Sparkseed’s Dangerously Ambitious conference examines the support structures needed for social entrepreneurship
This past weekend, 60 social entrepreneurs, investors, and business leaders got together in Sunnyvale, California for Dangerously Ambitious, a three-day “un-conference” that included skydiving, urban adventure games, and a rapid fire Twitter-inspired pitch procession. College entrepreneur incubator Sparkseed hosted the event, in line with founder Mike Del Ponte’s aspiration to apply the culture of Silicon Valley to social entrepreneurship.
The tech industry has flourished in places like Silicon Valley and Bangalore, India, for example, because of the rich ecosystems that have evolved to support entrepreneurship. If you’re a 19-year-old college student with a vision for building a billion-dollar business, you have investors, incubators, business services, supportive regulations and collaborative opportunities with top universities. There’s support across the spectrum, from family and friends to acquisition to IPO. But if you’re a 19-year-old college student who wants to start a social business that will impact a billion lives, there’s philanthropy, a little social investing, lots of ‘calls for action,’ but not much actual infrastructure. We have no shortage of talent or motivation, but many people who would be attracted to social entrepreneurship cannot see the pathway ahead. They don’t know how to unleash their potential in this direction, so many abandon it.
Here’s the kind of infrastructure that could help most:
- Incubators and accelerators: Physical spaces where people can gather, gain knowledge from working alongside one another, participate in programs that provide guidance, and connect with communities that help early stage companies and first-time entrepreneurs get going.
- Investors: From family and friends to early stage seed investors to the A, B, C, and mezzanine rounds. We need growth funding, and an opportunity for acquisitions in the public market for IPOs. We need social investors to recognize that even risky long term or loss-making social investments can offer better social returns than conventional philanthropy. We need entrepreneurs to think beyond the strict for- and not-for-profit categories. We need exit opportunities.
- Service providers: Lawyers, designers, advertisers, human resources. The tech industry has boilerplate legal documents and free legal services in exchange for equity. It also has access to PR, advertising, and academia.
- We need to have more cross-disciplinary events like Dangerously Ambitious to bring people together who possess different pieces of the puzzle. During this event, a dozen people including social entrepreneurs working in Africa, a White House representative, a veteran entrepreneur-turned-philanthropist, and a business expert who works with Fortune 10 companies sat in a room at 3 a.m. brainstorming. Each of these players brings different understandings and relationships. We need to bring them all together to construct whole solutions.