Celebrating Ten Years of Empowering Social Entrepreneurs
Santa Clara University’s Center for Science, Technology and Society (CSTS) recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of its signature program, the Global Social Benefit Incubator (GSBI) by doing what it always has - pairing up to 20 of the most promising social entrepreneurs with experienced Silicon Valley business mentors for months of learning and networking—capped off with a two-week stint of classes at Santa Clara University (SCU), and a grand-finale summit at which they presented their business plans to Silicon Valley financiers, executives and others.
Addressing ‘the gap between good intentions and skilled execution’ successfully has been a hallmark of GSBI since its inception, and Applied Materials is proud to have been involved in various ways with this exceptional program year after year.
The program has had notable successes throughout the developing world —helping to transform social ventures like micro-lender, Kiva; Indian rural electrification pioneer, Husk Power Systems; and optical health leader, VisionSpring, to name just a few of the nearly 200 startups that have successfully completed the rigorous 10-month process.
This year’s class of entrepreneurs presented no shortage of solutions to poverty (Lifeline Technologies, inVenture), women’s health (Sustainable Health Enterprises, BanaPads), clean energy (UbiLuz, Nokero), clean water (sarvajal, Nazava Water Filters), and agricultural yield improvements (Backpack Farm Aqriculture (BFA), M-Farm, Kilimo Salama). I had the pleasure of attending the 10th anniversary summit and was inspired to hear from the individuals tackling such enormous problems, in many instances where governments and others have failed to step in. It was fascinating to see them apply business principles to those problems (e.g. market and competitive analysis) to come up with ingenious solutions that are not only feasible, but that hold the promise of being scalable. Each and every one of the 19 entrepreneurs demonstrated equal amounts of passion, creativity, fearlessness and business sense.
In BPF’s presentation, for example, the audience learned that there are 100 million smallholder farms (2 to 5 acres) in East and sub-Saharan Africa, with up to 27 million of those in Kenya. Rather than being overwhelming, those numbers represent an incredible market opportunity, especially now that 10 years of social business incubation have helped develop infrastructure, in addition, cellphones and other technologies are ubiquitous (even in some far-flung parts of the globe). To quote Rachel Zedeck, Founder & Managing Director of Backpack Farm Agriculture:
“The reality is that Africa is the breadbasket of the world…and the way to impact the vast majority of human beings is through farming…Innovation is phenomenal, but if it doesn’t scale, it is meaningless.”
Speaking of scaling, with the success of GBSI, the Center has recognized that in order to achieve its vision of improving one billion lives, the GSBI program itself must scale in its second decade. And scale it will through online versions of the Silicon Valley program and its global network of universities and partnerships with the business world.
The plans include accelerating the GSBI Silicon Valley program to tackle issues that plague more sophisticated organizations such as developing human capital, expanding distribution channels, and managing supply chains. One such opportunity involves Applied partnering with CSTS for a Clean Energy Collaborative in India to scale innovation for the emerging solar market.
Applied is a leader in scaling clean tech innovations and India’s energy needs and growing population are ripe for solar technology to become a larger part of the energy mix.
With the success rate of GBSI, one cannot help but be optimistic about the future.