SOCAP 2012: Entrepreneurship Gone Global


This year at SOCAP was especially exciting since it gave a special voice to all the intrepid entrepreneurs out there, busy changing the world one idea at a time.

What was also strikingly evident at SOCAP 2012 is exactly how global social entrepreneurship has become! From entrepreneurs to investors and startup incubators to accelerators – there are Latin American, Asian, African, European, and North American voices.

Some questions that were discussed by conference attendees included:
-How is the social entrepreneurship space affected by this global participation?
-How can our global networks allow us to better source, fund, and mentor social innovators?
-Where in the world do you live and work if you want to be a global changemaker?!

For example, at the session “Palo Alto or Kampala? The In-Country Dilemma”, panelists were young entrepreneurs who had undertaken some massive financial and personal risks to get their companies started. They included:

  • Mike Lin – CEO, Fenix International: renewable energy sources for emerging markets
  • Ned Tozun – President & Founder, d.light design: creation & distribution of solar lanters in developing countries
  • Jane Chen – CEO & Co-Founder, Embrace Innovations: infant warmers for high-risk infants in low-income families in developing countries
  • Peter Frykman – Founder & CEO, Driptech: sustainable irrigation technology for developing country farmers

All of these (crazy!) guys had decided that they had a good idea worth pursuing and pursue it they did! All of them had developed their products in the U.S. but applied their products for social impact in developing countries, helping address global challenges such as poverty, food security, and infant mortality.

But the challenge each of them faced was actually distributing their products in developing countries and reaching enough households to make a significant social impact. So what did they do? In the words of Peter Frykman, “I moved to India AND China” !!

In other words, all of them shuttled between the U.S. and their target countries (India and China in these four cases), lived out of suitcases for years and figured out the superhuman puzzle of not only setting up their own company but setting up their own company from scratch in a foreign country where everything was new – from food to language to business practices.

An adventure of a lifetime? Yes! A challenge of a lifetime. Also yes. The entrepreneurs talked about the difficulty of carrying out such an endeavor and also having a normal dating life (!), the opposition they faced from investors in the US who were worried about the financial risks involved, and the cultural barriers in their countries of work.

Seriously, what a motivating and utterly fun session! Listening to these guys relate their conversations with new employees in India or investors in Silicon Valley was hilarious. The audience was both laughing and clapping by the end of the hour. One couldn’t help but admire how all four entrepreneurs not only decided to give everything to their passion but did so while retaining a fantastic sense of humor!