Last Friday was the Global Social Venture Competition finals in Berkeley. 15 student teams from around the world presented their best ideas for how to change the world. It was inspiring to hear students from Indonesia, New Zealand, London, US, Mali, India, and many more countries speak about their business concepts. 10 of the teams focused on “blended” value plans (strong social impact and business feasibility) and 5 of the teams focused on SIA (how to best articulate the social impact of their venture).
The winning blended value team, EcoFaeBricks, was by far my favorite. I was silently (and sometimes not so silently) rooting for them throughout the day, especially during the judging deliberation. Their concept: take cow dung, add chemical stablizers to convert the dung into clay, and then fire the new cow dung-clay into bricks for housing. Lighter, stronger, odorless bricks, made out of a waste material. And to top it off, the group was planning on using biogas as their energy source for running the brick factories. So closed loop cycle on top of that! How can you beat that?!
Well, in fact many of the judges had mixed opinions on the winner. There were a lot of other strong contenders, from microhealth insurance in Africa to counterfeit drug scratch-off labels to re-purposed solar cooking bags. And it was interesting to hear the judges debate the different merits of each plan — some focused on the management team (were these the right people to lead the efforts? did they have the right background and knowledge base to be successful?), some on the depth of social impact (which will touch more people? which are addressing root causes of poverty or merely applying a band-aid on a social issue), some on the commercial feasibility and scale (can this business be applied to many different countries, groups? will it be self-sustainaining? will it generate a healthy return for a VC firm?)
Many of these questions were things that we have debated over the last few months during my first year at Haaas. And I felt so lucky that these questions were ones that we have repeatedly discussed and debated over the course of the year. Hearing other “experts” in the room- from Victoria Hale who founded One World Health, to Varun Sahni from Acumen Fund, to Sam Moss from Grey Ghost Ventures (social VC) — and realizing that my classmates, professors, and guest speakers have the same caliber and depth of opinion was a truly remarkable thing. It’s been a fantastic learning experience and I’m looking forward to another year of more learning!
More info about the competition on NextBillion: http://www.nextbillion.net/blog/2009/04/27/global-social-venture-competition-all-it-takes-is-one-person-wit