I’m sitting in a cafe in Providence, Rhode Island with the week’s events and activities swirling around in my mind and body.
I’m filled with awe, inspiration and a feeling of deep connectivity to both Boulder and Brown, and the collective energy and leadership that both have inspired in the field of social enterprise.
On Thursday evening, I attend an event in Boulder for key community members and investors to pool their collective resources, finances and talent to launch the HUB here. About 60 people gathered in a circle and shared stories about how and why they feel the HUB needs to be here. Investors, entrepreneurs and advisors came together and realized that the power was in the hands of the people in the room.
From Executive Director Greg Berry’s invitation to this event, I quote:
At HUB Boulder, we are catalyzing a business eco-system by incubating start-ups, promoting sector-leading business practices, and accelerating impact investments. Members will host and attend uniquely thought-provoking events and talks, meet with new partners and old colleagues, and drop in to work, whether for half an hour or the next five years. Connected to a network of more than 30 similar spaces around the globe, HUB members have a home base wherever their travels take them, from Seattle to Sao Paulo and London to San Francisco, and access to thousands of change-makers world-wide.
The elation I felt from being a part of this founding group of community members made my heart soar as I got on a 7AM plane the next morning to attend the first ever SEEED (Social Enterprise and Ecosystem Development) conference at Brown University, my alma mater. I had been asked to speak on a panel at this conference on behalf of iDE.
I arrived late to the conference just in time for a panel on Impact Investing with Tracy Palandjian, CEO, Social Finance, Inc., Bill Strathmann, CEO, Network for Good, and Michael Brown, CEO & Co-Founder, City Year. Read their bios here. It was an excellent panel with so many different perspectives and I was honored by their willingness to participate in Brown’s first conference of this kind. I asked the last question during the panel: “What do you think is missing in this sector to unlock and realize the $3 trillion market JP Morgan describes? How can we get this into the public eye and funnel the most capital into the hands of social enterprises?” and I got three great answers, two of which are highlighted here:
Tracy Palandjian answered – “We need the business cases to prove that investors can make money by supporting social ventures.” Excellent answer and totally spot on. Then, Michael Brown answered:
We need an Apollo of our time.
I heard an audible gasp of inspiration and awe in the crowd. It took our breaths away. Then I thought, I have to find that Apollo and support it, or do it.
Throughout the conference I was touched by the openness and willingness to collaborate and share. Like at the HUB gathering, I felt that I was part of the founding members of something bigger than myself that would be a beacon to the world.
Then, during the lunch session on Saturday, I realized what that Apollo might be.
I met a 16 year old entrepreneur who lives in Providence. Brown had partnered with Social Venture Partners, Rhode Island, which has had tremendous leadership and innovation in supporting local social entrepreneurs. They partnered with Ashoka Youth Ventures to support a youth program. This young man, John Novas, had been supported by SVPRI and sat at a table with professionals, investors and other entrepreneurs more than double his age. He told us about his business, Earth Custom Designs, which takes non precious stones from the developing world, makes them into jewelry and sells them here in the US, and gives back to the communities that sent the rocks. He wanted to help others as he felt he had been helped to start this business.
All of us at the table were dumbfounded. We were supposed to come up with a product or new venture at the table but we couldn’t get past the awe we felt for this young man, with this incredible spirit, who wanted to help the world.
All we could do is jot down a few notes about creating a loan fund for young entrepreneurs under 20. I knew there was something here, but at the moment we couldn’t fully structure it because we couldn’t stop asking John questions about how he got here. We asked what he needed from us. He said just keep doing what you are doing. Didn’t ask for a thing. The humility baffled us.
I realized in that moment that something really profound had happened around that table.
The Apollo of our time would be an entrepreneur like John Novas. Youth. The youth of the world would unite us like nothing before it.
It hit me that the HUB Boulder would support youth entrepreneurs and gather around them with all of our skills and mentorship, and help them become that Apollo mission.
I passed a note around the table for everyone to sign their name and their email addresses. I took a picture to record it and email to everyone, and gave John Novas the note to keep. I had to take a picture with these young men:
After the conference ended, we all got an email from John and his partner Anthony no less than an hour later:
On behalf of Earth Custom Designs, I would like to thank you sincerely for giving me the opportunity to come in and be a part of the Seeed Summit, I truly appreciated all of your time and support. From your kind words and through your actions, I admire your work as well as your passion in helping social ventures grow. Throughout our interactions you were always professional, kind, and considerate and you always stayed true to your mission.
Thank you for taking the time out to talk with me. If there are any more opportunities that are linked to Seeed Summit, I would love to be a part of it.
As a reminder, my venture is Earth Custom Designs. We make bracelets that incorporate non-precious stones from developing countries that support the growth of education in poor villages where the stones first originates from. My business partner Anthony Defilippo and I will definitely keep you updated on the progress we make with our venture. Hope to hear from you soon.
Sincerely, Earth Custom Designs
“Uniting the world, one stone at a time”
Anthony Defilippo and John Novas
So, to HUB Boulder and to Brown University – I invite you to keep being the beacon to connect the global and local communities around supporting these incredible heroes. I will support you and sing your praises, and be a part of the foundation that creates the change we want to see in the world.
With love and great hope,