A few years back, I learned about a group of philanthropists in Los Angeles who started an American-Idol-style competition called Social Innovation Fast Pitch (SIFP) in which early-stage nonprofits compete for funding. Their program extended the “venture philanthropy” model used by Social Venture Partners, where partners contribute capital in concert with expert volunteering, management advice and personal connections in order to increase the capacity and sustainability of local organizations creating social impact.
The results of LA’s Fast Pitch were encouraging. All participants reported significant growth, whether or not they received funding, unlike traditional grant funding and angel investment, where participants who lose gain little. The healthy win-win competition connects innovators to hundreds of community volunteers and civic leaders. Combined with new skills acquired through mentoring and workshops, SIFP helps innovators access resources outside the competition as well.
The Social Innovation Fast Pitch competition sponsored by Social Venture Partners was held at the Fisher Pavilion, Seattle Center on October 3, 2011.
Today, Social Venture Partner chapters hold variations of SIFP across ten North American cities under varying monikers in Los Angeles, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Charlotte, Minneapolis, Dallas, Cleveland, San Diego, Calgary, and last but not least, Seattle, the city where SVP started nearly 15 years ago. SIFP Seattle, one of the largest fast pitch events in the country, is run by former Microsoft executive Will Poole. This year Will anticipates they will have an audience of up to 1,000. In addition to 14 five-minute fast pitches, they’ll feature a keynote by Nathan Myhrvold, and a guest appearance from world-renowned photographer Roger Ressmeyer. Seattle’s SIFP competition is especially interesting to me, as they put young innovators on stage (via Ashoka’s Youth Venture program), inspiring nonprofits, and also an increasing number of for-profit social impact companies. Each competitor has unique approaches and strengths; they learn and draw from one another’s knowledge and passion as they compete for over $200,000 in grants and investments. I see parallels in the problems some of these innovators are solving with much larger problems I am trying to solve globally. Here are four examples:
Those are just four of the passionate innovators presenting. Altogether, I’m happy to see the development of a marketplace that encourages innovators to make bold career decisions by pursuing solutions that complement Melinda’s and my philanthropic efforts. And I’m pleased to see the birth of an investor base and growth of venture philanthropist models which together help the best of these organizations succeed and improve the world around them. I’m looking forward to seeing who wins Seattle’s second annual Fast Pitch on Thursday, October 18th.