Relationship First, Business Second: A Community of Innovative Entrepreneurs

(Image: SVN Spring Conference 2016; Creating art via Innovation Entrepreneur Participant, Late Night Art)

(3BL Media and Just Means) - Choosing the right sustainability conference…Every year as I budget for networking and marketing, the stress I feel over this decision tightens my stomach into a fit of cramps. A dramatic response? Maybe. But you don’t want to blow a couple of thousand dollars and find out you should have been somewhere else, hob knobbing with those industry leaders, those investors, over there.  Social entrepreneurs don’t have this kind of time or money to waste. We need to know we are investing money with the people who understand and appreciate us most. So what if you stopped worrying about the best-fitting conference and instead joined a community of loving and generous pioneers?  They are called the Social Venture Network (SVN). This is a community that’s been disrupting systems long before sustainability held a stake in business.

For over 30 years, the Social Venture Network has corralled conscious businesses together to learn, grow and hold one another accountable to social and environmental change. Each year they host two conferences, a spring event in the West and a fall gathering on the East. But the conferences aren’t the reason business leaders join as members, many of them for several decades. It’s deep friendship, a commitment to shared humanity and a space to learn from the forefathers of sustainability leaders. 

“SVN has a unique DNA. We aren’t focused solely on [investor] matchmaking. Rather, we operate from a place of relationship. Our core DNA is relationship first, business second. We have shared concerns, a shared desire to change the world. SVN’s approach is from a whole person model, both the personal and the professional,” says Donna Daniels, Deputy Director of SVN.

To foster the growth of a diverse generation of leaders, SVN launched the Innovation Entrepreneurs Program with the focus on identifying women entrepreneurs, young entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs of color who are leveraging business for the greater good. The Innovation Entrepreneurs Program provides startups with annual revenues in the range of $500K-$1MM to participate with SVN and its members for one year. Applicants are chosen for the program based on industry, impact and goals. They are currently accepting applications for the fourth cohort, particularly from renewable energy and tech companies. What’s the benefit of joining a cohort of SVN Innovation Entrepreneurs?

  • Free access to one conference with a discount on the second gathering
  • Peer-to-peer coaching
  • Quarterly coaching from a panel of SVN members
  • Introductions to members of the network
  • Promotion and marketing services

An Innovatiion Entrepreneur participant gets a taste of SVN membership and access to learn from the decades of wisdom in the community. There’s a commitment among SVN members to be generous, to give and to receive to and from one another; it’s an energy you sense your first night at an SVN gathering. Each conference offers Innovation Entrepreneurs special gatherings to learn from like-minded innovators like organic and non-GMO leader, Gary Hirshberg, chairman and former president of Stonyfield Farm and longtime SVN member. Hirschberg vulnerably shared his startup journey and the stresses it put on his personal and professional life."

“Our members are willing to tell the story, the warts and all,” says Daniels. “Gary’s story was a lot of challenges. He almost closed down the business and he shared how he rallied to keep going. It’s this authenticity of the members and their desire for partnerships grounded in real mutual respect that makes SVN so unique.”

SVN supports young and diverse entrepreneurs as a way to decentralize wealth and open investment to women and entrepreneurs of color who have traditionally been held away from capital. The Innovation Entrepreneur program also creates a more dynamic community.

“For a network that didn’t start out as diverse, this won’t magically happen,” says Daniels. “Structurally, it’s really important to widen the range of people in our network. It’s a demographic reality. How can we as a network fire up and support the greatest generation [of entrepreneurs] to deal with our greatest challenges? 

This is why I love SVN. They are a loving community of box-breaking disrupters who are intentional about supporting and challenging one another. Innovative Entrepreneurs quickly experience the love.  For example, Nona Lim found support from a former Mighty Leaf Tea founder in packaging design and format. CORE Foods worked with SVN members to develop their story; Kiverdi developed a relationship with Big Path Capital as they planned for a capital raise. Supportive stories like this are common in the SVN community; they emerge after the conferences are over. Daniels is right. Friendship is the crux of SVN. And, these are some of the most fun friends you’ll ever make. It’s a well-known secret that SVN members love to have fun. Leave the suit jacket at home and rest up a week ahead of time. After conference hours involve talent After conference hours involve live music, artistic experiences and dance parties. Celebrations sustain wee into the morning.

Still curious about SVN and becoming an Innovatiion Entrepreneur participant? Meet the current cohort. Apply for the Fall 2016 Innovation Entrepreneur cohort. Join the community at the Fall 2016 conference in Philadelphia, Nov. 2-5. Read about Innovatiion Entrepreneur participants Starvation Alley and Mission Cheese.