Unfolding Radiance
The Network Effects of Awareness, Energy, Trust and Serendipity

Social Entrepreneurship at Zino Society

The Zino Society Roundtable meeting had a social entrepreneurial flavor -- or perhaps it would be more accurate to say several such flavors -- this month.  Two of the four companies presenting their plans to the Zino investors (SoilSoup and MadreMonte) had goals of creating greater social and/or environmental welfare, and another (Jookster) was incorporating social and community dimensions into an important technology application area.  Moreover, during the discussion after the presentations, it's clear that new ventures that seek to "do well by doing right" are appealing to this group, which, as one member put it, has a predilection for "noble purposes and high ideals".

One of the best definitions of social entrepreneurship, and some of the most compelling examples of this energy in action, can be found on the web site for the PBS miniseries The New Heroes:

A social entrepreneur identifies and solves social problems on a large scale. Just as business entrepreneurs create and transform whole industries, social entrepreneurs act as the change agents for society, seizing opportunities others miss in order to improve systems, invent and disseminate new approaches and advance sustainable solutions that create social value.

Although the ventures being pitched at the meeting may not [yet] have the level of impact exhibited by the examples shown in The New Heroes, some of them offer a local opportunity for socially responsible investing.

Cathi Hatch, Zino Society's founder, CEO and Primo ZINOrina, started things off by introducing Kay Syrrist, Director of Operations and CFO of Small Vineyards Imports (a company I wrote about after attending an earlier Zino Society Roundtable meeting).  Small Vineyards has organized a consortium of small wine producers in Italy that creates economies of scale in a way that offers a win-win value proposition for all stakeholders (producers, retailers, consumers).  There is a social entrepreneurial aspect to their efforts, given their focus on wines that are "customarily hand harvested, earth friendly, and always of superior quality".  Kay announced that, as a result of their presentation at the January Roundtable, they were able to secure investment to continue their efforts to bring "the wine, the stories, and the passion of these Italian winemakers to America", and so represent one of the early success stories for the Zino Society.

The keynote for the April meeting was delivered by Jeffrey Parker, Consul General of Canada for Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska.  Jeff spoke primarily about his prior role as Executive Director of Technology Partnerships Canada (TPC), a Canadian government program for providing early stage investment in companies engaged in research and development of advanced technologies.  This seed money is intended to attract later stage private sector investment and eventually produce "tangible economic, social and environmental benefits for all Canadians".  As might be expected, some of the investments have not yielded the desired results, but there have been some notable successes, such as Research in Motion, who was able to use the TPC money to create the Blackberry pager.  Jeff also noted the strong ties across the U.S./Canadian border, particularly in the Pacific Northwest, and his interest in strengthening those ties, especially along the entrepreneurial dimension.

The first company to present was Formotus, which offers a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model to "enable enterprises to easily create and deploy mobile data applications for their employees."  Joe Verschueren, the co-founder and CEO, shared some details about pilot deployments, but as I don't see any information about these on the company web site or elsewhere on the web, I won't say more here.  Formotus co-founder and COO, Adriana Neagu, was one of the creators of Microsoft Office InfoPath.

SoilSoup President and CEO, Ken Hunt, was next up, sharing some of the environmental and economic benefits of their Organic Liquid Compost Brewing Systems.  As an erstwhile homebrewer (of beer), I appreciate the Do-It-Yourself nature of their current product line, and as an environmental advocate, I appreciate the benefits offered through using biology (beneficial bacteria derived from worm castings) rather than chemistry for nourishing soil.  Ken referred to an Ohio State University study that demonstrated the positive effects of using SoilSoup on a field planted with winter squash: a 40% increase in marketable yield and a 50% increase in the percentage of marketable fruit.

Kapenda Thomas, Founder and CEO of Jookster, presented his company's goal as combining the best of MySpace and Google.  Jookster users can identify an interesting/useful site by "jooking" it -- a one-click operation via a browser plugin (the Jookster Toolbar) to add it to a favorites list.  If a user has a community of Jookster friends, their ratings can be used to order the results of a search, as can information about the location of the user (e.g., via geotagged IP addresses) [Update: Kapenda clarified that localized search results were a natural outgrowth of their community-oriented ratings, e.g., if a user's friends tend to jook sites in a particular locale, such as the Queen Anne neighborhood in Seattle, then searching for the term for "Queen Anne" is more likely to return results relating to that neighborhood than, say, a member of the British Royalty] providing what Kapenda calls context through community.  The revenue model is based on contextual advertising, and so they will need to build a critical mass of users; as noted in the Q&A, if they are able to demonstrate better contextualized search results, they may be able to command higher advertising rates.  An interesting exchange on various approaches to -- and assumptions about -- community search, including those embodied in Jookster and Wink, can be found on this post at TechCrunch.

The last presenter was the first presenter, Joe Verschueren, this time representing another venture, MadreMonte Coffee, whose mission aligns most closely with the examples of social entrepreneurship highlighted in the aforementioned PBS series ... and shares some similarities to Small Vineyards Imports.  MadreMonte markets fair trade organic coffee grown by small family farmers in the Cauca Valley of Columbia.  The goal is to foster peace, economic development, sustainable agriculture, food security and organic farming in Columbia, which is the third largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid.  The company seeks to leverage the high quality of Columbian coffee -- Joe said it was finest in the world (I am rather partial to Indonesian Sumatra, myself) -- and a "girl scout cookies" marketing strategy channeled through the Jesuit network (two Jesuit priests are the other co-founders).

After the presentations, and an investors' discussion period, all the participants were offered a chance to partake of wine and wisdom, and as usual, both dimensions were exemplary.  The wines included

  • Robert Sinskey 2003 Los Carneros Pinot Noir: one of the darkest, full-bodied and long-finishing Pinot Noirs I've tasted (though I admit to not drinking much Pinot, given my preference for big reds).
  • Baer 2003 Ursa: a predominantly Merlot / Cabernet Franc blend that was my favorite (while still in the barrel) during a vertical tasting at Baer Winery of the 2001, 2002 and 2003 vintages a year and a half ago.
  • Kennedy Shah 2004 Auntie Meredith's Picnic Blend & 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon: the Picnic Blend, consisting of Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc, tasted like it would be an ideal accompaniment to a picnic on a hot day, but I liked the full-bodied cab, which was a blend that also included Merlot and Cabernet Franc, much better.
  • Marchetti 2001 Rosso Conero Riserva: a blend that I believe is primarily Rosso di Montepulciano, whose name derives from "cherry" and is grown in small vineyards that are typically surrounded by cherry trees ... and thus there is a strong cherry component to the nose and taste of this full-bodied red.
  • Giuseppe Lonardi 1999 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico: my favorite of the tasting.  As Kay was opening up the first bottle, he described Amarone as "sex in a bottle", and so I pointed to the proactive display in the corner and noted that my "ticket2talk" image was a bottle of Amarone, and my caption read "Amarone: Ecstasy in a Bottle" (and I swear I didn't know Kay would be there, nor that he would be pouring an Amarone).

Ticket2talkzinosocietyjoe  Ticket2talkzinosocietyapril

Unlike the earlier Zino Society meetings I attended -- at one of which we deployed our proactive display -- some of the wine was offered as people were arriving and before the presentations began, and so conversations and connections were already flowing rather well by the time the "wine and wisdom" hour rolled around.  We did a better job of highlighting sponsors this time, thanks to the active engagement of Mary Holmes, Zino Society's VP for Business Relations, and I saw some people paying some attention to the display during the event.  However, I'm not sure there was much room for improvement in creating opportunities for interactions using technology: the wine and inspiring presentations offered pretty good tickets to talk.

Coming around full circle, I view Interrelativity itself as an example of social entrepreneurship.  The motivation behind Interrelativity is a fundamental belief that we are all kindred spirits on some level, each interesting in his or her own way, with untapped value we can offer -- and receive from -- others.  Strangers are simply friends who haven't met yet, and so our goal is to introduce technology into settings where it can help introduce people, by revealing interests and passions -- that people have chosen to share -- that go beyond what might be gleaned from faces, names and affiliations.  If this approach and capability to facilitate connections gains traction, it will help transform society in ways that benefit everyone.

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