Pitching for impact: Learning from the MaRS Impact Venture Pitch Fair

What do a mobile app that provides tips on decreasing your carbon footprint, a vegan catering company that delivers skills training to newcomer women and a fund that provides access to community microloans all have in common?

Each of these exciting social innovations has pitched at a MaRS Impact Venture Pitch Fair hosted by the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing.

About the MaRS Impact Venture Pitch Fair

Before we can mobilize private capital for public good, we have to ensure that impact ventures and potential impact investors have had a chance to meet and get to know each other. This need to connect investors with impact ventures is the driving force behind our quarterly MaRS Impact Venture Pitch Fair.

The MaRS Impact Venture Pitch Fair brings together a range of impact investors—from institutional asset managers to private individuals and foundations—to learn about potential opportunities for investing in solutions to some of our most complex social and environmental problems. To date, 21 impact ventures and funds have participated in the pitch sessions.

Here is a snapshot of what we have learned about impact investing pitch fairs and pitching for impact in the process.

Every solution begins with a problem

When we talk about impact investing, we usually focus our attention on a solution to the social or environmental issue at hand. In an impact pitch, however, effectively articulating the problem is just as important as concisely explaining your solution.

Today’s social and environmental challenges are truly complex. Although investors will see the big picture, it’s important that they understand the underlying interactions that govern a problem if they are to believe in your solution. It’s not necessary for an impact entrepreneur to explain every facet of the problem, but getting your audience to understand what is causing the problem will increase their understanding of (and attract their buy-in for) the role that your solution can play in tackling the complex issue.

The “collaborative” advantage

Regardless of the length of the pitch, scanning the competitive landscape and illustrating your venture’s competitive advantage plays a key role in a pitch. This principle is fundamentally the same for impact ventures, but one of the strongest features of the pitches that we’ve seen is the ability to demonstrate the advantages that come with cross-sector collaboration.

In many cases, impact ventures have developed partnerships or collaborations, or are in a network with public and private sector organizations that are working on the same social or environmental issue. We’ve learned that it is important for an impact venture or fund to express the collaborative advantages that they have and to explain the benefits of those relationships.

For instance, collaborations can have a ripple effect of value-added benefits, such as increased channels in the venture’s go-to-market strategy and stronger community engagement. Relationships with other organizations also speak to the belief those organizations have in the venture’s potential to create change and have a lasting impact.

What’s in it for me?

When evaluating a potential deal, both impact investors and impact ventures consider what’s in it for them. Impact investors may be looking for a specific social or environmental outcome and financial return, while impact ventures may have a specific type of investor in mind to help their venture grow.

We’ve learned that it is important for an impact entrepreneur to not only be open about what they need to grow and scale, but to also be up front about what the potential social, environmental and financial returns may be to the investor.

Establishing a clear understanding of what is in it for everyone can help impact entrepreneurs go from a pitch to a follow-up conversation.

Continuing the momentum

Whether you’re an impact investor or an impact venture, the opportunities to create profound social and environmental change are growing. Impact investing pitch fairs bring together a passionate group of people with the ideas, the know-how and the financial and human resources to change the world. We look forward to continuously sharing our insights on pitching for impact and creating connections that make impact happen.

Future Pitch Fairs

Our next MaRS Impact Venture Pitch Fair will take place on Thursday, June 6, 2013 in Toronto at the MaRS Discovery District. Registration is now open!

Note: Originally posted on the MaRS blog.

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