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Every social entrepreneur should apply to the Global Social Benefit Incubator. Period.

Monday, Dec. 5, 2011

Your social enterprises are doing great work all over the world and more than likely you could use a little help reaching more people. The Global Social Benefit Incubator (GSBI) at Santa Clara University provides that support to anybody who submits an application. That’s right. Come one, come all (social entrepreneurs) to apply to the GSBI and your organization will benefit. Even better, it is free of charge!

What is the one thing you are wishing for your social business this year? Let me guess, funding. Well, the GSBI won’t fund you (sorry), but we will tell you what funders want to know and how to give them the answers they are looking for.

To apply for the GSBI, you must complete three exercises about your venture and plans to scale. Don’t be scared! While this resembles homework in almost every way, trust me, it is good for you, and more importantly, it’s good for your social business. The exercises are designed to cut through the “fluff” and get to the meat of your organization. Every applicant will receive feedback and mentoring from a graduate business student at Santa Clara University who has studied critical success factors for social enterprises.

The first exercise asks you to articulate your value proposition and provide evidence of that value proposition. The question aims to allow the reader to understand what your enterprise is all about, whom you are serving, how far along you are in achieving your mission, and your unique advantages. It can be difficult to succinctly capture why your target customer would choose to buy or use your product or service over the alternatives; however, it is important to be able to do so for many reasons. One reason is funding! Your potential investor will use this as a first filter when deciding whether your venture is of interest.

The purpose of the second exercise is to help the reader understand who your target market is and what your potential impact could be. Understanding your customers is critical to any business, social or not, and identifying the attributes of your beneficiaries will help you understand your enterprise better. The characteristics of your target market also indicate how scalable or replicable your business is, and seeing the potential for growth is critical to any investor.

Exercise three asks you to elaborate on your business model. Investors look for firms that are sustainable, meaning they have positive cash flow, with the potential to be scalable (income growing faster than expenses). Whether your organization is for-profit, non-profit, or a hybrid, a scalable business model will show a credible income model. In social ventures, income can be earned or contributed. Showing at least partial earned income model reveals some dependence from contributed income (donations and grants), which means that a funder has a much better chance of recovering their investment. It also shows that there is actual demand for your product or service.

Your potential investors and partners are looking for insights into your value proposition, target market and business model, and our ten years of experience has taught us how to help you think through these issues. Skills are built through repetition, and if anything, applying for the GSBI is good practice in answering tough questions that aim to get to the root of what your business is all about. By dedicating some of your time and brainpower this winter to completing all three exercises (heck, even if you only complete one) at the very least you will get honest, constructive feedback from an MBA student or graduate with practical business knowledge, and you will have refined your understanding of and pitch for your own organization. At best, you will be selected as a part of the GSBI Class of 2012 and join the ranks of the 139 alumni who have come through the GSBI since it’s inception in 2003 and who have collectively impacted more than 70 million people.

Learn more about the GSBI by visiting our website, download the application beginning December 6th, and be sure to apply starting January 3, 2012.

Cassandra Thomassin is the Manager of the Global Social Benefit Incubator (GSBI) at Santa Clara University’s Center for Science, Technology, and Society (CSTS). She graduated from Menlo College magna cum laude with a degree in business management and from Santa Clara University's MBA program with concentrations in Entrepreneurship and Leading People and Organizations. Prior to becoming the program manager, Cassandra worked as as a research analyst for CSTS while pursuing her graduate studies.


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