Slow Money SoCal is thrilled to be sponsoring the Food Track for the SocEnt Challenge 2016. A gentle and supportive ‘shark tank’ for social enterprise, the Challenge offers several months of customized technical assistance, culminating in a Symposium in May attended by potential investors. The due diligence process and prize money is designed to catalyze additional investments from individual and institutional “impact investors” who want their money to provide financial AND social return on investment.
The SocEnt Challenge is based on a highly successful venture competition model first done in Michigan in 2013. Slow Money member Betsy Densmore, of Academies for Social Entrepreneurship is managing the program, backed by local foundations and businesses who prioritize community development and sustainability. Luis Gutierrez and his nonprofit, COMPRA was one of the finalists for the SocEnt Challenge. COMPRA was competing on the Food Track.
Slow Money SoCal Director of Investment Programs, Michelle Greenwood, caught up with Luis after the SocEnt Challenge Showdown at a favorite Los Angles eatery where he was able to answer a few questions about his experience with the Challenge over pie.
- Luis, can you explain a little about COMPRA and how you’ve combined being a nonprofit with some for profit goals making yourself a social enterprise?
Answer: We look at COMPRA as an economic development tool. We designed COMPRA to be just as much a valuable service to small market owners, as it is a way for residents in low-income neighborhoods to gain increased access to high-quality fruits and vegetables at affordable prices. It’s a program that was developed in partnership by LURN, the Los Angeles Food Policy Council (LAFPC) and the Asian Pacific Islander Obesity Prevention Alliance (APIOPA). All three organizations are nonprofit entities. We currently run COMPRA using a shared leadership approach, but are working to develop COMPRA into it’s own, self-sustaining enterprise.
- Can you say why the SocEnt Challenge was appealing for a social enterprise?
Answer: I don’t want to speak for other participants, but for us, we found a ton of value in the preparation leading up to the event. It forced us out of our comfort zone by making us think more about the future of the program and how we can eventually get it to a point where it’s still serving those most in need and also returning some kind of profit (or at least generate enough revenue to break evenly consistently). At the moment, we have a lot of grant funding for this project – we’re very grateful that we have incredible amounts of support, but we don’t want to rely on that funding alone to keep this project going.
- Luis, out of nearly 100 entries, you made it to the semifinals, can you talk a little bit about the process, how it differed from other pitch fests as well as what you learned by getting to the semifinals?
Answer: Believe it or not, this was our first time participating in a pitch fest! We enjoyed the process. We were assigned a mentor with a tremendous amount of produce and grocery industry knowledge. At the semifinals, we met a lot of other, great businesses/organizations with some incredible ideas. We’re hoping to connect with a few of them and explore ways to work with them in the near future.
- Unfortunately, you weren’t selected to be among the top three SocEnt Challenge contestants that will be pitching at the upcoming SocEnt Challenge Symposium and Meet the Investor’s Day, but organizer, Betsy Densmore concluded the Challenge Showdown by reminding folks that you were all part of the growing social enterprise community and you could continue to count on the support you need. What did that mean for you and COMPRA?
Answer: To us, it means we’re part of an awesome network of people that do not settle for anything that’s “business as usual.” These are incredibly passionate entrepreneurs that want to genuinely innovate and do good. We’re really excited to meet more of these individuals and find ways to collaborate.
- So what’s next for COMPRA?
Answer: Growth. We have plans for increasing the number of stores we work with and we also have plans to include “value-add” products that we think will sell really well and are incredibly healthy and convenient. We’re also exploring new ways to increase our program efficiency so that we can make sure we’re providing our customers with the best possible prices. We’re doing this because really want to improve the landscape of food options in low-income neighborhoods. We want to make eating healthy affordable and easy.
Michelle Greenwood serves as Director of Investment Programs for Slow Money SoCal and was recently appointed for a six-month position as a Kiva Zip Small Business Advisor. She resides in Dana Point, California and can be reached for questions about Slow Money, LINC, Kiva at firstname.lastname@example.org. Michelle is also available for comment on the ideas and community developing around local investing.