Competition attracts social entrepreneurs

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Julie Jones, a teacher at Cotswold Elementary School in Charlotte, had the idea of piloting a grub decomposing operation that would use a bioconversion process to divert food waste from landfills while producing protein-rich chicken and fish feed for local farms.

Her idea, Grub to Grub, won the grand prize last year — and a total of $21,000 — at the inaugural SEED20 competition for social entrepreneurs sponsored by Social Venture Partners.

SVP, an affiliate of a Seattle-based international network of 27 local affiliates, with two more in the works in Chicago and Bangalore, India, now is reviewing applications for its second annual SEED20 competition.

This year’s competition will culminate March 7 at an event at the Urban Garden at One Bank of America Center.

In early January, SVP will announce 20 semifinalists, which over seven weeks then will receive training, mentoring and coaching from community leaders on how to tell their story.

Ten finalists will be selected to deliver three-minute “fast-pitch” presentations at the final competition.

Finalists last year were selected from among 82 applicants.

The runner-up last year, a network of gardens, known as Friendship Gardens, each of which donates a portion of its produce to Friendship Trays to deliver healthy food to over 1,300 recipients of meals, received a total of $11,000, and the remaining eight finalists each received $2,000.

“We hope to spawn an in-depth connection between the nonprofits and the community,” says Daniel.

The competition is grounded in SVP’s mission of fostering social entrepreneurship.

Founded in 2005, the Charlotte affiliate has invested nearly $700,000 in nine local nonprofits, while also providing them with business expertise, time and community connections.

Overall, the SVP network has contributed $46.25 million to 550 nonprofits, and eight affiliates have “fast-pitch” events for social entrepreneurs.

Becoming an SVP partner in Charlotte requires investing $5,000 a year for two years for two people age 35 or older, and $2,500 a year for two years for two people under age 35.

“We never just write a check,” Daniel says. “We nurture our investment by forming strong partnerships with nonprofits, working with them to help them increase their impact in the community.”

SVP does not have regular deadlines for submitting grants but tries to educate itself about community needs and partner with nonprofits that it believes are working to address gaps in services and are likely to make a big impact, Daniel says.

A new partner is Sow Much Good, a young nonprofit that wants to provide access to fresh, affordable food to neighborhoods that lack access.

Sow Much Good currently operates farmstands in the underserved neighborhoods of Ashley Park and near Friendship Missionary Baptist Church.

The group, headed by Robin Emmons, wants to connect with underserved neighborhoods, develop farms on available land there, enlist residents to work and volunteer on the farms, sell produce from the farms at local farmstands, and educate and engage residents in healthy eating.

SVP, which has partnered with Sow Much Good for over half a year, has invested $35,000 in the group, met multiple times with Emmons and the board, and is working to help it identify its biggest needs and how its partners can best provide it with their expertise, Daniel says.

Supporting and raising the profile of the groups it invests in, and the social entrepreneurs that participate in its SEED20 competition, Daniel says, “will increase the impact these nonprofits will have in addressing community problems, and strengthen the growth and social vitality of the community.”

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