Social Entrepreneurship

/Social Entrepreneurship
  • raj

Zero Percent Launches SnackPass to Reduce Food Waste

Zero Percent is an online food donation marketplace that helps businesses move surplus, edible food to nearby soup kitchens and shelters, reducing both hunger and waste. They were part of our second accelerator class in 2014.  Zero Percent recently launched SnackPass, an app that provides delicious, nutritious snacks from a variety of local restaurants. We recently caught up with Rajesh Karmani, CEO and Founder, to learn more about SnackPass and the future of the company.

Tell us the story behind Zero Percent.

In 2012, I was a graduate student in computer science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I frequently visited a bagel shop between my home and my grad school office, where they baked everything fresh each morning. I learned that the shop could never perfectly predict how much food they would sell each day and always ended up with excess bagels. The shop owner Marc wanted to donate the extra food to a local nonprofit, but it was difficult for him to find out which nonprofit would need the food and how he could deliver it. I knew that technology marketplaces like eBay and Craigslist could effectively match supply and demand, so I thought, “Why wasn’t there an online food donation marketplace?” During a hackathon event hosted by the UIUC computer science department, I created Zero Percent.

What are some of the challenges you face building a food tech business and how have you overcome them?

The first big challenge was to understand the variables involved in matching excess food with a need in the community. Secondly, we needed to figure out how to rescue food in a large city like […]

By |November 18, 2016|
  • chicago

Newest Players in the Chicago Impact Scene

In past blog posts, we’ve written about the next generation of social entrepreneurs in Chicago and why impact entrepreneurship is thriving in Chicago. We’re excited to highlight a few of the newest players in the field; we couldn’t be more excited to be a part of the growing community of Chicago impact entrepreneurs, mentors, investors, and champions of impact!

Ekistic Ventures

In September, David Spielfogel and Brett Goldstein announced the launch of Ekistic Ventures, a VC firm that plans to invest in startups that make cities more equitable and efficient. Spielfogel is one of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s former top advisors and Goldstein the ex-chief data officer for the city of Chicago. While working for the city, they noticed that young entrepreneurs building technology often lacked the urban strategy knowledge to turn their small scale ideas into big picture solutions. Ekistic Ventures has launched a $15 million fund that will invest in seed-stage companies bringing new solutions to critical urban problems. Ekistic takes a holistic approach to problem-solving, partnering with research institutions, big businesses, mayors, city government officials and entrepreneurs to tackle the most significant urban challenges.

INVEST Chicago

Launched in 2016 by Good City, INVEST Chicago is an initiative aimed at mobilizing individuals to give their time, talents and finances to social entrepreneurs and nonprofits making a difference in Chicago. They provide philanthropic grants and impact investment opportunities to nonprofits and social entrepreneurs to support strategic and sustainable ideas with strong leadership. INVEST Chicago works with foundations, corporate partners and the city of Chicago to identify and invest in projects serving the most under-resourced communities in Chicago. Their first portfolio, the Women’s Innovation Fund, […]

By |October 28, 2016|
  • socap

Impact Engine at SOCAP16: Midweek Recap

SOCAP (Social Capital Markets), the world’s largest conference on social enterprise and impact investing, is taking place at the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco, California this week. We’re excited that Jessica Droste Yagan and Tasha Seitz of Impact Engine are both at #SOCAP16 connecting with others in the impact investing field. Earlier this month, Tasha and Jessica wrote an article on the SOCAP blog, sharing Impact Engine’s model and their thoughts on the state of impact investing in Chicago and beyond. Below, they’ve shared a dispatch from the conference after Day 3.

“It’s so great be in San Francisco at SOCAP16, surrounded by the energy and excitement of the SOCAP community. As veteran attendees (this is Jessica’s third and Tasha’s fifth conference), we are always energized to be around smart people who are passionate about the potential of the intersection of impact and markets. We’ve had the chance to hear from many entrepreneurs building solutions to important problems, and were happy to cross paths with two Impact Engine portfolio companies (Develop Link and Sokowatch). We’ve noticed a growing interest in direct investing among the investor community: yesterday Tasha spoke on a panel about direct investing, sharing what she has learned working with emerging funds and angel investors. We’ve found that even groups like community development financial institution (CDFIs) who have long been impact investing are still learning and growing in this space. This gathering is an excellent reminder just how much this movement and opportunity has grown over the years!”

Did you like this post? Sign up for our community newsletter and we’ll send you the latest Impact Engine […]

By |September 20, 2016|
  • boardadvisorsblog

Lessons from Our Portfolio: Boards and Advisors

Earlier this month, we brought together our portfolio company CEOs for an informal discussion around the roles of advisors and board members, moderated by our CIO, Tasha Seitz. Building upon our portfolio founders’ insights and our management team’s experiences, we’ve outlined some of our key takeaways here.


Advisors who are able to provide expertise in your industry or product area, connect you to strategic partners, make introductions to prospective customers, or otherwise add value to your team can be invaluable to your early business success. In some industries, like education and health, having a credible group of experts in your field as formal advisors is an important signal to the market. That being said, it’s up to you as the leader of your company to decide whether it makes sense to formalize their involvement through an advisory board (which typically involves granting them options) and how to make the best use of their time and input.  

If you do decide to formalize your relationship with an advisor, it’s important to set clear expectations about how much time they will commit to the company and what value they expect to provide in terms of introductions and connections. You might also consider vesting their options over some period of time.  From a time perspective, try to strike a balance based on your needs and the availability and interest of the advisor. One danger is overusing them to the point they feel taken advantage of or they get burned out.  On the opposite end of the spectrum is the missed opportunity of leaving a highly valuable resource out of the loop for too long […]

By |June 27, 2016|
  • Phare Blog photo

Phare: A Cambodian Social Enterprise

By: Jamie Jones

While many people running an impact venture probably feel like they are ringmaster of a giant circus, Phare: The Cambodian Circus really is. This Siem Reap-based venture trains low-income, at-risk youth in performing arts and their profits benefit three social missions. Phare hosts nightly performances in the temple-epicenter of Cambodia, a hot-bed for tourists and wanderlust-fill backpackers. The shows, which sell out nightly, blend “contortion, juggling, acrobatics, balancing and aerial arts with theatre and modern dance forms.”

I recently had the pleasure of seeing Phare’s Eclipse production first-hand. The artistry was stunning and after an hour-long show, which included a message about acceptance and elimination of bullying within the plot, my face was sore from smiling ear-to-ear and my hands red from non-stop clapping. The artistry, the music, the performance were all first-class, but most impressively, all original.

After being torn apart by years of civil war and having country’s intellectuals executed at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia is still rebuilding a population of critical thinkers and creatives. Phare serves as a cornerstone in reviving the arts and creative community in post-war Cambodia. Phare performances are not only there to entertain tourists and travelers, but rather are deeply rooted in benefiting the rising trend in social missions in Cambodia. Profits from Phare are allotted to:

    Provide gainful employment to Cambodian youth from difficult social and economic backgrounds,
    Financially sustain Phare Ponleu Selpak, their NGO school, thereby
    Contributing to the rebirth of Cambodian modern art

In 2014, Phare Ponleu Selpak provided education and training for over 1,200 students. The talent they product is sought after and employed all […]

By |October 19, 2015|
  • Totus Power Blog

Founder Stories: Shiv Rajendran, Totus Power

Art by Tiffanie Mang

This blog was originally posted by Be Like Peter in May 2015

Founder: Siva “Shiv” Rajendran
Company Description: Creating portable affordable power from recycled electric car batteries
Company Site:; @TotusPower
Date of Interview: June 2015

Shiv Rajendran is a car enthusiast, an engineering enthusiast, and a possibilities enthusiast. After achieving his short-term corporate goals, he realized that none of his passions had any place in his current career trajectory – so he took off in search of a new one. 

On shedding material wealth:
In his previous life, Shiv worked at Deloitte. At age 25, he was one of the company’s youngest Senior Consultants in their finance practice. “I wanted to hit six figures before I turned 25. I did that three days after my 25th birthday – and I really disliked it. I was doing 80 hours of work a week that I didn’t care about.”

During a vacation, he met a guy in the electric car industry, and was really interested in the industry. “I’m a car nut. I’ve raced since I was 15. I was a bus driver when I was getting my master’s degree. I’ve ridden my motorcycle across the US on solo trips.” He decided to sell everything he had except his motorcycle and move to California.

He worked as a director at an electric vehicle start up for a little over a year, but the company closed shop. He knew he didn’t want to go back to a standard full-time job, so he he sold his belongings again and moved into his friend’s garage.
“I can pretty much survive on $6 a day. It’s not that big of a deal, […]

By |June 25, 2015|
  • Porfolio Blog

What We Look for in Impact Engine Portfolio Companies

We are always looking for great early-stage impact companies to apply to Impact Engine for funding. Applications for funding are now accepted on a rolling basis, so there are no deadlines or start dates. As an impact venture fund, we make investments in pre-seed (“accelerator stage”), seed, and Series A-stage companies and are looking for similar things in all of our portfolio companies, including:

Great Leader/Team

A great founding team is critical for the success of a startup. We will be asking ourselves: why are YOU the right people to make this company successful? We are looking for people who know their industry or product deeply but can (and will) adapt as needed when things don’t work out as expected. It is important that you be open to the value of the connections and mentoring our network can provide but also strongly grounded with your own lens on the future of your company.

Compelling Product with Impact

We will be asking ourselves if your product or service is unique, if it works, and if the value proposition is compelling. We specifically focus on information technology enabled solutions that do not require long manufacturing or regulatory processes to scale. From an impact perspective, our questions will focus on whether there is positive social impact “baked in” to your product or service, so the impact will grow alongside the business. We specifically focus on impacts in education, health, economic empowerment, and resource efficiency. From a business perspective, we will ask who your customer is, how much they are willing pay for your product, and why.

Strong Business Model

Assuming the customer value proposition and impact propositions are strong, […]

By |June 10, 2015|
  • Featured-Image-Investors-Blog

7 Tips for Talking to Impact Investors

When it comes to fundraising, finding the right investors to back your startup is key. This is true for nearly all early stage companies looking for capital, but when it comes to impact companies, finding the right financial partners is even more important. Not only do you want investors who see the financial opportunity of your impact company, you want investors who truly believe in your mission. And as we’ve highlighted in our “Spectrum of Impact Investing” post, investing philosophies vary greatly among impact investors. Despite this delicate dance, there are a few things every social entrepreneur can do prepare for fundraising. Impact Engine’s chief investment officer, Tasha Seitz, and chairman, Chuck Templeton, put together a some tips for preparing for and managing your conversations with potential impact investors.

1. Be ready. The best time to raise money is when you have a strong case to make: have some traction and proof points around customer demand, willingness to pay, business model, etc. Bootstrap and conserve your cash until you have those proof points. Bring together a team that can execute, and get stuff done before you start talking to investors.

2. Be prepared. Be able to explain your market opportunity, how your business works, and your unique (preferably) value proposition. In addition, impact investors will want to know what the potential for social or environmental impact is and how you intend to measure it. Come to the conversation with a clear outline of what you’ve done so far to build the business and how much you need to raise to reach the next set of key milestones. Also spend some time thinking […]

By |May 28, 2015|
  • Kathleen-Wright

Kathleen Wright Believes Impact Entrepreneurs Should Lead with Passion

Kathleen Wright is working to end global poverty piece by piece. The founder and CEO of Piece & Co., an Impact Engine portfolio company, spent the four years prior to starting her company working with artisans around the world and saw first hand the lack of sustainable employment opportunities for these highly skilled women. It was from this work that Kathleen had the vision for Piece & Co., an impact company aimed at facilitating the employment of female artisans around the world. Since its launch in 2011, Piece & Co. has created over 6,000 jobs for artisan women and recently teamed up with Nordstrom on a collection that features textiles from 10 artisan groups, named She Makes It. We connected with Kathleen via email to talk to us about this project, the challenges of starting an impact business, and how impact entrepreneurs should “lead with passion.”

What inspired you to start your company?

KW: lack of opportunity for women in the developing world. In my travels I’ve met so many talented, capable women who had all of the tools they needed to create a livelihood for themselves but there is no opportunity or market. I also saw a growing demand in the United States for products that were making an impact. Piece & Co. brings artisan coops the opportunities they need to create sustainable businesses and better lives.

Tell us about your most recent collaboration, She Makes It.

KW: She Makes it is a collaboration between Piece & Co., Nordstrom, and eight incredible brands, including Tory Burch, Current Elliot, Diane von Fursterberg, and Rebecca Minkoff. The collection features textiles from 10 different […]

By |April 24, 2015|
  • Dan-Ratner-Impact-Engine

Why Dan Ratner is All-In on Impact Investing

Dan Ratner has been a player in Chicago’s entrepreneurship scene for a while now. The Executive Chairman of Public Good Software (an impact company!) boasts an impressive technology background, including stints at Sittercity (CTO/COO) and Obama for America (Director of Development). Most recently, Dan upped his involvement with impact investing by becoming one of Impact Engine’s newest board members alongside Origin Venture’s Steve Miller. (Read the announcement here.) We connected with Dan via email to discuss his philosophy on impact investing, how Sittercity was his “gateway drug to social entrepreneurship,” and the challenges he’s faced as an entrepreneur. 

What drove you to take a position on Impact Engine’s board?

DR: I’ve been involved in Impact Engine as a both a mentor and as an investor, and it’s been really exciting to see impact companies moving from the fringes to the mainstream. You can’t go to a Demo Day not be moved by what these companies are trying to accomplish, and when they can harness the resources of the capital markets, the scale to which they can make positive change is energizing.

On a more personal note, when Chuck Templeton, Tasha Seitz and Jessica Droste Yagan ask you to do something, you listen. If you look at the amount of powerful and inspiring people Impact Engine has already assembled, being a part of it is irresistible. If they hadn’t asked me, I’d probably have gate-crashed and they’d have had to ask security to remove me.

You recently told us that your future investments will focus solely on impact investments. What prompted you to make this decision?

DR: I sometimes describe as my gateway drug to […]

By |March 18, 2015|

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