Each month on the Promoting Enterprise blog, an Entrepreneur in Residence (EiR), give us an insight into his/her entrepreneurial journey. June’s entrepreneur is Kenny Ewan (UK). Watch his TEDx talk here  and discover how his social enterprise helps others:
Do you want to make the world a better place? I do – and that’s why I helped set up a social enterprise called WeFarm. At WeFarm we empower farmers in the developing world (of which there are more than 500 million!) to both access and share vital agricultural information without needing any access to the Internet. We use SMS in a unique way that allows isolated communities to learn from each other peer-to-peer.
After an incredible first year of growth and success, with more than 58,000 farmers using our service already, my first few months of the this year have been spent trying to secure the investment needed to take us to the next stage.
During any funding round you have the opportunity to meet a wide range of investors – from angels to large VC firms, with investors from lots of different countries. This is particularly true for social enterprises like WeFarm, and I set out to pitch our business to both social impact investors and more traditional VCs.
Creating a compelling story that appeals to both social investors and more traditional VCs can be challenging for social businesses, but we were determined to convince people that our social impact is truly embedded within a great business model, and we were confident we can convince both sides of the investment world.
It’s been fascinating to see the differences in styles and interests between them. When I started, I assumed that we would have more opportunities with the social impact investors (for fairly obvious reasons). However, it’s been great to find that the opposite has been true and we’ve had a lot more advanced conversations with the more traditional VCs.
I think this shows something really exciting is happening: businesses with a strong social mission can interest traditional investors if the business case is right. More and more people are looking for business with a social purpose to invest in, and recognise that the returns can be even higher than average businesses.
However, being honest, the process has also highlighted for me some challenges with social impact investment, especially for more innovative businesses looking at very large scale projects. A lot of the conversations I’ve had with social impact investors have been guided by their need to put things in social impact boxes – to look at measurement and impact chains rather than big ideas.
Having spent my entire career (until now) in the international development field, I wholeheartedly agree with the importance of impact measurement and evaluation. But should this be the starting point ahead of new ideas and innovation that can’t easily be measured and put in boxes at an early stage? Ideally, of course, you need both, and I hope that slowly these two investment universes are starting to come closer together.
My advice to social entrepreneurs would be to urge you to not limit yourself in your view of what your social business is. Reach out to all the investors you can, make sure you have a compelling business model, and think big. Even as a social business, traditional investors might be best for you.
Kenny is CEO of WeFarm, a pioneering social enterprise, scaling a unique peer-to-peer knowledge-sharing platform for the 450 million small-scale farmers around the world with no access to the internet. After graduating from the University of Dundee, Kenny went to Peru in 2002 to work on sustainable development projects with indigenous communities. He loved the country so much that he decided to stay. In 2007, he became Peru’s Country Director for ProWorld Service Corps. This international development NGO specialises in projects for isolated, indigenous communities. He returned to the UK in 2009 to join the Cafedirect Producers Foundation (CPF) start-up team. He designed and managed all of CPF’s international projects across East Africa and Latin America.