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The case for GoodCompany Ventures’ impact in Philadelphia

Garrett Melby at 2016's SustainPHL awards event. October 24, 2016 Category: ColumnFeaturedLongMethod

Disclosures

This a guest post by GoodCompany Ventures' cofounder and CEO Garrett Melby, who is a member of the board of directors of Generocity Community Alliance, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that launched Generocity and has provided a program-related investment to fund the development of Generocity by Technically Media. That relationship is unrelated to this article.

Editor’s note: On Oct. 6, we published a story titled “It’s been a good week for these GoodCompany Ventures alums,” detailing some recent good news about two social enterprises with which Center City-based accelerator GoodCompany Ventures (GCV) has worked: Chicago-based prison education startup Edovo, and Pittsburgh-based eco-retailer Thread. Reporter Tony Abraham raised the point that much of the impact created by the companies has happened in other cities. Read the story here

In response, GCV cofounder and CEO Garrett Melby left a comment on the post explaining why the success of the companies, though not based in Philadelphia, still benefit the city. It has been reposted here with permission and edited for length and clarity.


“Not all of that impact has been here in Philadelphia.”

Thanks for highlighting the wins of some of our recent recent graduates. You raise a point that I am eager to address for readers, since it’s a key issue that we’ve been working on.

True, we have always sought the most impactful innovations, regardless of geography, and this no doubt detracts from the local perception of the productivity and success of our program. We believe it’s valuable for Philadelphia to attract entrepreneurs here from around the globe — we’ve covered every continent but Antarctica.

GCV was a first mover among social enterprise accelerators and was able to capture a national reputation, and we continue to think this is a good strategy to expand Philadelphia’s reputation as a national hub for social enterprise.

While it’s challenging to convince an entrepreneur to relocate from San Francisco, New York, Boston or other tech hubs to participate in our program, our visiting entrepreneurs love Philadelphia. They find that it’s a big enough city to model major urban issues — no shortage of those — yet small enough to get quickly networked into the tech, business and government resources they need to access. The talent and “generocity” of the speakers, mentors, students and investors who use our program as a platform for serving these entrepreneurs is essential to building the positive reputation for Philadelphia that these entrepreneurs carry back to their hometowns.

From our Partners

That said, we are focused on how we can keep these entrepreneurs — or at least their social impact — in the region.

Capital is part of the answer and we have been very involved in the establishment and growth of the local Investors’ Circle chapter, which is now the largest and most active chapter in the nation. Looking to the future, we are very excited that Ben Franklin Technology Partners has made a major commitment to incorporating social impact to their economic development agenda, recently winning a $250,000 federal grant to develop a impact investment fund.

While investors can, to some extent, bind an entrepreneur to the region, we want entrepreneurs to view Philadelphia as the launch platform of choice.

While investors can, to some extent, bind an entrepreneur to the region, we want entrepreneurs to view Philadelphia as the launch platform of choice, so we are focused on adding elements to our accelerator program to ensure local impact. To this end, we created a new feature — unique among accelerators, to our knowledge — when we designed the FastFWD program for Mayor Nutter and Bloomberg Philanthropies. Rather than using funding from the Bloomberg Mayor’s Challenge prize to make equity investments in our companies, we advised that the funds be used to subsidize local pilots of the innovations.

In addition to ensuring that the innovations we chose would be launched here, the GCV pilot program has the advantages of keeping the city out of the “Solyndra” trap of embarrassing losses in risky startups, facilitating access to institutional infrastructure that startups otherwise can’t (or can’t afford) to penetrate and providing the real-world proof of concept needed to engage private investors.

As a conservative measure of the city’s return, the ratio of private investment mobilized to funds invested in pilots is over 25x for the FastFWD program. If you were to compare the $30,000 invested in a pilot for Edovo to the $1.76 billon value of its projected social impact, the numbers would strain belief, but the pilot was essential for it, as an unfunded seed stage company, to gain access to highly restricted (physically, technologically and behaviorally) test population of the Philadelphia prison system.

In turn, their pilot was essential to gaining access to funding from leading national VCs. The good news for local impact is that although the Edovo team returned to their families in Chicago, Edovo was expanding on the local prison pilot and maintaining staff in Philadelphia as a regional support center.

I’ve focused on Edovo here, since they were highlighted in the story, but FastFWD funded local pilots for companies from San Francisco to Boston (as well as local participants) who are now applying innovative technologies to issues ranging from social service delivery, hunger, neighborhood blight and urban agriculture.

We love the way in which the GCV pilot program provides donors such a powerful form of high-impact philanthropy and provides the non-local entrepreneurs a supportive (rather than compulsory) reason to launch their innovation locally, to benefit this city and its citizens.

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