Center for Science, Technology, and Society, News page

  •  Husk Power Systems Set to Scale Reliable and Renewable Energy Solution to Underserved Rural Areas around the World

    Friday, Oct. 26, 2012

    We are excited to share this news from GSBI Alumni Husk Power Systems!  

    Husk Power Systems, Inc. (HPS), an innovative company providing renewable and affordable decentralized energy solution to underserved communities, is pleased to announce that the company has raised Series A equity financing of US $5 million from co-investors Bamboo (Oasis Fund) Finance, Acumen Fund, and LGT Venture Philanthropy.  Acumen Fund and Bamboo Finance led the Series A financing process along with LGT Venture Philanthropy. DFJ and CISCO will remain invested in the company having converted their existing investment to equity capital.
    “HPS continues to demonstrate the commercial viability of providing affordable electricity to low income communities. We believe their model can be replicated in many countries. We are excited about their progress and investing in their ongoing growth,” said Jean-Philippe de Schrevel, Chief Executive Officer of Bamboo Finance.
    HPS has been a pioneer in using 100% biomass waste (rice husks, straws and other crop straws etc.) gasification process for generating electricity and distributing power directly to households.  The company has successfully implemented 80 mini-power plants that serve over 200,000 people in more than 300 villages. This is no small feat and this de-centralized model of electricity generation and distribution was validated on July 31, 2012 when 670 million Indians on the centralized grid suffered blackouts ( while 200,000 people served by HPS mini-grids had their lights on. With this new equity capital, HPS aims to rapidly expand its operations in rural India and East Africa and power the lives of over 10 million people in rural areas. The company is also looking to raise up to US $4 million of term loan to support its expansions organically and through its “franchise” partners.
    “Never before has the need for safe energy alternatives been greater and it’s remarkable to be a part of what Husk Power has been able to accomplish in recent years,” said Sachindra Rudra, Director of Acumen Fund India. “This additional investment represents an important step in Husk’s evolution as it continues to scale and provide affordable and reliable electricity across rural areas that need it most.”
    “While Series A financing positions HPS to exponentially scale its modular energy solution, it is paramount to understand that such scaling would be practically impossible without the right mix of capital that consists of equity and debt capital and equally importantly grant capital necessary to address systemic issues like training rural talents, and discovering low-cost smart metering and grid solution”, said Manoj Sinha, Co-Founder of Husk Power Systems.  HPS formed strategic partnership with Shell Foundation in 2008 and has received grant funding. The company also partnered with Overseas Private Investment Corporation to secure low rate term-loan in June 2012.
    Simon Desjardins, who manages Shell Foundation's Access to Energy Program, said: "Husk Power is a global pioneer in the rural electrification sector and is proving that de-centralized power provision is a viable model to reach rural households and businesses. Their recent fundraise will enable significant scale in India and Africa that will further validate their approach and create impact."  
    The company’s expansion strategy will focus on leveraging its core competency of providing very low cost renewable energy at community scale and addressing systemic challenges like training a large number of rural people for running and managing power plants through Husk Power University.  In addition, HPS plans replicate its model in multiple locations by expanding its “Franchise” network in different geographies. Going forward, HPS will utilize a combination of biomass power plants (with larger plants of size of 100-250KW) with AC grid and Solar powered plants with DC grid as appropriate. The company is actively looking for talents and partners with passion to help achieve the ambitious growth targets of installing over 2,000 mini-power plants.
    "This long awaited closure of financing strengthens and validates the growing confidence in the market of rural electrification using “ecosystem approach” that Husk Power Systems started. We plan to thrive in the diversity of our efforts and build on the platform we have created in past 5 years. Thus far we have been a good promise. This financing round will go a long way in making us a solution for the world”, said Gyanesh Pandey, the Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Husk Power Systems.
    About Husk Power Systems:
    Husk Power Systems is a rural empowerment enterprise. The company focuses on inclusive rural development on the backbone of renewable energy solution. Unlike any other effort in the world, it creates a self-sustaining ecosystem in the villages it serves, enabling economic development along with environmental protection, physical well-being and strengthening of the rural communities. A humble effort spearheaded by locals from the communities served, HPS strives to touch more than 10 million lives over the next five years, in rural areas across the world. For more information, please visit
    About Bamboo Finance:
    Bamboo Finance is a commercial investment firm managing 250M USD representing a unique portfolio of direct investments around the world with offices in Bogota, Singapore, San Francisco, Luxembourg and Geneva. Bamboo specializes in the financing of entrepreneurship globally. We use a market-oriented approach to deliver social value environmental value and financial returns to investors. Please visit for more information.
    About Acumen Fund:
    Acumen Fund is working to create a world beyond poverty by investing in social enterprises, emerging leaders and breakthrough ideas. We invest patient capital in business models that deliver critical goods and services to the world’s poor, improving the lives of millions. Since 2001, Acumen Fund has globally invested more than $80 million in 72 companies. We are also working to build a global community of emerging leaders that believe in creating a more inclusive world through the tools of both business and philanthropy. Please visit for more information.
    About LGT Venture Philanthropy:
    LGT Venture Philanthropy is an impact investor supporting organizations with outstanding social and environmental impact. Our team in five continents strives to increase the sustainable quality of life of less advantaged people by inspiring clients for active philanthropy, providing individualized philanthropic advice and investment implementation. Our broad range of clients benefits from the experience, systems, processes and networks built by implementing the philanthropic engagement of the Princely Family of Liechtenstein/LGT Group. Please visit for more information.


  •  Santa Clara University Team Selected to Design New Capital-Investment Approach for Developing-World Entrepreneurs

    Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012

    Team of SCU Students and Silicon Valley industry veterans among five winners of the  Argidius-ANDE Finance Challenge

    SANTA CLARA, Calif., Oct. 17, 2012 – A team of Silicon Valley industry veterans and students at Santa Clara University’s Center for Science, Technology, and Society (CSTS) has been selected to design and implement a new investment tool with the potential to aid thousands of small and growing businesses in emerging economies.

    This two-year project is one of five winners of the Argidius-ANDE Finance Challenge, a highly competitive international competition administered by the Aspen Institute Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE).  The Santa Clara team will receive a €200,000 grant to support the design, analysis, and field-testing of the new investment vehicle.

    The Problem: Angels but not Investors

    Financing for small and growing businesses in developing economies is constrained by the low level of return from investments already made to date.  Most “impact investors” have seen their investment holding period lengthen from 3-5 years to 7-10 years.  Without more understanding and confidence in the ability of social enterprises to provide return, equity investors are hesitant or unable to commit new funds.

    Achieving reliable and repeated returns would make not only existing dollars available to new investments, but it would also improve investor confidence to commit new capital to what are now seen as difficult or ‘frontier’ markets.  So far, debt and equity mechanisms have failed to offset the risks inherent in developing markets with enough reward to encourage new investors.

    For small enterprises promising moderate (7% - 14%) returns from moderate ($25K - $250K) investment amounts, a new solution is needed.  CSTS believes a risk-capital investment vehicle that is a hybrid between low-return debt and high-return equity is needed – and could encourage significant funding currently sitting on the sidelines to jump into emerging markets.

    The Solution: Demand-Dividend Investment Vehicle

    Responding to interest in a new model, CSTS Impact Capitalprogram director John Kohler has begun work on a financing concept.  The Demand-Dividend project work will include final financing model design, a regression analysis on existing enterprises, and the creation of flexible term sheets.  The Argidius grant will fund the field-oriented phase - preparing to test the new financing model with between four and six enterprises beginning in early 2013.  Planning and initial diligence visits will occur in the autumn of this year.

    CSTS is uniquely positioned to receive this grant. They launched a dedicated Impact Capital initiative in 2010 with the aim of preparing social enterprises to move beyond philanthropic grants to attract private investment capital.  Early work culminated with the release of a white paper, Coordinating Impact Capital in the summer of 2011.

    John Kohler recently presented on the Demand Dividend concept at SOCAP12 in San Francisco on October 3, 2012. Visit John's SOCAP12profile for more information.

    Taking the VC out of the Valley

    Successful demonstration of a Demand Dividend investment vehicle will create ‘economic pull’ by delivering what impact investors do not readily achieve today: moderate to high return with a more-rapid capital cycle. 

    CSTS has received expressions of interest from 11 impact funding sources and, with demonstrated success, will encourage these funds, as well as its many fund contacts through ANDE, Toniic, Oxfam and its Silicon Valley network, to use the Demand Dividend. The Center also will be co-leading an examination on alternative investment being conducted at the University of Michigan Law School, which will be instructive to the Argidius-ANDE Finance Challenge results.

    About the Center for Science, Technology, and Society
    The mission of the Center for Science, Technology, and Society is to accelerate global, innovation-based entrepreneurship in service to humanity. Through an array of programs including its signature Global Social Benefit Incubator (GSBI™), the Center engages an international network of business, investment capital, and technical resources to build the capacity of social enterprises around the world. As a Center of Distinction at Santa Clara University, the Center leverages its programs to inspire faculty and students with real-world case studies, distinctive curricula, and unique research opportunities, advancing the University's vision of creating a more just, humane, and sustainable world. More information 

    Media Contacts
    Deborah Lohse | SCU Media Relations | |            408-554-5121      
    Erin Berkenmeier | CSTS | |            408-551-6048      

  •  Applied Materials Announces Commitment with CSTS at the Clinton Global Initiative

    Monday, Oct. 1, 2012

    At The Clinton Global Initiative 2012, Applied Materials announced their commitment with Santa Clara University’s Center of Science, Technology and Society (CSTS) as part of a continued effort to help social entrepreneurs improve their ability to scale (grow) their business and create significantly more impact. The partnership coincides well with this year’s CGI theme of “Designing for Impact” since support from Applied Materials enables CSTS to provide business model and organizational capacity training, as well as expert mentoring, to 18 social entrepreneurs in India and China over the next three years. 

    CSTS is working on a few fronts in this partnership. We are updating our Energy Map which was launched one year ago to help reserachers and practitioners understand the industry of alternative energy in developing countries. As mentioned, we are also excited to have the support of Applied Materials so we can continue to help India, which is well represented in our program, and expand into China. 
  •  The Tech Awards to Honor Global Innovators Who Use Technology to Benefit Humanity

    Wednesday, Sep. 26, 2012

    SAN JOSE, CA – Each year, nearly four million newborn babies never live past their first days – all for lack of warmth. 

    At least a billion people globally have limited – or no access – to clean water. And while almost half the world’s population cooks with wood or other biomass fuels, indoor-air pollution generated by cooking fires contributes to the premature deaths of nearly two million people annually.
    Enter the “techmanitarians” – a dozen international innovators who toil with unequaled resolve to eliminate these and other persistent global challenges.  Their noble achievements will be recognized Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012 at the Santa Clara Convention Center during Silicon Valley's leading awards program, The Tech Awards, presented by Applied Materials in association with the Center for Science, Technology, and Society at Santa Clara University.
    “We are inspired by the laureates’ desire to improve the world through the creative use of technology and their perseverance to this end,” said Tim Ritchie, president of The Tech Museum. “Their lives and work serve as a challenge to us:  Do we desire to make our work count for others, and are we willing to use our considerable assets to build a better world?”
    This year, two cash prizes will be awarded - $75,000 and $25,000 - in each of six of The Tech Awards categories: Intel Environment Award; Microsoft Education Award; The Swanson Foundation Young Innovator Award; Nokia Health Award; Flextronics Economic Development Award, and The Sustainable Energy Award. 
    Since the inception of The Tech Awards program in 2001, 257 laureates have been recognized. Their pioneering work has included designing earthquake-resistant construction technology to creating a heat-sensitive label for vaccine vials to make sure children receive potent immunizations to building a simple, low-cost, mobile phone-based device that allows remote monitoring and operation of irrigation pumps.
    “Through their outstanding creativity and conviction, this year’s laureates are providing innovative solutions to some of humanity’s most urgent problems,” said Mike Splinter, Chairman and CEO of Applied Materials. “In many ways, the Tech Awards embody the spirit of Silicon Valley and the belief that technology can improve people’s lives and make the world a better place.”
    As part of The Tech Awards, Indian philanthropist N.R. Narayana Murthy, will be honored with the James C. Morgan Global Humanitarian Award sponsored by Applied Materials. This award honors individuals whose broad vision and leadership help to alleviate humanity's greatest challenges. Murthy founded tech services giant Infosys Limited along with six colleagues and went on to become one of India’s most influential advocates for health care and rural development.
    Murthy served as the first CEO for 21 years and currently holds the role of Chairman Emeritus at the global technology services company. Infosys established the Infosys Foundation in 1996. The Infosys Foundation works in partnership with non-governmental organizations to help underprivileged rural communities in India that are focusing on five initiatives: healthcare, education, culture, destitute care and rural development.
    Murthy, who has been lauded by TIME magazine, honored by CNBC and praised by Ernst & Young as World Entrepreneur of the Year, joins an impressive roster of past recipients that includes former eBay head and champion of equitable society Jeff Skoll, education and cross-cultural dialogue advocate Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan, Nobel Laureate and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Applied's former Chairman and CEO James C. Morgan, who inspired the award.
    The Tech Awards laureates 2012 represent regions as diverse as Africa, India, South America and the United States. Their work impacts people in many more countries worldwide. 
    During their week-long stay in Silicon Valley, the laureates are engaged in specialized business and media training, networking with leading tech companies and venture capitalists, as well as learning about the experiences of fellow laureates. 
    Applications will be accepted for next year’s laureates beginning November 1, 2012. 
    Intel Environment Award
    • Arup K. SenGupta  
      Transforming Arsenic Crisis into an Economic Enterprise
      Southeast Asia; India
      • Problem: According to World Health Organization (WHO), over 200 million resource-poor people are threatened with arsenic poisoning by drinking contaminated groundwater in Cambodia, Nepal, India, Bangladesh and Vietnam.
      • Solution: Use of appropriate simple-to-operate technology in rural setting to transform arsenic crisis into an economic enterprise while protecting human health.
      • Impact: Over 200,000 people including school children are benefiting in arsenic-affected countries. 
    • LEHR, Inc. Propane Outboard Motors
      U.S. and Canada
      • Problem: Small gasoline engines cause excessive pollution, yet electric/battery solutions do not provide the performance required to be a universally viable alternative.
      • Solution: Patented gaseous-fueled engines that significantly reduce/eliminate pollution while improving performance and reducing cost of ownership.
      • Impact:  About 100,000 lawn and garden engines that eliminate evaporative emissions while reducing VOC (Volatile organic compounds) emissions. Marine outboard engines that eliminated fuel spills into water while reducing methyl-mercury-causing particulate emissions by up to 96 percent.
    Microsoft Education Award
    Literacy Bridge
    Talking Book
    Problem: Basic health and agriculture knowledge isn’t reaching the world’s poorest billion people due to illiteracy and lack of electricity.
    Solution: A simple and durable, battery-operated, audio computer playing locally produced lessons that address the practical needs of people in oral cultures.
    Impact: 250,000 lessons delivered to 20,000 farmers in the poorest regions of Ghana.  Farmers harvested 48 percent more crops and 90 percent of maternal health lessons led to healthier behaviors.
    Problem: Research shows that despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent worldwide on HIV "awareness" campaigns over 30 years, accurate knowledge of HIV still remains dangerously low.
    Solution: Re-imagine the worldwide public health solution to focus on actual "education" rather than "awareness" and develop the most effective and flexible HIV education software after 5+ years of cross-disciplinary research at Stanford.
    Impact: Provide HIV education with unprecedented efficacy to more than 200 organizations and governments in 73 countries, educating millions around the world, and including breakthrough implementations in regions that had banned sex education.
    Katherine M. Swanson Young Innovator Award
    Angaza Design 
    Problem: Prohibitive upfront prices for clean-energy products prevent millions of off-grid Africans from accessing healthy and economical lighting and battery charging.
    Solution: Low-cost, embedded pay-as-you-go technology that allows customers to pre-pay for energy use with cash-in-hand. Remotely regulated over cellular networks and integrated with existing mobile money platforms, these energy payments are cheaper than typical kerosene expenditures.
    Impact: Clean, bright light and cell-phone charging is financially accessible for over 90 percent of the base of the pyramid market.
    Safe Agua Peru, Art Center College
    Problem: In Cerro Verde, a slum on the outskirts of Lima, Peru, 30,000 people live without access to running water and sanitation.
    Solution: Design and co-create with Cerro Verde families, innovative and cost-effective products tested by the community and implemented by Techo, a Latin American NGO dedicated to working with families living in extreme poverty.
    Impact: Empower families and communities through responsible design to conserve water, reduces illness and generate social, cultural, and economic change.
    Nokia Health Award 
    Problem: Every year almost 2 million people die prematurely from indoor pollution caused by smoky open cooking fires; these same fires contribute more black carbon than all the cars and trucks in the world combined.
    Solution: The BioLite Homestove is a low-cost, highly efficient wood-burning stove that dramatically reduces smoke and harmful black carbon emissions while reducing fuel needs by 50 percent. 
    Impact: A single HomeStove pays for itself in six to seven months, and lowers the rates of potentially fatal respiratory diseases while saving 2,000 pounds of wood per year and averting the C02 emissions of a compact car.
    Problem: 1.1 million pre-term babies die every year; 75 percent could survive with inexpensive treatment.
    Solution:  A low-cost infant warmer specifically designed to address the needs of babies suffering from hypothermia.
    Impact: Thousands of babies may be impacted by the warmers currently distributed with 11 partnerships in eight countries.
    Flextronics Economic Development Award
    Grameen Foundation USA
    Community Knowledge Worker
    Problem: Small farmers often lack knowledge and information on agriculture.
    Solution: Deploying trained intermediaries. Information and advice increases yields and profits.
    Impact: Work with 65,000 farmers in more than 8,800 villages to increase yields and profits
    Pamela C. Ronald, David Mackill, Kenong Xu
    Rice Submergence Tolerance 
    Problem: Yields of rice, the most important crop for over half of our planet, are catastrophically reduced during floods. Because rice provides up to two thirds of the diet of many people in the developing world, many who live on less than $1 day, these losses have devastating impacts on farmers and their families.
    Solution: Identification of a submergence tolerance gene and precise introduction of the gene into locally adapted varieties favored by farmers using modern molecular breeding.
    Impact: In 2011, a million farmers grew “Sub1 rice,” with millions more expected in the next few years. Yields of “Sub1” rice are three to five folds greater than conventional varieties during floods.
    Sustainable Energy Award
    Eco-Fuel Africa 
    Problem: Clean cooking fuel is inaccessible for 30 million people in Uganda and 28 million poor farmers have no access to fertilizers.
    Solution: Simple, locally made technology that can be used by local people to convert sourced farm and municipal waste into clean cooking fuel and organic fertilizers.
    Impact: 6,000 families already benefiting from the technology, with 10,000 more expected to be reached by the end of 2013.
    Simpa Networks 
    Problem: 400 million people in India, and more than 1.5 billion worldwide are without access to reliable electricity.  
    Solution: Simple, affordable, pay-as-you-use pricing and mobile payment for off-grid solar energy solutions.
    Impact:  By 2015, more than 250,000 households with access to  clean energy, 6.5 megawatts of distributed solar power installed, more than 160,000 tons of CO2 displaced.
    For more information about The Tech Awards, visit:
    Roqua Montez
    Director Public Relations
    (408) 795-6225
    About The Tech Museum of Innovation
    The Tech Museum is a hands-on technology and science museum for people of all ages and backgrounds. The museum—located in the Capital of Silicon Valley —is a non-profit, experiential learning resource established to engage people in exploring and experiencing applied technologies affecting their lives. Through programs such as The Tech Challenge presented by Cisco, our annual team-design competition for youth, and internationally renowned programs such as The Tech Awards presented by Applied Materials, The Tech Museum endeavors to inspire the innovator in everyone.
    About Applied Materials
    Applied Materials, Inc. (Nasdaq:AMAT) is the global leader in providing innovative equipment, services and software to enable the manufacture of advanced semiconductor, flat panel display and solar photovoltaic products. Our technologies help make innovations like smartphones, flat screen TVs and solar panels more affordable and accessible to consumers and businesses around the world. At Applied Materials, we turn today's innovations into the industries of tomorrow. Learn more at
    About the Center for Science, Technology, and Society
    The mission of the Center for Science, Technology, and Society (CSTS) is to accelerate global, innovation-based entrepreneurship in service to humanity. Through its signature program, the Global Social Benefit Incubator (GSBI™), as well as the Frugal Innovation Lab, research in Impact Capital, and collaboration with The Tech Awards, the Center engages business and technical resources to build the capacity of social enterprises around the world. As a Center of Distinction at Santa Clara University, the Center leverages its programs to inspire faculty and students with real-world case studies, distinctive curriculum, and unique research opportunities, advancing the university’s vision of creating a more just, humane, and sustainable world. More information can be found at


  •  SF Chronicle: "Global Social Benefit Incubator still strong"

    Monday, Sep. 10, 2012

    This article was originally published by the San Francisco Chronicle. The original source can be found here

    Shivani Siroya is a petite woman hammering away at a tall task - building a model of credit scores for the poor in India.

    On a recent weekday in Santa Clara, she took her audacious enterprise before a group of investors, professors and entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley - many of whom have never worked or lived in India.
    But they're keen on helping, by transferring their knowledge from the Bay Area to markets in the developing world that seek sustainable business strategies.
    Siroya was one of 19 entrepreneurs at this year's Global Social Benefit Incubator who have been undergoing a critical evaluation from this group, whose members also include venture capitalists and experts in social enterprise. Beyond building successful enterprises, the incubator wants ones that alleviate social needs.
    "People are not going to give money to you indefinitely, even if you're doing some good in the world. So we have to help these entrepreneurs develop sound business models that will flourish and last," said Eric Carlson, director of the incubator and dean's executive professor in the Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University.
    Not a typical program
    Started in 2004 at the university's Center for ScienceTechnology and Society, the incubator hoped to combine the talents of the valley with the activism of emerging social entrepreneurs to see if social impact and profit-making could be combined. Among its first successes: Husk Power Systems, an alternative energy business that recycled rice husks into an energy supply. Today, Husk supplies energy to more than 200,000 people in 300 villages in northeastern India.
    An incubator participant from a year ago, Katherine Lucey, CEO and founder of Solar Sister, also works in alternative energy for the poor. Her model mimics that of Avon. Instead of lipsticks and perfumes, the local female entrepreneurs she relies on in Uganda and Rwanda sell solar lamps.
    Compared with other social incubators of the past decade, Lucey says, the Santa Clara one stands out. "I think their Silicon Valley location gives them an intensity and a drive that ramps up the typical incubator program," she said.
    As Solar Sister went from simply being a pilot project to developing a full-blown business plan, Lucey attended a two-week, in-residence program last summer. That resulted in a more nuanced business model and partnerships with past incubator participants such as San Francisco's, the crowdfunding microfinance platform. Now donors can help fund a Solar Sister entrepreneur's business by lending to her via the Kiva website, Lucey said.
    Growing a business
    For mentors at the workshop, getting these entrepreneurs to scale is a primary goal. But as Anuj Sharma, COO of Sarvajal, a water-based social enterprise in South Asia, learned at this year's event, it's not just about sporadic growth. His mentors advised him to go deeper, not wider.
    "The constructive feedback has been around not getting excited about numerous small opportunities, such as taking the initiative to other countries ... but making sure that we have greater depth in demonstrating our work in India itself," he said.
    Siroya agrees.
    "The emphasis of this program is on how to really scale your organization and get the kinks out so you can get home and get back to work and hit the ground running. It's about really coming out of here with a solid operating plan. It's literally like MBA boot camp," she said.
    Entrepreneurs attend classes on unit economics, scaling business, value chains, operating plans, budgets and fundraising from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Those sessions are followed by late-night get-togethers with their mentors, where they get more personalized advice.
    This year's gathering brought together more than 150 mentors, who will continue to work with these enterprises into the fall. One is Jeff Miller, former director of Santa Clara's Center for Science, Technology and Society. He built a career in technology at Intel before transitioning to supporting social businesses. He's been an adviser since the program's inception and sees one common thread in many of the young people.


    "They have such huge, wonderful, passionate visions of how to change the world in energy, water, education and more. But they lack focus. So we encourage them to look at an area that they can focus on and make an impact. This can be a particular demographic or region, which makes for a more concentrated effort."
    Getting focused
    Aside from making visions more concrete, entrepreneurs are taught to balance social impact with profit, he explains. Presenting a purely socially driven plan to a venture capitalist rarely gets funding.
    "They're not bad people," Miller jokes, "but they have to make a return as well. So you have to tailor it to their needs as well when making a pitch."
    Investing for impact
    Impact investing, an emerging field for social effect as well as monetary return, has been gaining prominence. But Miller and Carlson are cautious, noting that the area needs to mature and develop an infrastructure. Yet it's quickly become a topic of discussion at the incubator.
    "Impact investing has not been terribly successful so far. There's money around in the valley, yes. But it's largely risk-averse. Plus, we have to make sure that investors don't drift from the intentions of the social business, which is very much to create a product for the bottom of the pyramid, not the top," Carlson said.
    Carlson hopes that in the near future, they can team entrepreneurs not just with Silicon Valley mentors, who understand the bottom line, but with mentors in their countries of operation, who know the bottom of the pyramid intimately.
    "That would be ideal," he said.
    Esha Chhabra is a freelance writer. E-mail:


  • "Ten Years in Social Entrepreneurship: The 19 innovators who presented at GSBI represent broader entrepreneurship trends"

    Monday, Aug. 27, 2012
    This article was originally published on You can view the original article here
    The social entrepreneurship concept and community have grown tremendously in the last decade. In the august company of pioneers such as Skoll Foundation and Acumen Fund, Santa Clara University’s Global Social Benefit Incubator (GSBI™) celebrates 10 years of working with over 150 social entrepreneurs to build financially sustainable ventures that scale.
    On Aug. 23, 19 truly amazing social entrepreneurs in our tenth cohort delivered their business plan presentations. Individually and collectively, they reflect broader trends in social entrepreneurship and entrepreneurship more generally—especially the rise of women as pioneers in social entrepreneurship, the pursuit of energy solutions that are independent of grids or other infrastructure, the use of mobile platforms, and focus on increasing agricultural productivity in Africa.
    Women. Ten of the 19 social entrepreneurs who were awarded scholarships for the GSBI are women, and so for the first time, we have a majority of women in the cohort. While this majority reflects global population dynamics (due to lower life expectancy for men), it also exemplifies what the latest literature teaches us about the different, but complementary, leadership abilities of men and women. One Child One Light’s female leader Ramani Vedula aims to bring four million children back to school and increase the literacy rate through an innovative solar power lantern-charging model. Nazava’s woman entrepreneur Lieselotte Heederik brings safe drinking water to poor households in Indonesia, saving them money and reducing carbon emissions. Headed by a male entrepreneur committed to keeping girls in school, BaNaPads produces affordable, eco-friendly sanitary pads from banana stems in Uganda.
    Energy. Because of the significance of energy as a barrier for the poor, we have consciously pursued an energy sector strategy formulated by GSBI Director Emeritus Jim Koch and Base-of-Pyramid (BoP) thought leader Al Hammond.  A sector strategy also allows us to gain deeper insights into the technology solutions, business model innovations, and contextual factors that can influence whether a social enterprise can scale in a financially sustainable fashion.  
    Half of our cohort seeks to address energy poverty, including EcoEnergy Finance, which delivers clean energy to rural Pakistan, a true frontier market. UbiLuz gets clean energy to poor people in Central America. Potential Energy, formerly the Darfur Stoves Project, has already helped more than 120,000 displaced persons in Sudan and Ethiopia. And Mali Biocarburant, a leading specialty oil and biodiesel supplier in West Africa, also provides livelihoods for smallholder farmers and enables food security through intercropping.
    Agriculture (in Africa). Speaking of agriculture, this year’s cohort includes a cluster of three social enterprises working in Kenya, all headed by women: Kilimo Salama, an innovative micro-insurance program for smallholder farmers; Backpack Farm, which provides training and green agri-tech solutions to improve the agricultural production capacity of smallholder farmers; and, M-Farm, leveraging broadly available mobile technology to create markets for smallholder farmers.
    Mobile apps. Building on the ubiquity of simple mobile phones as the entry point for solving some of the world’s most pressing problems, many of the entrepreneurs have mobile strategies. All of the agriculture-focused social enterprises in this year’s cohort leverage mobile technology in some fashion. So, too, does InVenture with the ambitious mission of enabling financial access for all through simple, accessible SMS-based financial tools.CarbonKeeper, initially focused on mobile information management for rural energy businesses, broadened its vision to mobile CRM for social enterprises during the course of GSBI and has renamed itself CustomerKeeper.
    Increasing sophistication of social entrepreneurs. In general, we are finding social entrepreneurs have more real-world experience as well as more academic credentials. Starting in Rwanda, the Chief Instigating Officer of Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE) Elizabeth Scharpf, focuses on better sanitary protection for women; she holds two Harvard degrees. Increasingly sophisticated social entrepreneurs leverage individual and collective wisdom, learning from success stories to create their own. SalaUno, in Mexico, is essentially replicating the successful business model and enabling culture of Aravind Eye Care to eradicate preventable blindness. In India, Sarvajal marries electronic point-of-sale technology with a micro-franchising strategy to deliver safe drinking water through “water ATMs.”
    Nokero is an excellent example of sophistication in the energy sector. In operation only two years, this remarkable social enterprise has already distributed more than 400,000 solar powered lights in 120 countries – using just $60,000 in start-up capital. In a first for the GSBI, Nokero has multiple distributors in the class, including Earthspark International, which distributes clean and affordable energy products in Haiti. Solanterns, another classmate, is testing market demand for Nokero’s products in Kenya as it drives to replace one million kerosene lamps with solar lanterns.
    The Power of Community.  Solar Sister, a GSBI 2011 alum, is also a distributor for Nokero in Uganda, demonstrating the power of the GSBI network: social entrepreneurs who share a vernacular for sustainable, scalable businesses and find they can readily partner – when it makes sense. And our alumni are reproducing! Lifeline Technologies, a for-profit progeny of GSBI 2004 alum non-profit Lifeline Energy, highlights the emergence of hybrid structures that ensure impact-first investment of operating surplus.
    A video replay of last week’s event, featuring business presentations from each of these amazing social entrepreneurs can be found here.  

    Thane Kreiner is executive director of the Center for Science, Technology, and Society, at Santa Clara University, home of the GSBI. 

  • "Mentoring Global Startups in Silicon Valley"

    Monday, Aug. 20, 2012

    This OpEd was originally published on and can be found here.

    From August 12 to 24, a group of 19 social entrepreneurs from all over the world is in Silicon Valley for the Global Social Benefit Incubator (GSBI), of the Center for Science, Technology, and Society at Santa Clara University. The program combines months of online mentoring and exercises led by Valley executives and industry experts with a two-week “boot camp” of back-to-back classes, capped by a public business-plan presentation event.  The program is designed to help entrepreneurs expand and magnify the impact of their social ventures, and prepare their business plans for presentation to potential partners and funders.
    Some of the participants at the GSBI are sharing dispatches from the 10th annual GSBI with Dowser. Dr. Paul Meissner, one of the 70 mentors who volunteer their time to work with social entrepreneurs, shared his thoughts.
    Every year, I look forward to mid-August, when the cohort of social entrepreneurs comes to the Global Social Benefit Incubator.  This year I am privileged to work with Hugo Verkuijl, CEO of Mali Biocarburant who produces bio-oils and fuels that are generated locally.
    For mentoring to have its greatest impact, it must be a life-changing experience for both the mentor and the entrepreneur.  Whether the social entrepreneur is advanced in developing his business, or is just nucleating an idea, I find that mentoring is more than simply “giving back,” or sharing real-life experience from the Silicon Valley.  Let’s face it, many parts of the world are as innovative, as fast moving, and breakthrough-producing as we are.  
    For me it is an in-depth way to open my eyes to parts of the world I would never have known otherwise, and a path to relationships I would never have had had I simply decided to write a check to a worthy international aid organization.
    Maybe the easiest way to describe what I mean is to relate my experience with Global Easy Water Products (GEWP) back in 2005. Suresh Subramanian, the brilliant and hardworking board member of this for-profit offshoot of the non-profit International Development Enterprises India (IDEI), where he was COO, came to Santa Clara to get help create a business model to reach subsistence farmers who could use drip irrigation to provide food for their families.  It became clear right away that just like many Silicon Valley startups, he had trouble deciding on his target markets and didn’t understand how much money he needed to scale. 
    Suresh had a heart for subsistence small-plot farmers who desperately needed help but were expensive to educate and hard to reach given his limited distribution network.  We spent time together online and then for two weeks on SCU’s campus and found a new way to segment his markets. He realized in the end that to impact subsistence farmers he needed to first focus on more-established farmers who understood drip irrigation and could save a lot of money by using his much cheaper solution.  Once his distribution channel was in place, he could better reach those in most need of the social benefit of his product.
    Suresh then took this model and worked with agribusiness enterprises in India like sugarcane mills, which agreed to provide very short-term agricultural loans to farmer to buy the drip systems.  In exchange, they received price guarantees on the sugarcane produced.
    After sorting out the market, Suresh presented me and my fellow mentor, a Silicon Valley private investor named Bob Dench, with a financial model using quarterly and annual figures.  He concluded he needed just over $100K to launch his expansion.  Not having the least experience in agriculture, I completely missed a critical issue with the model that was caught right away by Bob, who has years of experience in agri-business.  The key to the financial model was MONTHLY cash burn, taking into account the seasonal planting and revenue cycles of the business.  This simple change to the calculation meant the real cash need was more than 5x larger than the quarterly model predicted. 
    Getting this insider’s perspective on rural markets, agricultural business and Indian markets brought me to a much better understanding of our small planet, and taught me how an idea and a relationship can impact many thousands of lives.
    The energy and excitement created during these late-night working sessions led to celebrations as Bob and I watched Suresh get $1MM in equity funding from Acumen Fund and successfully ramp his business to $4MM per year. GEWP is still a successful for-profit enterprise, seven years later.  
    Like anything that requires you to really understand something that is foreign or to step far outside your comfort zone, being a mentor to a global social entrepreneur is a thrill, an exciting way to challenge your creativity and innovation in ways even Silicon Valley never imagined. I’ve come away different as a human being, richer and more connected in a globalizing world that needs innovation and collaboration more than ever.
    Paul Meissner is a native of the Bay Area and a graduate of UC Berkeley.  After receiving a Ph.D. in engineering from Stanford, he spent nearly 25 years in Silicon Valley in companies ranging from Coherent Inc. to Applied Materials.  More recently he has held CEO positions in the telecom and renewable energy sectors.

  •  Huffington Post: "Models for Scaling Social Enterprises"

    Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012
    This article was originally published by the Huffington Post Blog. The original link can be found here
    It's easy to identify financial-first enterprises that have scaled to a truly global level in many sectors: soft drinks (Coke, Pepsi), financial services (HSBC), petroleum-based fuels (Royal Dutch/Shell), consumer products (P&G), mobile phones (Samsung, Nokia, Apple), etc.; the list goes on with products and services reaching billions. But there are relatively few examples of social enterprises that have scaled significantly or globally. Why? What factors influence whether social enterprises can scale, beyond the obvious need for financial capital? How do these factors vary in relation to the goods or services the social enterprise delivers, as a function of the entrepreneur's personal motivation, or in the cultural context in which the enterprise operates?
    Clearly, if there were easy answers to these and other questions, there would be more social enterprises that have benefited massive numbers of poor. Rather than trying to answer them, I'll explore a few dimensions to the challenge and raise more questions.
    In June, I wrote about disruptive innovation, with Aravind Eye Care as an example in health care. Aravind also represents a social enterprise that has scaled in at least two dimensions: within a country and across its value chain. Aurolab is the manufacturing division, ensuring high quality, affordable ophthalmic consumables; the Eye Bank procures corneas for sight-restoring surgery; Aravind offers education and training to develop health care and business human resources for its hospitals (and others); notably, the Aravind Medical Research Foundation conduct basic and translational research to ensure a pipeline of new innovations "to reduce the burden of blindness." Arravind essentially has built the full value chain for vision, but it has not scaled (on its own) outside of India. Its singular focus on vision is undoubtedly a factor in its admirable success. Why, so far, has the model not been successfully replicated in other countries at meaningful scale? 
    Husk Power Systems, which I wrote about in April, is scaling primarily within Bihar, one of the poorest states of India. The technology and business model appear well suited to scale beyond; for instance, the HPS biomass-powered electrical generators can accept other feedstock. But, its ambitions just within Bihar could fully occupy the stellar management team for at least the next 5 years. What would be required to enable parallel scaling in multiple geographies simultaneously?
    Gram Vikas, now working in more than 1,000 villages in India, is a great example of what my colleague Jim Koch calls depth scaling, offering an array of programs including safe drinking water, sanitation, education, renewable energy, habitats, food security, and natural resource management. The portfolio of services is somewhat context specific; for example, transforming cultural paradigms such as the caste system are paramount for Gram Vikas to realize its compelling vision of "an equitable and sustainable society where people live in peace with dignity." What changes in the portfolio of services and the ways they are delivered would be necessary to scale beyond India?
    Fundacion Paraguaya is another example of deep scaling within a country. FP's initial microfinance services led to programs in entrepreneurship education, organic agriculture, and livelihood training. Notably, FP seeks to catalyze replication of its organic school and provides resources to help others establish self-sufficient schools. The notion is a social enterprise franchise model, in which a different management team operates essentially the same business model in a different geography with whatever (hopefully minor) business model modifications necessary for success in the local context. FP is also a good example of what one might call "open source" social enterprise: the originator wants others to copy a successful innovation for the poor. Who will leverage these social franchising resources, and where?
    The scaling model most similar to a multinational corporation might be termed a Multi-National Social Enterprise (MNSE). A MNSE might be characterized as offering essentially the service(s) in a number of different countries. Riders for Health enables delivery of health care and other services by managing appropriate vehicle fleets. Its focus on a well-defined solution has enabled it to operate in 10 countries in Africa.
    One could debate whether BRAC is a social enterprise or a "traditional" NGO; its success cannot be denied: it now operates in 10 countries beyond its Bangladesh origin, delivering a broad range of tools for poverty alleviation. BRAC's explicit intention is to identify services that can be scaled in the contexts of a variety of different countries, and reaches over 100 million beneficiaries. Grameen Foundation, which I wrote about last month, may have the broadest geographical reach, operating in 36 countries, with a focus on microfinance and mobile phone based services; it counts 9.4 million of the world's poor helped. While laudable, these numbers raise questions about the ultimate scalability of MNSEs; they pale in comparison to the billions served by multi-national corporations (MNCs). Why?
    Some of the barriers are known, among them, a lack of: systematic market intelligence; management capabilities and capacity in the regions of greatest need; capital investment vehicles and expectations; last-mile distribution infrastructure; and market-distorting subsidies and tariffs. It is unclear whether the best way to maximize impact is through open source models or scaling on one's own; different social entrepreneurs may understandably have different motivations. Moreover, the success of social enterprises frequently relies on relationships with other organizations. Such relationships can be difficult to replicate, or impossible if similar organizations do not exist in target regions.
    While continued invention and innovation are still absolutely critical to solve the needs of the poor, robust exploration of models for scaling social enterprises might accelerate impact dramatically with solutions -- technologies and business models -- that already exist.
  • Could the Blackout be Fuel for India's Energy Entrepreneurs?

    Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012

    This article was originally posted on You can view the original article here

    The collapse of India’s power grid cast 670 million people into darkness—nearly one in 10 inhabitants of our planet.  It called into question the dominant logic of a fragile centralized power system with chronic outages, growth in demand that greatly outstrips new capacity, yet leaves a fourth of India’s population without basic electricity. 

    Conventional “solutions” like centralized coal-fired plants and continued price subsidies for energy from polluting fossil plants and the wide use of back-up diesel generators will only exacerbate the scale of future crisis. These subsidies are, in part, motivated by the risks of political instability in the presence of the rising inflation in energy and food prices. Ironically, amongst those prone to protest are farmers forced to run diesel-powered pumps under widespread drought conditions caused by climate change. The day of reckoning for India’s badly inadequate energy infrastructure has arrived, and a plethora of social entrepreneurs is developing solutions that offer great promise.
    Social entrepreneurs in India are pioneering a decentralized energy paradigm, characterized by improving efficiencies that bring energy cost into parity with grid alternatives, and contribute to economic development and the eradication of poverty in rural areas. These new technologies provide affordable clean energy through community-scale micro-grids, solar home systems, and solar lanterns that displace the need for subsidized kerosene and provide a hundred times the lumens for a fraction of the cost. 
    Bihar-based Husk Power Systems’ standalone mini-power plants convert rice husk waste into affordable off-grid energy to over 300 villages at a total capital cost of less than $1.3/watt—less than mega thermal power plants. Each plant is operated by a village entrepreneur, who manages the plant and collects payment from electricity users. SELCO India, operating out of Karnataka and Gujarat, provides customized solar home systems to meet specific customer load requirements with payment plans that dramatically reduce the total five-year cost of energy. Working with commercial banks, rural banks and credit cooperatives, it has made clean energy financially feasible and has over 135,000 solar systems installed. In Kolkata, ONergy has become a valued-added reseller of an array of solar home systems, lanterns, clean cooking stoves and energy-efficient appliances, also providing critical financing, service and support infrastructure to over 150 villages in east India through their Renewable Energy Centers.
    While the distributed solutions of these social mission enterprises seek to provide the more than 300 million Indian citizens who are off the grid with access to affordable clean energy, the problem remains that the government continues to subsidize kerosene and diesel, with market-distorting impacts.
    On the technology front, solar energy in India is benefitting from positive tailwinds, including a 75 percent reduction in the cost per watt of solar panels in the last five years alone. The policy front is less positive, however, with perverse headwinds designed to prop up a failed central power system. These need to shift to support for potential for these and other distributed clean energy solutions to serve the future of India, its people, and its environment. India could be a showcase, and grassroots social entrepreneurs are prepared to be the pathfinders. The day of reckoning has arrived.
    Jim Koch is Energy Sector Director for the Center for Science, Technology, and Society at Santa Clara University and co-founder of the Global Social Benefit IncubatorTM
  • 10 Life-Or-Death Lessons For Social Entrepreneurs

    Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012

    This article was originally posted in the Forbes Blog. You can view the original article here

    The following guest post is by Al Bruno, cofounder of  the Global Social Benefit Incubator and the William T. Cleary Professor in Santa Clara University’s Leavey School of Business. He is also the founder of the school’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.


    For the past decade, my colleagues and I have helped more than 150 social entrepreneurs from all over the world hone their business plans, which they are able to pitch for 15 exhilarating minutes to Silicon Valley financiers and executives.   Through our ten years running this mentoring program, called the Global Social Benefit Incubator, we’ve culled some top tips for anyone looking to develop their business plan and pitch it to potential funders or partners:


    1.         Prove that you know how your customers make decisions.  Virtually every social venture we counsel asks its customers to change entrenched behaviors and make a different decision for spending their precious dollars:  to pay for clean water instead of making do with dirty water; pay a few pennies for sanitary pads rather than stay home five days a month; invest in clean solar lights that initially cost more than toxic kerosene. Understanding how such customers or beneficiaries decide to spend – or not spend – can be one of the biggest challenges for any kind of venture.   What will prove persuasive to get them to change? What evidence do you have that they will change? 
    2.         Understand how your product or service works on a per-unit basis.  To grow and thrive, you need to be able to “scale up” the value you bring to your current customers or beneficiaries. This requires a clear understanding of your marginal costs – how much it will cost to produce the next unit – and the prices that your customers are willing to pay. Typically this means adding in costs to expand production and distribution (which many entrepreneurs forget to factor in) in a way that grows the bottom line.
    3.         Document your key assumptions and provide a plan for testing them. Experienced funders and partners will want to test the assumptions that you make about customer buying behavior, markets, financing, etc. Do the work for them by setting metrics that can be tracked. India-based Naandi Foundation projected it could sell clean drinking water to 40 percent of its target market. To test that, Naandi employees who educate consumers on clean water’s benefits were enlisted for market research. They learned that customers wouldn’t travel to far-away water kiosks, so they added a bicycle delivery service – enabling them to exceed rather than miss their target.
    4.         Don’t overlook the “packaging” of your presentation, and be strategic with story-telling. Of course, the content of your business plan and presentation matters most, but packaging is more important than you think. Your audience is human, and you must use persuasion to get them on board. Utilizing video clips, “neat” graphics and a compelling – though not overdramatized – story of one beneficiary or group can grab the audience far better than a dry recitation of facts.
    5.         Be honest— even if you see opportunity slip away as a result. The starting point to being successful is to be brutally honest with yourself and with the stakeholders in your venture.  While hyping the size of your target market to epic proportions may seem necessary to catch a funder’s attention, failing to live up to that hype during the diligence period can burn that bridge and many more.  Be restrained and conservative in your projections — such as by overstating your expected costs and expenses, and understating your expected revenues — rather than the opposite.
    6.         Target and time your requests for funding to significant milestones in the evolution of your organization. A recent report indicates that one major “social impact” investing fund, the Acumen Fund, looked at more than 5,000 opportunities in the past 10 years and invested in only 65 of them.  Why? The social entrepreneurs did not understand the business stage and maturity that Acumen seeks before it makes an investment. Do your research to pick the right prospective funders — be they grant-makers, equity investors, or lenders – and time your request at the appropriate stage of your corporate growth. And remember that what you have accomplished to date is history.  What you hope to accomplish with the contributed capital is what is important to your funder.
    7.         Emphasize that you’ve built a strong team and organizational infrastructure—or show how you plan to achieve that vital goal. Funders and partners know that having capable people in key roles is critical to your success. Unfortunately, developing countries often can’t supply the key team members or qualified employees you need to scale. India-based Husk Power Systems (a GSBI alumni company) has addressed this problem by forming its own training entity— Husk Power University— to train the workers it needs to staff the 75 + power plants it currently operates, and to provide employees for future needs such as its move into Africa.
    8.         Show how you use or plan to use partnerships and alliances. Forming strategic relationships with other organizations can be a means to add complementary products or services, stretch scarce resources, or access markets through otherwise-inaccessible distribution channels. Another GSBI alumni company, Hapinoy, partners with the largest microfinancier in the Philippines to provide financing for its network of rural retailers, and teams up with local bus drivers to deliver essential goods to remote locations.
    9.         Build in governance and oversight into your plan. It is critical that you have strong oversight and governance to ensure appropriate and objective decision-making.  Not only can external participants, such as board members, add useful insights to your thinking, but they also can reassure investors that there is an additional set of eyes and minds at work protecting their money from risk.

    10.     Be a feedback fiend.  In addition to getting feedback from customers, expose your ideas and thinking to trusted advisors, mentors and investors to refine your pitch. Most importantly, listen to their comments, observations, and criticisms so you can address them in your next pitch. You must demonstrate that you have anticipated key concerns and have thought through the issues.
    Want to see all this in action? Come hear about innovation that can change lives at the GSBI 2012 business plan presentations on August 23, 2012 in the Mayer Theatre at Santa Clara University. For more information, see



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