Competition to seed social entrepreneurs

Susan Daniel
Susan Daniel

Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Since it began operating in 2005, Social Venture Partners Charlotte has enlisted 80 investment “partners” and contributed over $500,000 to support and develop local social initiatives or nonprofits that address community needs.

Now, in an effort to expand its work, SVP Charlotte is launching a competition to find and promote social enterprise in the region.

Known as SEED20, the effort will culminate in March when finalists will pitch their ideas in a competition for a prize pool of $30,000 contributed by Wells Fargo and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

“We wanted an efficient, compelling way to spotlight our region’s best social entrepreneurs,” says Susan Daniel, executive director of SVP Charlotte.

Partners in SVP Charlotte, which is one of 25 affiliates throughout the U.S. of an organization launched in Seattle in 1997, consist of one- or two-person teams, each of which makes a two-year commitment to contribute to an investment pool from which grants are made to local nonprofits.

Partner teams contribute $5,000 or $2,500 a year, based on their ages, and all of them take an active role in supporting the causes that receive grants.

“The partners support promising social initiatives and with the collective investment of their time, skills, creativity and money, usually over a period of several years,” says Daniel.

The kinds of initiatives SVP Charlotte has supported include the Nurse-Family Partnership, a program of the nonprofit Care Ring that provides intensive home visits by nurses to first-time, low-income mothers.

To help expand that program so it could have a bigger impact, SVP Charlotte contributed $55,000 a year for two years to support development of an expansion strategy and the hiring of a half-time fundraiser to secure funds for the expansion.

SVP Charlotte also launched its own tutoring initiative a year ago for under-achieving students in three Charlotte-Mecklenburg elementary schools, an effort that has been expanded to five low-income schools this year and enlists SVP Partners and other individuals from the community as tutors.

Based on applications that must be submitted by Dec. 8, a selection committee for the new Social Entrepreneurs Empowered 20 competition, or SEED20, will pick 20 semi-finalists who will receive seven weeks of feedback and coaching in January and February.

The selection committee then will select 10 finalists, all of whom will get three minutes each to pitch their ideas at a public event on March 6, with three or four likely to divvy up the $30,000 prize pool.

Other investors include the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and Topics Education, the strategic branding and marketing partner for the competition, which SVP Charlotte plans to make an annual event.

The competition “aligns very well with the mission of Social Venture Partners to support innovative people and nonprofits who are tackling social problems,” Daniels says.

“We believe the challenges in the region are great,” she says, “but so are the innovative, broad-minded thinkers and doers who can address these challenges.”

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