View from the ‘Loo: On venture partners who invest in people Anthony Reinhart October 31, 2013 Communitech, View from the ‘Loo Photo: Jennifer King is Executive Director of Social Venture Partners Waterloo Region, which devotes time and expertise – and not just money – to the agencies it helps. They look for the same things any venture capitalist would: a good team, solid fundamentals and the potential to change the world. The difference is in how they gauge success – not through profit, but through positive impact on people. ‘They’ are Social Venture Partners, a global network of philanthropists, whose Waterloo Region chapter is known for punching above its weight, pulling together and getting things done. Sound familiar? “To me, it’s the same as why our tech community is so successful,” says Jennifer King, Executive Director at Social Venture Partners Waterloo Region (SVPWR). “I think it’s very similar.” And so, when SVPWR holds its annual 8×10: Expose Potential fundraising event in Kitchener next Wednesday night, you’ll see a lot of faces familiar in the tech community. I sat down with King a while back to chat about SVPWR’s work, and why it seems to appeal to this region’s innovative entrepreneurs. Of the chapter’s 60-plus partners from 37 households (many invest as couples), “I would say probably half have a tech background,” she told me. Partnership is open to anyone willing to commit a minimum $5,000 per year. For new “associate partners” under age 35, the minimum annual pledge is $2,500. The money is used to make grants to local non-profit organizations carefully selected by SVPWR’s investment committee, and to educate the partners on effective philanthropy. That’s just the start. The investments are tightly focused and the commitments long-term – three to five years – to ensure maximum impact. Partners also go beyond merely writing cheques, and give of their time and expertise in helping the relatively few investees chosen to receive support (one per year, or three organizations so far, since Jacqui Murphy and Tim Jackson founded the local SVP chapter in 2010). “I think entrepreneurial-minded folks tend to be results-oriented, and so I think this approach to philanthropy, which does emphasize impact and results, is more appealing,” King says. “There’s this growing dissatisfaction with just writing a cheque. There’s more of a desire to know about the impact that you’re having with your money.” Like the best venture capitalists, Social Venture Partners work co-operatively with the entities they support to turn their investment dollars into lasting results, leading to a successful “exit” after the three to five years is up. “We know we’re going to exit, so we work towards that, towards strengthening their organization so that, by the time we leave, they’re in a better position than they were when we started,” King says, adding that SVPWR directs its investments to child and youth development programs. “That’s our reason for working with them, to build their organizational strength. If that’s not happening, then we’ve not done our job.” Thus far, SVPWR has invested in Strong Start, Woolwich Counselling Centre and Kinbridge Community Association. The local chapter’s ties to the tech community are strengthened by its location inside the Accelerator Centre (AC) in the University of Waterloo’s David Johnston Research + Technology Park, where startups are hard at work solving real-world problems. The tech community, in turn, has already benefited from that proximity, as SVPWR has been an early adopter of locally developed technology, giving a boost to several local startups. They include decision.io, whose submission-management software helps the agency sift through grant applications; iNotForProfit, whose app helps keep the partners up to date and in touch with each other; and Organimi, whose answer to the org chart helps keep SVPWR’s people engaged as the chapter grows. “I think we’re that type of organization where we’re always looking for better ways to do things, and I think being in that environment is really helpful,” King says of the AC. With its annual grants approaching $100,000 this year, up from $65,000 last year and $30,000 in 2011, SVPWR is looking to ramp up activities as more partners come on board. “As we get bigger, we might do two grants a year,” she says. “Not only is that an issue of money, but also people’s time. As we grow, we’ll be able to do more.” In the process, the Waterloo Region chapter has been gaining increasing attention within the broader Social Venture Partners movement, which has 2,700 partners in 32 locations around the world – just as our entrepreneurs have been commanding a growing share of the tech world’s attention. Members of other SVP chapters “think that we’re maybe a little small, you know, the underdog,” King says. “But then they come here to this community and they see what we’re doing, and they go, ‘Why doesn’t all of North America know about this place?’ Paul Shoemaker, the Seattle-based founder of SVP International, is among those impressed by what’s happening in Waterloo Region. “He said, ‘There’s nothing like this in Seattle’, and for us, that’s pretty cool. We’re really proud of our community, and we get to spread that within our network and talk about all the great things that are happening,” King says. “As our network grows, I think it’s a win for all of us.” Anthony Reinhart is Communitech’s Director of Editorial Strategy and senior staff writer. View from the ‘Loo is a weekly look at the issues, people and events that shape Waterloo Region’s technology sector.