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Oct 10, 2016

Social Entrepreneurship Needs More Women to Engage

Mary Johnson wrote recently for Bizwomen about a woman entrepreneur who was accepted into a prominent accelerator program and “for two years in a row found herself pitching her business to the same room of older white men.  The men had money to give, which was good.  But there were misunderstandings about market opportunity, the vision behind the potential consumer demand, and avenues for growth.”

The solution was to create an accelerator just for women, the Babson College Women Innovating Now Lab (WIN Lab), an eight-month accelerator program.  Similarly, on the investment side, I have long supported Pipeline Angels, a program to develop women as the investors in woman-owned new businesses.

Both developments are good, but it is unfortunate that women need to create their own programs rather than have us all do a better job to have gender diversity in the entrepreneurs as well as gender diversity in the investors.  The Center for Social Enterprise Development is just finishing its 8-month accelerator SE Catalyst (I struggle with calling 8 months an accelerator; I prefer to call these appropriately longer programs immersion programs).  Three out of the five nonprofit entrepreneurs are women in this program.

Social enterprise is still so young in our community that the impact investor community does not yet exist but the local high tech angel investment community is still dominated by “older white men.”  To try to build up that investor community we are creating a new event this month that we call the Nonprofit Sustainability Showcase.  This program will feature a successful nonprofit social entrepreneur from Nashville (a woman by the way), the five new nonprofit graduates of our accelerator, and five local nonprofits that have successfully used social enterprise to sustain their nonprofit missions.  By providing the public and investment community the opportunity to see so many examples of entrepreneurial innovation by nonprofits, I hope we can build some momentum for a local impact investor community to emerge.  Seating is limited for this free event, so if you are a potential investor, please register now.

Last month I blogged about the Thompson-Reuters poll that ranked the US #12 for public understanding of social enterprise even though the US ranked #1 for attracting skilled staff and #2 for gaining momentum.  I wonder if that limited public understanding is one reason for the difficulty in attracting women of means to invest in social enterprise, whether led by a woman or a man.

I have to believe that encouraging both men and women to work jointly to start and invest in social enterprise will be more successful than creating gender-isolated programs.  While high tech has enough single-gender momentum to need some gender catch up, social enterprise is still young enough for us to build gender diversity from the ground up.  Let’s work to make that happen!

The first place to start is to build public awareness of what social enterprise is and how it benefits our economy and our community.  You can do your part by sharing our many posts on Facebook, Twitter, and on our website.

Allen Proctor, President & CEO

Center for Social Enterprise Devlopment