This semester I have had the opportunity to attend two conferences centering on Impact Investing and Social Entrepreneurship: SOCAP15 and the Irish Impact Social Entrepreneurship Conference at Notre Dame. These conferences offered incomparable insight into the world of impact investing by discussing recent trends and discoveries, as well as providing opportunities to connect with people across the industry.
Since 2008, Social Capital Markets, the creator of the SOCAP15 conference, has been creating opportunities to connect social enterprises, accelerator programs, investors and other thought leaders by engaging each other in productive, creative discussion. I applied to volunteer at the 4-day long conference (yes, I had to apply to volunteer my time and pay just $200 for a ticket as opposed to roughly $1000) and spent about 12 hours at San Francisco’s Fort Mason Center facilitating the conference workshops or panel sessions. I was able to meet people from all over the world who are making incredible leaps in the impact investing space—from entrepreneurs hailing from Australia, emerging market consultants in India, social entrepreneurship graduate students at Berkeley’s Haas Business School and venture capitalists from Silicon Valley. Regardless of where one fell within the space, they all shared the same level of excitement, enthusiasm and passion for the development of the industry. Since I was one of the only undergraduate students in attendance, I had a unique opportunity to soak up as much information as possible by trying to discern each person’s perspective of the industry.
The Irish Impact Social Entrepreneurship Conference is an annual conference at Notre Dame, which I only first discovered last year. This year’s conference theme was impact investing and happened to be shortly after SOCAP15. I was incredibly excited to learn that some of the keynote speakers for the world-renowned conference in San Francisco would also be speaking at Notre Dame just weeks later. While there were fewer panel sessions at the Notre Dame conference, I was thrilled to discover the amazing networking opportunities available at a conference with a much more intimate setting. I found myself talking with the leadership of multiple accelerator programs and the companies they were sponsoring, like Impact Engine, Fletch, and Develop Link. As I listened to entrepreneurs, investors and mentors speak, I was surprised to learn of the diversity in career paths people had in the space. Further, many of the presenters had Notre Dame ties, which made the experience of meeting everyone even more special; it is incredible to learn from those currently working in the impact investing space, but engaging with those that share a love for Notre Dame makes for an experience like no other.
Attending impact investing or social entrepreneurship conferences are a great opportunity to learn the most exciting and newest innovations and accomplishments in the industry, all in one sitting. More so, the ability to engage with others who spend so much of their time actively involved in the field is much more rewarding than reading an article online. Many presenters/panelists that I listened to were natural storytellers. Hearing their stories, inherent curiosity, accomplishments, and the direction their enterprises are heading was incredibly exciting and invigorating.
This fall, the impact investing industry seems to be most concerned with creating a methodology to measure impact (i.e. impact metrics) and financial performance of impact funds in comparison to a market rate of return. While there have been a few first tries at measuring impact investments1 2, such as GIIRS and B Lab Ratings, there have been several studies indicating that impact investing is capable of achieving a market rate of return3 , most notably in the recent report by Cambridge Associates.
Furthermore, SOCAP15 and Irish Impact highlighted the need for accelerator programs and mentorship within the space. Impact Engine, Agora Partnerships, Echoing Green, the Unreasonable Institute, MicroMentor, as well as many others, are assisting entrepreneurs in developing their social enterprises. These accelerator programs may provide financial support and/or mentorship, as well as other resources, to new enterprises across the globe and economic landscape.
Currently, undergraduates and graduate students are becoming involved in the impact investing and social entrepreneurship space. Notre Dame’s very own Unleashed Impact Investing club has Social Venture Capital and Social Enterprise Consulting divisions. The club is centered around semester-long projects in each division where students work on conducting due diligence and pitching potential investments to partnered venture capital firms or consulting with real social enterprises on the issues they are currently facing.
All in all, the impact investing space is growing exponentially and conferences provide ample opportunity to learn about the field through lectures, workshops and, most importantly, through organic conversation between attendees.
Been to a Social Impact Conference that you really enjoyed? Tell Irish Impact about it in the comments below so that it can be shared with the wider community!
Megan Mannifield is a current senior at Notre Dame, studying accountancy and psychology. She is the co-president of Unleashed, the student impact investing club, and has learned about the world of impact investing through her involvement in the club’s Social Venture Capital and Social Enterprise Consulting divisions, as well as courses in social entrepreneurship through the Gigot Center for Entrepreneurship. Megan is very passionate about social entrepreneurship and global economic development, and intends on pursuing a career in the impact investing space.