Interest in social enterprises is growing—and believe it or not (some entrepreneurs may have their doubts), so is the pool of capital available to them.
The broad field of impact investing—which involves directing capital to enterprises that are doing good, rather than simply screening out companies that have strong negative effects—is projected to grow by a billion dollars this year. Impact investors surveyed for a J.P. Morgan and the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) report released in January said they plan to commit $9 billion to impact investing in 2013, up from $8 billion in 2012.
Of course, much of that money will go to larger, more established businesses, not to emerging social enterprises. But RSF Social Finance does finance social enterprises that need growth capital—and our investment funds mirror the broader trend. RSF’s main investment vehicle, the Social Investment Fund (SIF), grew 20 percent in 2012, to $90.5 million.
In addition to a larger pool of capital, several other trends are creating opportunities for social entrepreneurs:
- There’s a growing focus on developing social entrepreneurs through the use of accelerators and technical assistance groups. Some examples are Village Capital, Ashoka Fellowships, and Hub Ventures.
- Investors are looking at alternative forms of investing, including royalty payments.
- There’s increased interest in investing regionally, specifically in the United States.
What are investors looking for?
Many of the investment organizations funding social enterprises specialize in particular niches, or work on a few key focus areas at a time. If you’re seeking capital, your first stop should be a funder that specializes in your area—they’re more likely to understand the business opportunity, and can plug you into a valuable network. For example, one of RSF’s current focus areas is the creation, support and expansion of decentralized, regional food processing and distribution operations, because they contribute to strong local economies by providing markets for small and midsize farmers, helping with the logistics of aggregating food from multiple suppliers across a region, and serving as market creators by connecting producers with local food buyers. We’re also seeking to build relationships with impact-making borrowers in our other two focus areas: ecological stewardship, and education and the arts.
What qualifies as a social enterprise?
Every funder has their own criteria, but ability to demonstrate impact and capacity to run a successful business will probably always be top of the list. RSF defines a social enterprise as a for-profit or non-profit venture in which the economic activity is a means toward creating significant social or ecological impact. We vet borrowers for:
- Social and ecological impact for public benefit: Is the organization’s economic activity a means toward directly solving or alleviating society’s greatest challenges in our focus areas?
- Advocacy for change: Is the organization an advocate for or does it demonstrate social change in its field? Does the organization hold itself accountable and is leadership committed to the social mission?
- Capacity to accomplish the mission: Does the organization have the capacity to tackle the problem? Do its activities have the potential for scale?
- Commitment to financial and operational sustainability: Is management committed to and capable of growing a profitable or self-sustaining independent enterprise? Could RSF’s involvement be catalytic? Does the business meet high standards for workplace and environmental practices?
- Community building: Is the organization building a community committed to its success?
If you have an enterprise that meets those criteria and needs a finance partner to reach the next level, please get in touch. If you’re not there yet, I encourage you to take advantage of the resources available to social enterprises. There’s never been a better time to be a social entrepreneur.
Article by Don Shaffer, President & CEO of RSF Social Finance, as well as an alumni speaker at the Sustainable Industries Economic Forum.
Article appearing courtesy 3BL Media.