Today wraps up the Social Entrepreneur track of RISE, Austin’s SXSW-style conference for entrepreneurs. It was a lot of fun putting together the track with Jessica Shortall, with lots of help from Annie Frierson, Suzi Sosa, Andy White and the many amazing, inspiring social entrepreneurs in our area. I’m so impressed with the speakers and panelists that made up the track. From design-thinking for social entrepreneurs, to domestic microfinance, to technology for social impact, to social investing, to balancing mission and profit, and much, much more. It was so great to see those working in the gray area between social impact and entrepreneurship together sharing insights, ideas, knowledge, discussion, debate.
I couldn’t get to all of the sessions in the track, and so I’d love recordings of those I missed. But because RISE is a free conference there is little budget for “extras” like recording equipment and staff. However, I heard a rumor that some of the sessions were unofficial taped. If you know of any taped sessions, let me know, and I’ll post them to this blog. And I will definitely make the case to the organizers of RISE that next year we find a way to tape sessions. Because this content is just too rich to be shared by only the 25-40 people in the room.
So I wanted to share my takeaways from the RISE Social Entrepreneurship track and thoughts about where we go from here.
First, the takeaways:
- There is tremendous interest and energy around social entrepreneurship in Central Texas
- However, there is little infrastructure or eco-system to effectively support those entrepreneurs
- More social entrepreneurs in the track and attending sessions were women (that could entirely be based on the fact that the leaders of the track are women, but I think there’s more to it than that)
- There is a debate about whether social entrepreneurs need to bootstrap as long or as hard as traditional entrepreneurs since the same end reward (financial profit) does not really exist for SEs
- Funders of social entrepreneurs are not present in nearly as many numbers as social entrepreneurs
- An “investment banker” or “broker” vetting and connecting social entrepreneurs to potential investors is a key part of the needed ecosystem
And that’s just a beginning list. There were far too many conversations, insights, war stories, and needs to catalog here.
Which brings me to where we go from here. There is a disconnect for Austin in the realm of social innovation. When I talk with people in the social innovation space outside of Texas they are always interested to hear that I am from Austin and are sure that Austin is well along the path of launching and growing social entrepreneurs. Because of Austin’s reputation for progressive ideas, its wealth, its technology background and its rank as the third largest venture capital city in the country, people assume that social entrepreneurship, which often follows from these things, is burgeoning here. When I tell them that isn’t the case, they are shocked. What is holding Austin back?
We heard some provocative conversations this week and saw some inspiring examples of social entrepreneurs who are making it and funders who are helping them along. But that’s not enough, not even close.
Social entrepreneurs need access to significant funding at every step of the game from seed to growth, whether their model is nonprofit, for-profit or a hybrid. We need to give social entrepreneurs the skills to create solid business strategy around a great idea, language for creating a compelling pitch, infrastructure to grow results. We need to create communities for social entrepreneurs and social investors to interact, network, learn from each other, forge partnerships. But most of all we need to collectively say, it’s not enough. One week a year is not enough. A handful of social entrepreneurs and social investors in a city of 1.7 million is not enough. Social innovation is a growing industry, one that Austin should and must climb on board. I’m not satisfied. I want to see more. A lot more.