Starter Guide for Social Entrepreneurs – MIT Social Entrepreneurship Alumni Group (SEAG) Webinar


>>Hi, I’m Whitney Espich, the CEO
of the MIT Alumni Association. and I hope you enjoy this digital production created for alumni and friends like you. Juan: Good morning, good afternoon, or good
evening depending on where in the world your joining us from. We’re very excited to have such
a broad intersection of people from all over the country and the world joining us here today for our very first social entrepreneurship track webinar: Starter Guide
for Social Entrepreneurs. For those who are participating in the MIT
SEAG event for the first time, our mission is promote MIT community’s participation in
creating, fostering, and investing in social enterprises that are fulfilling UN Sustainable
Development Goals. We have a lot of exciting programs and activities
coming up in the next couple of months, as well as some great networking opportunities
in our LinkedIn group. Don’t worry, we will be sending out all of
these slides after the presentation and this will be on YouTube in about a week. If you are an MIT affiliate, we encourage
you to please join us through both the MIT Alumni Association group and also through
the MIT SEAG LinkedIn group. You will have these slides so the links will
work you will be able to click through and join us. If you have any questions, feel free to contact
me. Before we get to our presenters, I want to
give some logistics and lay out what we are going to be doing today. If you have any questions, please post them
to the zoom Q&A using the Q&A button at any time. We will be questioning those — collecting
those questions. Our first speaker will speak for 15 to 20
minutes and then a five minute Q&A session. The next speaker, same thing, 15 or 20 minutes
followed by a five minute Q&A session. At the end, we will wrap up, hopefully we
will have time for any remaining questions. At the end of the webinar come at the end
of the hour, you can follow us to our LinkedIn group and we will be having some discussions
as well as answering questions and the opportunity to collect with several inspiring entrepreneurs. Please, join us there. All right, now let’s get to the best part,
our amazing speakers. First, we will have Jackie Stenson, cofounder
and CEO of Essmart followed by the Natasha Friedus. Jackie, I will let you take it away. Jackie: Thank you. Let me share my screen with everybody. Hi, everybody. It is great to be here for the first webinar. Thank you for having me. My name is Jackie. I am the cofounder and CEO of Essmart. We are here to talk about our entrepreneurial
journey. For me, that journey very much started at
MIT. I wasn’t actually a student at MIT ever, but
I was a student, an undergraduate at Harvard and cross-referenced with MIT. I spent a lot of time at D lab, which I feel
is best known for derailing the careers of a much everybody that goes through it we all
end up working in social to print worship and social impact or international development
in some way, shape, or form. Amy Smith was a huge part of that. This is a photo of when I started at D lab. This is from my trip. I worked and did my trip to Donna and focused
on recycling — Ghana and focused on recycling. I went to focus on my entire undergraduate
I went to focus on my entire undergraduate career and mechanical engineer on technologies
that could create social impact. This was my undergrad thesis project. Once again, working with Amy in D lab, focusing
on a chimney to reduce indoor air pollution for rural thatched roof houses in southern
Africa. I was fortunate and after I graduated, I received
something that is pretty unique to Harvard, postgraduate traveling fellowship. They basically give you a lump sum of money
to do purposeful travel for a year. For me, that ended up being two years and
I essentially hitchhiked from — down to South Africa. This was the truck I ended up riding on from
the border between Ethiopia and Kenya down to Nairobi, about a two day trip. There is a cattle truck and a grain truck. I highly recommend you get the grain truck
for anyone who wants to do this trip in the future. The purpose was to work with different types
of socially impactful technologies. As an engineer, that is what I was passionate
about. I worked with plastics recycling, water pumps,
fellow MIT D lab alumni global cycle solutions in Tanzania. I worked with bicycle ambulances, among a
few other projects. I started to see a common trend in a lot of
the technologies I was working with as I was trying to figure out which product I was most
passionate about. This is an example. It is a road in the northern part of Zambia. It is also the photo behind me. I did not realize that. Some of the photos I have taken, this is one
I took on my trip. Because the roads flood during the rainy season,
which is what this road is doing, you need alternative means of transport, especially
forgetting to hospitals. The product I was working with is bicycle
ambulance. You might be able to see this particular ambulance,
even though it looks like it is being used right now, it is not because the wheel is
flat. This bicycle ambulance was in pretty good
shape. Once a clinic I was working with had looked
like this. It looks OK, but if you look closer, the wheel
is flat and worked. In general, there were not any funds for maintenance
budgeted in this ambulance was not used at all. This ambulance was in great condition because
the next when I found looked like this. It was being used to hold on someone’s corrugated
iron roof. This became symptomatic for me of a larger
challenge of all of these technologies I knew existed being really high impact potential,
but not actually reaching or being used by the people for whom they were intended. As an engineer, that became increasingly frustrating
for me. Why was I designing technologies when they
were not reaching people? This was a slow burn for me to switch from
engineering to sort of the next stage. One of the main turning points was in Malawi
I stumbled upon this report written by UNICEF. I flipped through and I see lots of images
of technologies we had worked with, broken washer pumps, but the date on the report was
from 1983. This cemented for me the idea that we had
often been reinventing the wheel over and over again. And why were we spending so much resources
on new products and were not getting these technologies to people in a way that was sustainable
so they were actually — that became I sort of passion and drive. That was a really big gearshift for me. But it took two years of overland travel to
get there after my undergraduate degree. Just to sort of talk about the scale of this
challenge, it wasn’t just the technologies I was working with. If you look at these particular products,
there are hundreds of more. I started doing my research not just within
the deal Avenue ecosystem, but throughout the entire world, throughout other countries
and other parts of the U.S. and other parts of the world getting made locally. There were hundreds of technologies out there. Why weren’t these creating the impact that
I really thought they had? So the main conclusions for me was that products
do not equal impact. This was sort of a hard thing to realize as
an engineer. Because this is really important in the MIT
alumni network, I think it is important we write this in a couple of languages so that
everybody can understand the importance of this statement. This prompted me to my next step, which was
to go back to do a masters, something I never intended on doing, and to understand technology
distribution channels. How is Coca-Cola reaching every single corner
of the world and a solar light isn’t? How are motorbikes ubiquitous in certain parts
of the world and a clean cookstove is not? In the millions of dollars in funding we have
ported to the clean cookstove alliance hasn’t actually yielded widespread adoption. This was the entire subject of my Masters
dissertation. I explored strategies that already existed. I look at how NGOs were getting products out
to people come often through a buy one get one model or donation model. I looked at how governments were doing it
and trying to incentivize people. It was often short-term products — projects. Funding ran dry and because they needed to
meet certain goals, products might have been given away and therefore people were not actually
buying the products or feeling ownership or taking care of it. I looked at how micro-finance institutions
and banks were subsidizing some of these products, as well as some of the most popular model
out there at the time, which was direct sales force. Going door-to-door in different environments
to actually sell these products. These all had challenges, specifically direct
sales force where retaining and recruiting good salespeople is incredibly resource-intensive. Often people have a limitation in their ability
of getting new people to buy products. They might be able to reach the 100 people
they know in their village, but beyond that, it does not really scale. It might look good for a short period of time,
but it can potentially become stagnant. So all taken together, all of these models,
they had some flaw to meet. The existing social enterprise models were
not cutting it. But there were lots of models that were reaching
the last mile. And that was Coca-Cola, Unilever with their
shampoo packets, etc. They were reaching at through local retail
shops. So I became to question for my Masters, why
can’t we do the same for a different subset of products? For durable, socially impactful products? Why aren’t they plugging into existing retail
channels? What can we do to make that possible? This is where the seeds for Essmart began. Keep in mind, this is a few years, three or
four years after I originally started looking at socially impactful technologies. Specifically, I started shifting my focus
in part because potential and in part because of the people surrounding me to India, where
there are approximately 15 million local mom-and-pop retail shops. There are about 1.2 billion, 90% — 1.2 billion
Indians who spent about $500 billion annually in these retail shops. It accounts for about 90% of the retail space. So this was the starting point for Essmart,
the foundation, looking at local retail shops and how we can actually turn local retail
shops into active agents of change in their community and selling points for durable,
innovative, socially impactful products. Essentially, how can we take a traditional
last mile distribution retail channel and make it appropriate for social impact. That is where Essmart began. It did not begin because I wanted to start
something. I had no intention of ever being an entrepreneur. I was always entrepreneurial, starting chapters
of organizations and leading organizations, but before Essmart came about, I hadn’t ever
thought about the word entrepreneur about — something I would describe myself. I started Essmart because I felt there was
a need that really had not been filled by existing organizations. Essmart was designed to sort of bridge that
gap in the supply chain. I will take a couple of minutes quickly and
tell you exactly what we do. We basically fell that gap in the supply chain
with three things — demonstrations, distribution, and guarantees. These are the three things that are really
needed to move innovative, durable, socially impactful products out to the last mile. The distribution piece is something that Unilever
and Coca-Cola are really good at, but the marketing and the demonstration and the education
required to move durable products is different than it is for fast-moving consumer goods. The after sales service, the guarantees so
that bicycle ambulance does not break but is used, that is incredibly important for
this sector of goods as well. Essmart needs to provide all three things. Essentially, we are process innovation that
fills the supply chain gap with these three services. The easiest way to show you what we do is
show you a couple of quick videos. We have offices in tier three cities where
we stock our products of — our catalog products. We do not make any products ourselves, we
buy and sourced from existing suppliers. We have about 200 different SKUs of products
in our catalog from agricultural products to lighting to cooking products and we purely
service and aggregator of these products. — serve as an aggregator of these products. We use this as a starting point for serving
the broader surrounding realms. This is where our sales teams comes in. We have full-time sales executives who venture
out from our offices every day on motorbikes. They go around and build relationships with
the local retail shops in our network. They can drive up to 50 kilometers a day. They will start off by demonstrating. They will provide marketing and awareness,
set up these little market demos like you are seeing here. It will be next to a local retail slop — retail
shop. We’re helping the customers come essentially
setting up the shops to be agents of change in their community, to be able to distribute
and sell these products themselves without us being there. We are building a network. Once we have set up the shops, we essentially
go into the distribution piece where every sales executive in our network has a root
and they drive around daily on these routes and visit local retail shops. During a normal visit to the shops, we will
deliver products, we will also explain and market new products. We will answer any questions they have, provide
them with any assurance they need so that they can feel comfortable selling these products. We also do our cash transactions. We sell products to the shop owners and they
pay us for the products, then they sell them to their customers. Finally, there is the guarantee piece, which
is everything in our catalog comes with a manufacturer’s warranty. If anything breaks, the end customer can bring
it back to the shop owner in the shop owner will simply let us know on our next visit
and we will either service it or swap it out for replacement products, depending on the
type of servicing that that particular product has. This guarantee piece is incredibly important
because without this, most rural customers and shop owners are not able to overcome the
risk that is needed to adopt something that is otherwise new and innovative. So this becomes, in essence, one of the most
important parts of our branding. We can provide a trusted after sales service
that works so they know their investment in something that is new and unfamiliar will
last. This is one of the most important things to
overcoming that adoption barrier. This is what an actual Essmart shop looks
like. You can see we have our brand, shop owner,
a sales executive who might visit them, and the shop owner will stock both of our catalogs
and our products. How much product they stock is up to the shop
owner. It is based on their space constraints, location,
what types of products they sell, are there hardware store, electrical store, general
store, what do they feel most comfortable with — we let them take the steps they need
to become an active seller of socially impactful products. We use technology as many people in today’s
day and age do. We function — we run everything with proprietary
logistic software. Moving products out to the last mile is complicated. We need to know where everything is at all
times and to be able to send products both up and down the supply chain. It is not a single directional flow of goods,
but a bidirectional flow of goods. That is one of the most important things press
because you need to be able to create adoption at — that requires unique ways of doing that. This is where we operate now. In the last 12 months, we have more than doubled
our geographic footprint. We have 15 offices now. You are missing one on the graph. He just open. We have 15 offices around South India, each
of which serves the surrounding area. Slowly, we are building this connected network
of local retail shops that are able to sell and move life improving products into rural
areas. In total, we have about 1700 shop owners that
work with us and we sold over 88,000 products to date. It has been a significant growing period for
the last 12 months, in particular exciting where we have grown to about 450%. This graph is likely to look very different
in the coming months. It has been a long road to get here as we
have experimented with how you make last maldistribution work. For us, that was — last mile this tradition
work. Unit economics was a key requirement for us
and enabled us to grow. To be honest, we have not been able to do
any of this without the support from MIT. This is one of our early pictures when we
won the IDS challenge, one of the first awards we won. This is some of the seed capital we needed
to get started. Throughout our journey, we have been supported
by the MIT system, whether it was from ideas, whether it was the ideas venture grants, whether
it was through D labs scallops, mentorship or support for not just myself, but also by
cofounders, this has been an essential part of what we have done. I have seen our journey as well grow with
the MIT network. For example, I was not here the development
scaling ventures, but the head of chief innovation officer actually used Essmart as an example
when she was presenting. That was really cool for me to see, even though
I wasn’t actually physically at the conference that year. We have sort of seeing how the network for
as has been so important as we been able to grow through it. That sort of got us to where we are today
with a significantly larger team, a pretty big geographic area we are covering, and sort
of the momentum that will take us forward into the future. That is a little bit about where we are. I might just finish with a couple of points
that I have learned from my entrepreneurial journey today. — journey to date. If I was to give any points of advice for
someone who wanted to start a social enterprise, these would be the points. Let’s see if they will appear. Yes. The first one is cheaper is not always better. This is something we have learned with Essmart
is that just because we have products and we are working inrur al areas doesn’t necessarily
mean people need the cheapest, worst quality products. They want to invest in something that is going
to give them bang for their buck. They want a long life out of these products. And we are moving durable, unfamiliar products,
that is something we have learned. My second point — did I miss one? I feel like I might have missed one. Yes, I did. Sorry. The first point was covering my video. The first point, going backwards, is designed
for wants and not needs. There is a difference. We often in social enterprise are really concerned
with people’s needs. Just because someone needs something doesn’t
mean they wanted. If they are not wanting it, they’re not going
to use it. That aligns with cheaper is not always better,
which we talked about. The third point is being a founder is not
glamorous. For those who want to be a founder, just because
it seems really fun to be on various media forms and lists and things like that, it is
not glamorous. It takes a huge toll on your personal life,
on your sleep, on your health. You are stressed constantly. It is not glamorous. I do Essmart because it is something I’m really
passionate about and I think it is a gap that needs to be filled and no one was filling
it. I think that tends to be some of the longest
lasting motivation in this space. Finally, this is a little counterintuitive
for us, if at first you do not succeed, stick with it. Any people say you pivot really fast, but
Essmart’s model was founded on years and years of research, based on my undergraduate dissertation,
my two years of working and traveling, my Masters dissertation, experimentation, and
then we settled on the retail shop model. Any people gave up on that really fast, but
we stuck with it because we knew we could make it work and that has been what has enabled
us to do something that others haven’t been able to do. If you are really certain about something,
sometimes it just takes a little perseverance to work through it. I think what that, the last thing I will share
is that one of the networks I’ve been a part of had us write a T-shirt once that had a
“blank” is what matters. I think it is important before you start an
entrepreneurial journey, to think about what this answer would be for you. What is it that matters for you? For me, something for my personality in my
entire life, the thing that matters the most for me is risk. I think that is what has helped me to founding
Essmart. Thank you for listening. Juan: Thank you, Jackie. That was wonderful. That was very, very insightful. We have at least one question for now. It says, your distribution seems to be on
motorbike only yet there seems to be larger items in inventory. Are all goods to strip you did on motorbikes? Jackie: Most are. You would be amazed at what you can fit on
a motorbike. You can fit very large objects on motorbikes. For items in our catalog that do not fit on
a motorbike, we sometimes will rent a small tree will or for the day. We can move most of our goods on motorbikes,
for now, at least. Juan: I had a question. Where did the name Essmart come from? Jackie: It actually came from an MIT lecturer. Yost, who runs development ventures came up
with that. We wanted something that was not an acronym. We wanted something fairly easy to pronounce. We were talking about creating a marketplace
for socially impactful products. We like to call these products essential products
or essential technologies. So Essmart was creating an essential marketplace
or a marketplace for these products. Essential market place, Essmart. It is also featured in “Army of darkness”
for those who like zombie movies. Shop smart, shop Essmart. We have a couple of questions coming in. It says, how are you able to figure out the
unit so there products you are selling and I guess? ? What are your margins? Techie: Great question. The most important thing I guess — Jackie: Great question. The most important thing is to understand
how pricing works in India. There’s a maximum price designated by the
suppliers on the box. The margins work the supplier sets a price
for the product and then suppliers can sell that product to us at a discount off of MRP
and we will sell a market to the shop owners who will sell at or slightly below depending
on the product MRP to the end customers. The margins are actually fairly well set just
by the mechanics of the MRP concept in India. For us, figuring out the unit economics was
most important around figuring out what unit was. For example, for us the unit is one of those
distribution centers. On the graph, the map I had, one of those
little points with a circle around it that we would reach that area. The distribution center had to have enough
sales executives, be working with enough shops come and do enough sales every month to cover
their associated costs given the margins of their products. For us, that was the focus was to how can
we make that efficient? What does the right number of shops we should
work with? What is the right number of sales executives
we should work with? What should the focus on the products be and
how much margins do we need these products to be? These products are higher margins than fast-moving
consumer goods. Those products you might only make one Ruby
on something. This you might make 100 or 200 rupees. It was understanding and experiment with numbers
and efficiencies and processes to make one of the singer distribution centers possible. That was our focus. Juan: You have another question. We have a lot of questions now. How much do you travel to the sites versus
leave the work to the local employees? Jackie: Me personally? Juan: Yes, I think so. Or if you have people that travel to the sites
were often. Jackie: I drive in India both on motorbike
and via car. My team argues I’m the most aggressive out
of all of us. I don’t think that is true, but that is what
they claim. For us, the sales executives are the key point
of contact with the retail shops. It is important they maintain that space but
it is also important are shop owners are part of our whole process, giving us feedback,
giving us suggestions for new products, etc. It is really important for our sales executives
to be that sort of face, but for our management also go down and do visits. All of us are in our cars driving around on
a regular basis. One of my cofounders spends I would say 75%
of his time in his car because he really likes it. We make sure we visit the shops on a regular
basis. I visited hundreds of shops personally. We also make sure the sales executives are
the single point of contact because I think that is important for us. I’m a foreigner. I’m a woman. All of these things that come with certain
assumptions. It is important for me that our team, who
all local, is the primary phase and that I can play the role most appropriate for me. Juan: We have a couple of questions but we
hope you have time at the end. If not, we will go to LinkedIn. Let’s go right now with Natasha. We are ready for your presentation. Thank you, Jackie. That was great. Natasha: Hi, everybody. Let me get this up and running. That’s not it. Jackie, that was really great. I really appreciated that. We have a lot in common. I look forward to speaking with you afterwards
and beyond what we have in common in terms of our actual ventures, I think what you spoke
about resonated with me and terms of I never set out to be a startup founder. I also have always had an entrepreneurial
spirit, but I created Needslist because it was a pinpoint for me and no one else was
doing it. I can really connect with that as well. The first thing I want to say is thank you
to the team for having me and for getting this started. I’m excited to see such a spirit of social
entrepreneurialship at MIT and growing. Unlike Jackie, I finished at MIT almost 20
years ago. Started 20 years ago this fall and did my
masters in city planning there. My own roots as a social entrepreneurial predate
my time at MIT. I came out of undergraduate focused on social
justice and equity. I moved to the southwest of the United States
where I was living in Tucson, Arizona, and teaching citizenship and community organizing
to migrants right along the border. It was a very, very un-techie job. Part of my job was to teach a little computer
literacy. These were the old Apple 2E’s and every time
it froze that little bomb came on and the women in my class would say — they were freaked
out something was going to explode. I ended up at MIT, it kind of surprised me,
because I was focused on people and not technology. I was drawn to the Urban planning program
and its focus on place and policy and equity. That is how I ended up at MIT. What also surprised me is during my time at
MIT, I got converted to becoming a technologist. I was really interested in the role of storytelling
to create change in local community’s. While I was at MIT, I got connected with a
department at MIT focused on using alter media and other forms of technology as a way to
engage communities in self-expression and sharing their voice. When I finished MIT, I started my own business
focused on training companies, nonprofits, universities, all cans of public sector as
well on how to create digital stories and use multimedia as a tool for self-expression
and policy change. What happened for me is I was doing all this
work and I ended up doing a lot of it remotely more and more after I had young kids. I was less interested in flying all over,
ironically. I wanted to figure out ways to teach remotely. My family and I ended up moving to Europe. I moved there in 2013. In 2015, I was there the height of the refugee
crisis. I’m working with a lot of groups addressing
migration in the United States and training remotely and feeling like, oh, my gosh, look
at what is happening on my doorstep. I need to do more hands on and get away from
the computer. I asked around and ended up, one of the other
moms at my kids school which a local mosque and she said, you know what? We’re hoping this group of Syrians — we are
helping this group of Syrians, what are you come with us tomorrow? I said OK ended up working with her to start
this local organization to support this group of Syrians. It was the height of the crisis in Europe. There were no tools or systems in place at
the time. It was also the height of when everybody wanted
to help. I had all of these needs changing every single
day. We needed diapers, refrigerator, somebody
to take someone to the doctor, website, money, translators. The same time, everybody was really excited
to help. Coming from a technology background, I started
looking online for tools to match these needs to offers and could not find anything. It was driving me crazy. What ended up happening, people would bring
in all the stuff out of really strong goodwill, but we ended up wasting a terminus amount. It was massive waste and inefficiency. That made no sense to me. I ended up — finally, I figured, why don’t
I try using a tool that already exists? I ended up using wedding registry to communicate
real time needs. That is where Needslist was borne. The more I explored into the system and the
more I understood about what is happening with displacement, I realized the numbers
are increasing dramatically. What is really powerful for me and even talking
about this, when I first started Needslist, this number was two Hunter 50 billion. — was one quarter billion. We are looking at up to one bouillon people
displaced by 2050. We are also looking at an aide system that
is antiquated and barely updated in the last 50 years. The system started after World War II. Right now it is not just individual grassroots
folks like me that are using sticky notes and paper to committee Kate needs, we talking
about governments — community needs, we’re talking about governments, that their way
of matching needs and crisis response is putting all of the needs on sticky notes in one color
on one wall and offers from companies on sticky notes and another wall and connecting them
by string. It is totally nuts. Every morning if you are the middle — see
the disasters even in the last couple of years, all of these disasters are coordinated by
conference calls that are not recorded, not zoom calls. Somebody is taking nose and emails them afterwards. If you’re lucky, you get a Google sheet. The need for using technology for this is
vast. It has been a big motivation of why we have
created Needslist. What we are building is a real-time marketplace
to match needs and offers. We provide specific needs, supply needs, human
resource or service needs, funding needs, also shipping/transportation, and those needs
are all matched with offers from the private sector. It is all matched in real time. It is a lot of technology we see everywhere
else, but being used to address this very specific problem of immediate crisis relief
and longer-term humanitarian aid. One thing we found also is that a lot of companies
who want to help will immediately donate after disaster, which is great, right? What happens is the demand far outweighs that
supply. You will get someone like Procter & Gamble
donating diapers, but then all of the nonprofits on the ground end up paying retail for the
remainder of the diapers they need. What we’ve built in is the opportunity for
companies to not just donate in kind, but also to give discounts to nonprofits through
our platform. That is part of our business model as well. They essentially are paying us to be the preferred
supplier to the platform. Down the road, what we’re looking at is our
vision is to bring she learning and predictive modeling based on real-time local data to
crisis response and humanitarian aid so we can understand what is needed before the crisis
hits, start repositioning stock, start identifying the supply chains, and basically rapidly increase
efficiency. If you look at the local level, all of this
data about what has been needed is being generated time and again but every time there’s is a
crisis, we are basically re-creating the wheel. We want to aggregate the state at one place,
layering it with other forms of data, then using artificial intelligence to do a much
better job around understanding what the needs are. To date, we have had users on our platform
have met over 100,000 needs that represents over $1.2 million of resources. They have gone to local nonprofits in 20 countries. What is really key here is to understand how
global aid works. Currently, over 98% of aid does not go to
local agencies. It goes to national NGOs or to international
NGOs. What we’re trying to do as well as create
efficiency, is move aid to the local nonprofits who are there before, during, and after the
crisis hits. For me, that is a central piece of building
communities. I did not think about it this way when I started
Needslist, but the longer I get involved and see the connection between humanitarian aid
and crisis response and long-term recovery and economic development, I am kind of very
much reconnected to my times at MIT and thinking about open planning and all those pieces. I also think there is a tremendous opportunity
when you look at how we rebuild after a crisis hits, to rebuild in a much more sustainable
long-term resilient ways. We have also been growing really quickly over
the last couple of years. In September, it has been quite a season for
us because we got a call from USAID in response to hurricane zurian asking if we could use
Needslist, if they could use Needslist to engage the private sector in the response
in the Bahamas around Hurricane Dorian. That has been exciting for us. We’re in the process of matching needs to
offers in the Bahamas with companies that call in so they do not have to rely on sticky
notes or a hotline anymore. We are really hoping this is just the beginning
as we grow. We are a membership-based model. We have nonprofits, companies, public sector,
hopefully academic institutions joining Needslist as members. It starts with free membership and goes up
if you want to be a preferred supplier, other tools we provide as well for companies looking
for better engagement tools their employees or for NGOs that went more advanced reporting
and tracking. For all of you out there that represent companies
or nonprofits, we invite you to join us and there is nothing better we would like than
to have a crew of MIT Alum working with us. that is mypitch. What I really wanted to do today is talk about
what is behind the pitch. When I used to teach storytelling, I would
take a photo, talk about what is in the photo and what isn’t in the photo. Today I want to talk about what is not in
the pitch. When you’re sharing your deck, don’t talk
about the challenges. For you who are trying to understand social
entrepreneurship, I don’t want to make it to glossy. I’m going to build on some of the tips and
advice that Jackie mentioned earlier. This is the first time I have done this, so
bear with me. If you have questions, I am more than happy
to get through it and talk about it later. The first piece I think is really essential
around understanding the challenges for social entrepreneurs are access to networks. We have all seen the numbers around female
founders, less than 2% of D.C. funds go to female founders. You take that and look at the fact, OK, most
of us are creating — most of us who are entrepreneurs are creating solutions around issues that
we face personally. If you think about who bears the brunt of
poverty or of climate change or of health care, they are folks with the least access
to networks around. When I started Needslist, I have to say I
think I was really naïve full stuff I thought, OK, I have an MIT degree, a concrete solution
to this growing problem — fundraising is going to be hard, but how hard could it be? Ha ha. I have to say I’m not a 25-year-old entrepreneur. IMM I 40’s. I have been working for decades in this social
impact field. We just closed our seed round this summer
and raising one mullion dollars for this was absolutely the hardest — $1 million for this
was absolutely the hardest thing I’ve done. At the same time, I’ve been surrounded by
incredible innovators all around the world. I’m part of this cohort of people who were
designing solutions around refugee issues and migration. Many of them come from underrepresented communities
of many are refugees themselves. They have incredible solutions. Of the folks that all got started a few years
ago, the only folks I know that have an edge to close around. I think about that. I think about my U.S. passport, I white face,
my MIT degree and how challenging it was for me and I did have the networks and I did have
the incredible networks and that is why we were incredible — mentors, and that is why
we were able to do it. If you knew you’re interested in giving back
in giving back anyway, mentoring folks and providing access to your networks is absolutely
essential. The second challenge I think is really essential
around social entrepreneurship is what I’m calling the cloning of Silicon Valley. The last decade we’ve seen more and more folks
both investors and people who care about technology and big technology companies and academic
institutions like MIT all trying to invest in social problems and social entrepreneurship. That is amazing, but oftentimes they are taking
the model of Silicon Valley that we already know isn’t even working first-rate of for-profit
companies and applying it to social entrepreneurship. Oftentimes you’re actually stifling innovation,
fostering competition instead of fostering collaboration. You are also creating this what I think is
really an unreasonable expectation around a double bottom line. You are looking at investors who are really
expecting 10 extra turns plus a million lives saved. That is the kind of stuff you are saying over
and over again. It is a bit daunting, to say the least. I think that is another challenge as we don’t
really have a model of what social entrepreneurship at scale would look like, and we have to really
rethink instead of just taking our standard model and applying it to Social Entrepreneurs
SCHIP, we need to rethink it. — entrepreneurship, we need to rethink it. The last piece, the lack of glamour of being
a founder. I think this is true for any entrepreneur. There is an emotional and mental toll that
goes with it. But I think when you add on the extra layer
of feeling responsible to this critical social problem, it is just exacerbated. So really understanding, for those who are
working for the Social Entrepreneurs, really understanding that. You’re not just trying to balance your checkbook
stop you feel like if you take a day off, maybe 70 won’t get exactly what they need. Maybe someday’s life to be at risk. Maybe they won’t get that last mile product. There is a lot we can do to help Social Entrepreneurs
along those lines as well. OK, so that being said, there is a lot — I’m
checking on the time. There’s a lot that keeps me motivated. I think Sayuri said at the beginning, it is
not just we are crazy, there are concrete reasons every single day that keep us going. One of them are the individual stories. The Jomini in this picture is named Allah. I was connected to him — the gentleman in
this picture is named Allah. I was connected to him in 2016. I knew his brother. 2016 was the height of the siege in Aleppo. He was a designer and interested in helping
me out with just getting Needslist off the ground. He said he could design a logo for us. Every day I would be waking up and read the
news about what was happening in Aleppo. At the same time, he would be sending me drafts
of a logo. It was really surreal for me because here
I am come again, this MIT alumni and he is summit in a conflict zone and he was the one
giving me help. What was really important about that — actually,
I ended up being able to help sponsor his family to come to France. Now he is safely in France and has refugee
status. That whole experience really taught me — it
framed our model at Needslist that there are times in our life we can give and times where
we need help and what we’re trained to build on this platform is away to understand that
fluidity. So companies may be at times can donate but
maybe they are hit by Daschle disaster and will have needs — hit by a natural disaster
and will have needs. This story is central for me. Another important piece of the work when you’re
working as a social entrepreneur is if you are not directly affected by the issues you
are facing, surround yourself by people who are. I am Jewish. I have a strong identity as a Jew connected
to the refugee experience. I have also hired a team of folks that represent
the countries and communities that were either working in now or hope to work in. Our team members come from Mexico, South Sudan,
the Philippines, Argentina, Burma, and that is really important for me in exchanging those
ideas and thinking about how Needslist at some point can be adapted or scaled in those
communities. Of course come the last piece is just knowing
and seeing the impact on the ground. Part of our model is when nonprofits get their
needs met, they send in photos. Having those photos come in and sing the impact
and the different communities, seeing the connections that can happen through technology
has been really important for me as well. And also, of course, as I said before, sing
the actual need for what we are doing is increasing every year has been really, really motivational. How we can create sustainability within ouraid
system as well. I know we don’t have a ton of time, but just
a few thoughts on social entrepreneurship. I’ve been thinking about this continuum of
entrepreneurship because most entrepreneurs are starting a company, a solution to address
a specific problem and to create profit as well. They often give back by volunteering, giving
to charity. Some of us are crazy enough to be Social Entrepreneurs
where there is a very close relationship between our bottom line and the social impact. What — for those of you maybe are not ready
to be a social entrepreneur, I would encourage you to be thinking about how the companies
and workplaces where you are at can instill purpose or directly either through your hiring
practices or procurement practices or sustainability policies. But we don’t need to have entrepreneurship
over here and social entrepreneurship over here. Actually, we can think collectively about
putting the social into all entrepreneurship. What I would like to see down the road is
instead of having Social Entrepreneurs be grilled like, how could you possibly have
a business model if you’re making the world a better place? I would love to see any entrepreneur be grilled
about, how are you making the world a better place? We know you have a business model. That is what I would love to leave all of
you today. I am really encouraged to see the growth of
attention at MIT on social entrepreneurship. Feel free to reach out to me later as well
if we run out of time today. Thank you. Juan: Thank you very much, Natasha. That was wonderful. That was amazing. I had a couple of questions that are still
coming in. You touched on fostering collaboration instead
of competition for social entrepreneurship. Could you talk a little bit more about that
and how — the ideas how that could be done? Natasha: I think there are a couple of ways. One is from an investment standpoint. I have never seen this done in investment. I have seen it in foundation nonprofit funding,
but what if funding was tied to a group of entrepreneurs or a group — investment calls
send we want to tackle this problem and what three companies tackling different pieces
of it to apply for funding collectively? I’m sure all of you can see the overlap between
what Jackie is doing and what I am doing. If there were an opportunity to do that collaborative
investment, that is one of them. I think there is also very concretely pitched
competitions and you are pitting people against each other in a way instead of thinking about
how they could be working together. Even we see over and over again where the
first place in the social impact category will get $50,000 and nobody else gets anything. Thinking about, what if you pick the top five
and give them each $10,000 or whatever it is? There are a lot of ways that could be done. Juan: Another question just came in, how did
you get — how do you get to the fund to first start and develop your social — how did you
get the fund to first start and develop your social enterprise? Natasha: That is a good question. The first year I put in every little bit of
my own money. Like I said, I did have a lot of networks. I had a friend who said, hey, if you’re not
able to get investment in your next six month or so, I will build you in M.V.P. on — for
free. We also got legal help for free and some financial
modeling help for free. That is the only reason I have been able to
do it is because I do have those networks. So I am very aware of how challenging would
be for people without them. If you are trying to raise investment, are
always going to have to have — like, everybody once proof of concept. Harry’s was to build it if you don’t have
money to pay somebody to build it if you can’t do it yourself? Juan: Thank you. Let’s go back to some of the questions for
Jackie as well from before. Jackie, there was a question about your expansion
plan. Are you planning to go into other countries? Or more products for the Jackie: Jackie: Indian customers? Jackie: We are focused on India for now improvidently
just predominately spinning geographically and expanding and adding new products to our
catalog. Ideally, we would love to go to other countries
in the future, but India is a big market and there is a lot to do. I think asTas would agreeha, I feel focus
is something that every one tells you to do early on. So the more you can focus and get something
right, the better. For us, that focus right now is India. It doesn’t always have to be, and ideally
it won’t always be, but is what we’re are doing for now. Juan: Thank you. There is another question. Are you keeping track of whether your products
are being used and maintained better than the ones you looked at before starting the
venture? Jackie: I think that is an interesting question. I think there’s a fundamental assumption around
that that I guess is worthwhile to articulate. For us, the assumption is if someone buys
something, they’re going to use it better than they would if they were given it for
free, for example. And I think in our case, I mean, for you you
could personally think about if you’re going to go rent a car, do you take ever rental
car as much as you take care of your own car? Probably not. You might pretend you do to the rental agency,
but you definitely don’t. For us, the assumption is if people are willing
to put their hard-earned limited disposable income down to get this product, they’re going
to use it and maintain it because they don’t have enough disposable income to just throw
it away. So we don’t have the resources to track their
products all the way to the last mile. We track them to the shop owners, but that
is incredibly resource intensive. We sort of go without baseline assumption
and then we verify it via spot checks. We do a lot of work with shop owners. I visited a number that are still using some
of our products five years later. They’re still using them five years later. I sort of have qualitative data from this
but I don’t actually have numerical data. I do think that fundamental assumption, as
someone when they are spending money on something, when you’re treating them as an active decision-maker,
they’re much more likely to actually use something that if they were just given something for
free. Juan: Wonderful. I think that is about all. We will start wrapping up now. Jackie and Natasha, I am feeling inspired. That was inspiring and I am excited to continue
and look forward to our other events coming up the next couple of months. I want to thank you both for your time. Thank you for the MIT Alumni Association for
helping us set this up. For those of you that signed up, you will
get the presentation later today or tomorrow. We will be posting this on YouTube with close
captioning within one week. No forget, join as at the MIT SEAG LinkedIn
group. We will post the link later but if you want
to look for it, SEAG — MIT SEAG. We will post some of the questions there. Thank you again very much. Sayuri: Feel free to post more questions on
LinkedIn and we will get Tasha and Jackie to get those answered as well. So join us there. Jackie: Thank you for having me. Tasha, great to hear your story. Thank you to everyone for joining.>>Thanks for joining us. And for more information on how
to connect with the MIT Alumni Association, please
visit our website.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *