On the first day of the Chivas Venture Accelerator Week, the competition’s mentorship programme created by the Skoll Centre, the finalists plunged into a whirlwind of seminars, workshops and fun activities designed to develop their understanding of social entrepreneurship and forge bonds with their fellow competitors.
After a lively day that began with a fleeting introduction and a treasure hunt, and culminated in an illuminating workshop from Charmian Love, who is an active champion of the global B Corp movement, we caught up with some of the finalists to find out what they learned and how it might help them shape the future of their businesses.
1) Oxford University is a treasure trove of iconic stories.
The finalists are spending three days living and learning at the world-renowned university, rubbing shoulders with tomorrow's leaders and immersing themselves in the institution’s rich heritage. Following in the footsteps of famous Oxford alumni like Oscar Wilde, Aung San Suu Kyi and Dudley Moore, the finalists gathered at Saïd Business School for photos and getting to know each other. They then ventured out into the hallowed grounds of the university for a treasure hunt.
Nuno Oliveira, the founder of Sun Concept, the startup in Portugal building solar powered boats, said: “It’s amazing to be here at Oxford University; an iconic place that is not just a centre of knowledge but a centre of culture. Not only the United Kingdom’s culture, but an institution that is significant on global culture too. It's a place that generates new things and new outcomes and that’s what excites me the most.”
He added: “Building new ecosystems, new partnerships and generating new ideas - I’m excited to see what comes of this creative environment. You have to be made of stone not be inspired by this place.”
2) A business prop can be a useful icebreaker.
To help the 30 entrepreneurs acclimatise to both their famous surroundings and their fellow finalists, they were invited to bring business props to the introductory meet-and-greet in the Rector’s Drawing Room. Here they were encouraged to tell the personal stories that have helped shape their business ideas.
“I am the Mexican Iron Man!” Ernesto Rodriguez-Leal of WeaRobot, the startup using robotic technology to assist those who suffer from mobility loss, proclaimed to an amused group of entrepreneurs.
Daniel Dalet from Clarke’s Organics brought his bottle of SoloCoco virgin coconut oil. Describing it as a “little bottle of hope,” he then proceeded to speak emotively about how his business is empowering single mothers in the Dominican Republic by providing them with job opportunities.
The founder of Kit Livre, Júlio Oliveto Alves, unveiled a wheelchair to demonstrate how his startup is transforming them into electric tricycles. The innovative design, which is giving people in wheelchairs greater freedom and independence, wowed the audience with its effective simplicity.
3) The global tapestry of entrepreneurialism is alive and well.
From Colombia to Hong Kong, 30 entrepreneurs from all over the world - and from a variety of different fields - met each other for the first time. Despite language barriers and cultural differences, this global collective of entrepreneurs are united in their sustainable approach to changing lives.
“It’s great to be around other dynamic social entrepreneurs,” Katharine Budd, the CEO and co-founder of Now Technologies, the mobile app driving financial inclusion and corporate social responsibility in the UAE, enthused. “I’m really excited to hear more about people’s businesses and to see where this journey takes us. It’s amazing to be invited to be part of a network where you can actually refer people to other businesses with similar causes at their heart.”
The founder of Laddroller, Marios-Ermis Petrotos, who is endeavouring to create a future where wheelchair users can stand up, told the Chivas Venture: “It’s inspiring and exciting to be surrounded by 30 different people, from 30 different countries developing products and services in different sectors. The Accelerator Week is going to be really interesting. It’s an international group united by a desire to improve people's’ lives. We all share the same passion for innovation and social impact.”
Nuno from Sun Concept added: “It’s always interesting to get the chance to meet different people from all corners of the world, particularly when there is a common ground, and ours is that each of us are trying to do business in a good way. We can create profit but we can also create positive social and environmental change. We’re united in the belief that there is no reason to create businesses that do not have a positive impact on our planet. That’s the key message for the week ahead.”
4) Whisky Blending is an Art form.
It was not all work, work, work for the finalists and thirsts were quenched during the Chivas Whisky Labs; a rare insight into the refined and precise world of whisky blending that gave finalists the chance to taste the sweet fruits of their flavourful labour. Putting the finalists blending skills to the test, the workshop highlighted the incredible amount of skill and experience required to build something that is more than the sum of its parts.
Neil Peetachai Dejkraisak, founder of Siam Organics, felt the blending experience was similar to the fine tuning required to establish a successful business.
“You are always looking for the right ingredients to make a successful team,” Neil, whose company is transforming farmers' lives in rural Thailand, one grain of Jasberry rice at a time, said. “To build a successful business your team is perhaps the most important thing, especially in social entrepreneurship. It’s not just about people coming together for a common cause to make money; it’s about people coming together having motivations far beyond the bottom line.
“Passion for wanting to make a difference - if you can capture that in a person and in a team it is so important. You adapt this sense of team as you build and problem solve. It’s a constant adjustment - what you need in the first three years is not the same as the three years after that. You have to approach your team building with a level of scientific precision, because you need to be able to analyse people in a more systematic way.”
5) B Corps look to a future where businesses give back to society.
Champion of the B Corp movement Charmian Love’s workshop looked at how entrepreneurs can work towards building businesses that have a positive impact on the world. In addition to advocating the business as a force for good principle of both the B Corp Movement and the competition as a whole, Charmian, who also mentored at last year’s Accelerator Week endorsed the strength in depth of this year’s finalists.
“There are so many different models, sectors and so many different personalities,” Charmian said. “I would have a hard time being a judge on the Chivas Venture. For me they’re all extraordinary.”
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