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Global Social Benefit Incubator Takes Energy Entrepreneurs to the Next Level
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May 01, 2013

Global Social Benefit Incubator Takes Energy Entrepreneurs to the Next Level

By Cheryl Kaften
TMCnet Contributor

When pressing social problems and innovative entrepreneurs collide, dramatic change is possible. That’s exactly what is happening at Santa Clara University’s Center for Science, Technology, and Society (CSTS) in California, which has announced the latest group of 15 social enterprises chosen to receive training through its signature Global Social Benefit Incubator (GSBI). 

Among the GSBI Class of 2013 will be the creators of an anaerobic digester designed for micro-, small- and medium-sized farms in Mexico and Nicaragua; the India-based developers of an Earth Stove that burns biomass pellets; and the inventors of an affordable pre-paid off-grid electricity meter being used in Peru.

 The newly named GSBI Accelerator program has been revamped to focus on investment-ready social enterprises that have the potential to vastly increase their impact on the lives of the poor—as  the CSTS strives to improve the lives of one billion of the neediest people by 2020. This year’s cohort of 15 was selected through a competitive process that began in November 2012.

GSBI currently offers two distinct development programs to social entrepreneurs: the GSBI Accelerator for more advanced social enterprises and GSBI Online for earlier-stage ventures. Both programs are “high-touch” in terms of personal interaction with program staff and mentors.

In addition to training and support, CSTS matches program participants with mentors from both the Silicon Valley and their respective local country environment in order to ensure an appropriate transfer of knowledge. The Silicon Valley mentors in the program are successful executives, many of whom are former founders of NASDAQ companies or venture capitalists. Local mentors are identified through the school’s networks of partners, alumni, and participants and serve as a local resource and guide.

“As the GSBI enters its 11th year, we have intensified our focus on helping successful social enterprises scale,” said CSTS Executive Director Thane Kreiner, Ph.D. “The 2013 GSBI Accelerator will develop, train, and guide investment-ready social enterprises to rapidly expand their reach.”

“As a long-time GSBI mentor, I have worked with hundreds of social enterprises over the last decade. This is unequivocally the most accomplished cohort I have ever seen,” said Paul Meissner, Ph.D., senior director of the GSBI. “Their momentum reflects how quickly social entrepreneurship is expanding, and how many millions of lives can be impacted by their work.” 

Solar Sister, a woman-to-woman direct-sales distribution system for solar lanterns in rural communities throughout Africa, is an alumnus of the Global Social Benefit Incubator program. (Photo courtesy of GSBI)

The eight-month GSBI Accelerator program began in April and will end in December; the in-residence portion will take place from August 15 through August 23 at Santa Clara University. In addition to mentoring, highly specialized instruction, and intense on-campus education, for the first time this year, the social enterprises are being directly monitored by an elite group of interested funders, the GSBI Impact Investing Partners. While not necessarily committing to funding the ventures, the partners will help participants to evaluate their organizations from a funding perspective. The GSBI Impact Investing Partners include: Accion, Acumen Fund, Bamboo Finance, Beyond Capital Fund, The Eleos Foundation, Emcor Securities, Grassroots Business Fund, Halloran Philanthropies, Hub Ventures, Invested Development, Khosla Impact Fund, KL Felicitas, Skoll Foundation, Toniic, and Village Capital.

In addition to launching this year’s GSBI Accelerator, the CSTS joined with long-time GSBI sponsor Santa Clara-based Applied Materials last year to make a Clinton Global Initiative commitment (see video) to support 18 clean energy social enterprises over the next three years. Including this year’s GSBI Accelerator class and the related online program, GSBI Online, the partners already have reached 15 clean-energy enterprises.

“We want to thank Applied Materials for its ongoing support of the Center and GSBI,” said Meissner. “We are also delighted that eBay (News - Alert) Foundation is sponsoring four enterprises in this year’s cohort: AVANI [India], Drishtee Development and Communication Ltd.[India], Juhudi Kilimo [Kenya], and Kinara Capital [India].”

Edited by Rory J. Thompson

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