Reflections on SOCAP by i-lab Summer Resident
Two weeks ago I had the chance to represent Instiglio, a former summer resident at the Harvard Innovation Lab, at the SOCAP conference. SOCAP, the Social Capital Markets conference, gathers impact investors and social entrepreneurs each year in San Francisco to learn, pitch, invest, and share best practices. I attended as a Social Entrepreneur Scholarship, which SOCAP graciously offers to a select number of social entrepreneurs for a full discount and other generous perks. This blog post is dedicated to three lessons I came away with from attending the conference. The purpose of sharing these lessons is to help future i-lab residents, and the Harvard entrepreneur community as a whole, in their journey as social entrepreneurs – a journey that will undoubtedly take them to many conferences and place them in front of many potential investors.
1. Figure out your goal. A conference like SOCAP will overwhelm you if you do not prepare in advance by defining a goal and using that goal to decide what you will do and what you will avoid. With over 1,600 participants, three days of panels, and side-bar presentations, meetings and receptions, doing everything at SOCAP is impossible. My recommended three-step strategy for a large conference is a) define your goal, b) select meetings and events that most advance your goal, c) aggressively avoid all other meetings and events.
2. Prepare for meetings. The easy thing is to create a pitch, perfect it, and deliver it ad nauseum. The hard thing is to learn about your audience and tailor your pitch to their interests. One investor might like the geographical focus of your work. Another might be interested in an innovative way you structure your financing to achieve your objectives. A third may be fascinated by your use of mobile technology in a development setting. The same pitch might excite one investor and bore another. You might get a second chance to approach that investor or her company, but you shouldn’t bet on it. My recommended strategy here is a) clearly define separate components of your value proposition, b) closely research your potential investors with a focus on their investment criteria and mission, c) tailor your pitch to explain how investment in you helps them advance their mission.
3. Pace yourself. I spoke with several social entrepreneurs who had audacious goals for the first day of the three-day conference and were devastated when they failed to meet those goals. Not everything must happen on day one. One of my most unexpectedly productive meetings happened when I decided to share a cab ride to the airport with two people leaving the SOCAP conference who I had not met before. After the initial meet and greet in the cab, I quickly realized that they are impact investors whose focus aligns with that of a close friend’s social enterprise. Just like that – a connection, a call, and the start of a due diligence process. The lesson is not to lose energy and enthusiasm if the first day does not go as planned.
These lessons sound simple and mundane, but they bear repeating because it is so easy to forget them. I thought I knew them going into the conference, but still I made mistakes on each front and can do better next time.
- Michael Belinsky, Instiglio, October 2012