When I started helping the Summit Committee plan our 3rd Annual TFC Social Ventures Summit in the fall, it seemed like it was very, very far away. But things like that have a way of sneaking up on you, and I was so focused on the logistics – editing the program, making sure we ordered enough lunches, and checking and re-checking our to do list – that I almost forgot why we were even planning this event in the first place. The morning-of was crazy, and it wasn’t until I was sitting in the auditorium and listening to our Opening speaker, Anna Stork (founder of LuminAid), that I remembered.
Summit was full of great energy and excitement – from the Vanderbilt graduate students and community partners who attended to the speakers themselves. There were students who are working on their first (or next) social venture start-up and aspiring entrepreneurs, familiar faces and many new ones. Regardless of background, graduate program, professional experience, or career goals, everyone was there because we all have at least one thing in common: the desire to make an impact, and the knowledge that we can’t do it alone.
I went into the day thinking that I wouldn’t have much time to hear speakers, but thanks to a fantastic team of board members, committee members, and TFC staff, I was able to sit in on a few of the presentations throughout the day.
Anna Stork, who (along with her partner) grew her idea for an inflatable solar-powered light from a prototype created during graduate school into a business that is both profitable and impactful, making light – and therefore comfort, safety, and hope – accessible to people all over the world. As a Shark Tank fan, I have to admit I was pretty excited to hear about their (successful) experience on the show. While I definitely enjoyed getting the behind-the-scenes lowdown, the MBA student (and former architecture undergrad) was fascinated most by their process, commitment, and the decisions they made, and continue to make, in forming their company. I could see the wheels spinning and ideas forming in some of the audience’s minds, and I was reminded once again of how much I admire and appreciate the many brilliant and talented minds that make up the TFC’s constituents.
One of the unexpected benefits of staffing an event – and therefore popping into sessions almost at random – was ending up in sessions that, had I been attending solely as a guest, I might not have chosen to attend. Lauren Rogal’s session on the Legal Options for Social Enterprises was one reminder of the importance of going against my natural instincts and breaking out of my comfort zone. She broke down what it means to structure your business in any of the forms along the spectrum – a traditional corporation, an LLC, a co-op, non-profit, and the like – and their benefits and drawbacks, legally and in their ability to create social impact. Where Anna was inspirational by taking us on her own journey, Lauren’s session was motivational because it made what usually seems overwhelming and confusing very practical, accessible, and applicable.
Finishing off the event was James Nardella of the Skoll Foundation. He led an amazing session about designing a social venture or program to be scalable and, ultimately, both positively impact your direct market but also have beneficial reverberations throughout secondary populations as well. I found it fascinating to hear James apply foundational business concepts (Total Available Market, scaling, resource management, etc.) to social impact. The combination of the two makes a ton of sense, and I left that final session inspired and engaged toward playing my part in furthering ventures in this space.
Owen students are known for not really leaving our “Owen bubble” too often, and it’s one of the things I appreciate most about the TFC. I left the Summit with a renewed enthusiasm to continue with this work and the comfort of knowing that so many other people, across disciplines and industries, are also committed to alleviating poverty – and working together to do so. I am hopeful that, with so many different perspectives and approaches, we will be able to make a difference.
Thank you to everyone who attended – we hoped you loved the event as much as we loved hosting you! We look forward to seeing you at some of our next events!