifies as a motorcycle, but has been dubbed FUV, or “Fun Utility Vehicle” by its makers. It’s a 2 passenger, 3 vehicle electric vehicle with a base price of 11,900$. It speeds up to 80 miles an hour, has an 80 mile travel range, and you can charge it up by plugging it into an electric socket.

Another Arcimoto, parked at the Founder Institute Silicon Valley HQ

Arcimotos are only available for pre-order right now, but I got to take a ride in one at the Arcimoto IPO party on August 24th at the Founder Institute Headquarters in Palo Alto. It’s hard to put into words how amazing of an experience that was. It was exhilarating! This Arcimoto promo video maybe illustrates a bit how fun it was, but IMO nothing beats the real experience. I had watched that video a few months ago while Arcimoto’s CEO Mark Frohnmayer gave a presentation down in Palo Alto, and I was curious about trying out the Arcimoto, but honestly, I did not think it would be THIS fun until I actually tried it.

The back seat experience:

The Arcimoto from the side – Jesse Fittapaldi (VP at Arcimoto), me

It reminded me of taking rides in a TukTuk in Asia, except there was no noise, and no pollution. My driver Jesse, Vice President of Arcimoto, sped up quite a bit during our brief ride down El Camino Real and Page Mill Road. At around 50mph, the noisiest, messiest part of the experience was the wind blowing in my face. I always loved taking tuktuks during the prolonged periods of time i spent in india and the Phillipines, despite having to wipe some grease from the exhausted gases off of my face after a long tuk tuk ride. Being chauffeured around in the backseat of the Arcimoto is like being in a TukTuk 5.0 – fresh wind, higher speeds (it feels pretty fast when you’re at 50mph an hour in the backseat), more security. In short, the back seat experience pretty awesome.

The front seat experience:
I don’t currently own a car, for both personal and environmental reasons and hadn’t driven any vehicles for quite a while, so I felt a bit anxious at first about driving and mostly stuck to practicing loops around a spacious parking lot. I really love scooters, especially electric scooters and had contemplated getting an electric scooter. After this, I would probably opt for an Arcimoto instead. The navigation in the Arcimoto is the same as in a scooter or a motorcycle (no gears). It’s incredibly easy to speed up and steer. The whole vehicle sort of moves WITH you. You have to turn the handlebar in order to turn the Arcimoto – if you’re only used to driving cars with a regular steering wheel that might take a bit of time to get used to. If you love riding scooters or motorbikes, then steering on the Arcimoto should be a breeze! Driving in the Arcimoto definitely felt more relaxed, and safe, than being on an electric scooter (no need to keep my balance as I go into a curve) – but much more fun than being in an enclosed, regular-size car. The electric vehicle effect might take some getting used to – when you take your foot off the gas, the vehicle just stops. Overall… I really, really loved it! I loved having the open side doors. It’s like driving/riding in a mini-sized car/motorbike/scooter hybrid. It’s amazing.

The experience of being in an Arcimoto doesn’t compare to being in any other electric vehicle to me. I’ve been in every type of the Tesla, ridden electric scooters, bikes, one-wheels… This is different. And in my view, it’s better. While I don’t think that Arcimotos would replace ALL cars, I definitely believe, they could, functionally, replace A LOT OF THE CARS that are currently out there. Aside from the fact that the energy demands of an Arcimoto are at <30% of the average Tesla, according to their CEO, the Arcimoto takes up only about half of each lane. If Arcimotos became mainstream, that would open up an incredible opportunity to decrease commuter traffic by offering special mini-lanes for these vehicles. They do have their limitations though. With an 80-120 mile travel range, they are not very feasible for long drives or road trips.

Overall, I’m giving the Arcimoto a 9/10 rating. (I’m reserving the 10 exclusively for electric passenger drones.) It’s an awesome vehicle.

You can find out more about the Arcimoto on arcimoto.com/
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The Difference Between Social Impact Investing and Socially Responsible Investing

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.
George Bernard Shaw

Impact investing is a hot topic right now. A few years ago, while I was researching investor behaviour in impact investing at the Free University of Berlin, few people in the startup scene around me seemed to have a solid grasp of, or interest in, impact investments. These days everywhere I go – regardless of whether it’s Silicon Valley, Berlin, Nepal or beyond – people seem to be talking about it. A multitude of impact venture funds, social impact accelerators and certification programs like the B-Corp program have sprung up onto the stage of our global investment markets. Some VCs have started incorporating statements about adhering to dual- and triple-bottom line principles into their mission statements. In short, it’s looking good for impact investing. It seems to be rapidly gaining in popularity.

Unfortunately, when topics get hyped, that hype generally creates a bit of confusion, and that confusion can lead to ineffective communication around the topic. With this article, I aim to clear up some of the fuzziness I’ve been seeing in regards to how impact investing is defined, and clearly define what distinguishes it as a concept from socially responsible investments (SRIs).

Just in case you don’t know what sort of confusion I am speaking of, let’s take a quick look at market size estimates. According to an extensive investor survey by the GIIN, the Global Impact Investment Network, assets under management in impact investing have grown annually by 18% between 2011 and 2015. By GIIN metrics, the amount of assets currently allocated to impact investments is generally estimated to be in the billions with a market size floor of around 115 billion. This number accounts for a tiny fraction of the 156+ trillion global financial markets. However, other people actually estimate the market size for impact investments to be much higher, with estimates ranging into the range of several hundred billions, or even trillions! This current discrepancy between estimates makes zero sense and can only be explained by the fact that there appear to be different standards regarding what sorts of investments should be counted as impact investments. Devon Thorpe, author of the impact focused blog Your Mark on The World, clearly hit the nail on the head with his explanation of why the gap between market size estimates has widened to such an extent: “The market has grown, but not that much. What is happening is that more and more people are arguing that the investing they do should be counted as part of the impact investing pool.”
In this context, it clearly doesn’t help that even Forbes author Anne Field seems to think of impact investing and socially responsible investing as sort-of-the-same-thing, lumping both categories together in a recent article covering the growth of the impact investment market. She refers to the market size of SRI at 8.72 trillion, even though the headline of her article clearly refers to impact investing.

Let’s set this straight. Impact Investing is not the same as Socially Responsible Investing.

Here is a common definition of impact investing, by the GIIN network:

impact investments

Investments made into companies, organizations, and funds with the intention to generate social and environmental impact alongside a financial return.”
(emphasis mine)

The history of “impact investing” is a pretty short one. The term itself, impact investing was coined only 10 years ago, at a 2007 meeting which took place at the Bellagio center in Italy and was organised by the Rockefeller Foundation. The purpose of this meeting was “to explore with leaders in finance, philanthropy and development the need for, and ways and means of, building a worldwide industry for investing for social and environmental impact.” As a concept, impact investing has also been closely tied to a focus on a “dual bottom line” or “triple bottom line” . There is a “duality of goals” for each investment made with an impact approach. Financial returns are only one side of the investment goals. If impact investment don’t meet their social impact goals, they are generally not deemed as successes. This distinguishes impact investing from “regular” or “mainstream” investing, where the main goal of the investment is to generate financial returns. Impact investment approaches are also not limited to one particular industry. It is generally understood as an investment approach across asset classes.

Let’s contrast this with a definition of Socially Responsible Investing, by netimpact.org:

“Socially Responsible investing (SRI), also known as values-based or ethical investing, refers to the practice of integrating social and environmental factors within investment analysis to avoid investing in companies that have negative impacts on the environment and/or society.”
(emphasis mine)
A main feature of socially responsible investing is screening against negative externalities. “Negative screening” has been around a lot longer than impact investing, starting with the Pioneer Mutual Fund in 1928. It is generally defined as “the conscious decision not to invest in companies that are inconsistent with the personal values of the investor.”  The roots of SRI can be traced back centuries, or even to ancient times. William Donovan’s “A Short History of Socially Responsible Investing” makes for a pretty interesting read.

Can you spot the difference between the two concepts? While SRI approaches are generally supposed to AVOID causing negative social impact, impact investments have the explicit goal to advance positive social impact. Impact investing distinguishes itself from other investment approaches through the intentionality of creating social change. What also sets impact investing apart from SRI is the introduction standards and methods for the assessment of impact goals. According to the 2015 GIIN investor survey, around 99% of impact investors actively measure the outcome of their investments.

SRI seems to often be used as an overarching term for all types of social investment approaches, but only a tiny fraction of SRI investments could actually be classified as impact investment.  Comparing SRI to impact investing is like comparing apples to oranges. Screening out bad stuff, doesn’t equal building good stuff!

In our conversation around impact investing, we should be mindful of the terminology we use. Language is the foundation of communication, which is the foundation of system-wide change.