During TechCon 2016, the yearly gathering of the USAID Higher Education Solutions Network, two SEAD innovators, Zeena Johar, founder of SughaVazhvu, and Nick Pearson, founder of Jacaranda Health, spoke on this very issue during the panel session Get Ready for Funding. The panel also included Jennifer Potts, Deputy Director of Innovations in Healthcare, and Cathy Clark, Director of the CASE Initiative on Impact Investing and Co-Principal Investigator of SEAD.
These innovators, while working on different innovations and markets, experienced similar stories with regards to funding their ventures. SughaVazhvu is a healthcare venture based in India that offers low-cost primary healthcare services to underserved populations through their unique clinic system. Jacaranda Health, meanwhile, operates a chain of clinics focused on reproductive health services for low income women in urban centers in Kenya.
Impact investors care about social or environmental impact as well as the financial aspects of a social venture which need to be sustainable enough to scale. Johar and Pearson both mentioned the importance of unit economics and nailing that down during the starting period of the venture. The speakers emphasized the importance of being strategic and intentional with the capital you raise.
Cathy Clark also hit on three important questions entrepreneurs need to ask themselves while raising funds: how easy is it for you to access the capital you need, what conditions does your capital have and is it working for you, and is what you’re raising now helping to make raising funding in the future easier.
SEAD and CASE have created online modules called Smart Impact Capital to assist social entrepreneurs in the capital raising process trying to answer these questions. Currently, there are three modules available and more are being developed. It is exciting to see the innovative ways in which investors and academic institutions are coming together to support entrepreneurs to get the kind of capital they need.