interSector Partners, L3C, Colorado, USA
One of our organization’s most important takeaways from the 2017 Social Enterprise World Forum in Christchurch was learning about the variety of models for financing and supporting social enterprise ecosystems. For instance, we learned that in Australia and New Zealand, corporations provide significant support to social enterprises. In Scotland, as we all know, the government takes the primary leadership role – an approach that has led to expedited and expansive adoption of social enterprise models.
Here in the United States, we tend to look to foundations to fund ecosystem development utilizing philanthropic capacity-building dollars. This is the model interSector Partners, L3C (and our partner JVoyles Nonprofit Consulting) leveraged in 2012 to build the Colorado Nonprofit Social Enterprise Exchange (The Exchange) – an incubator for nonprofits wishing to develop and launch social enterprises – in Denver, Colorado.
To launch and sustain the social enterprise training and education program, we engaged the support of local foundations that became true partners in its development. The Denver Foundation, NowHere Fund and Rose Community Foundation took leadership roles in funding allowing us to encourage other funders to be a part of the program. The Exchange would quite literally not exist without this initial and ongoing financial backing.
However, funding wasn’t the only key to the success of The Exchange. It takes a village to build a social enterprise ecosystem and our community came to play. We gathered experts from the foundation, nonprofit, corporate, education, investment, government and established social enterprise worlds to support The Exchange and its nonprofit participants in a wide variety of ways. A few critical roles filled through our networks included:
• Program marketing / promoting
• Cohort selection
• Business mentoring
• Social enterprise tours
• Pitch practice feedback
• Pitch judging
• Showing up
It’s the last – showing up – that turned out to be a major key to success. While 21 nonprofits attended one of three cohort programs (9 months per cohort resulting in a business plan and pitch, with a second year of follow-on support for social enterprise launch), and for a fourth cohort is currently underway; the community showed up. It answered every call to service in an almost-entirely volunteer capacity. This village of experts, colleagues and friends saw the need and potential for a system of social enterprise support, they wanted to be a part of it, and they did what it took.
Beyond supporting The Exchange, however, our program graduates themselves needed help to succeed beyond the cohort – to launch their social enterprises, to make first hires, for inventory, equipment and all of the costs of launching and running an early-stage business. Because The Exchange was built through an ecosystem approach, our graduates had direct lines of access to the very community that showed up to make it all happen. Through this community, new social enterprises accessed capital, mentors, board members and invested customers who are deeply committed to their success. We boast graduates with social enterprises approaching four years in businesses based largely on this ongoing community support.
I look forward to sharing more about The Exchange, how it came together and how it worked, the outcomes of our work and its future direction at the Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF). Most importantly, I am eager to learn from SEWF’s global attendees about proven and emerging models for supporting social enterprises through community and capital in Edinburgh in September.
Caryn is taking part in the workshop ‘Places and Networks – Building Social Enterprise Community and Capital’ on Friday 14th September