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Quotes from Past Entrants
Nuru Energy sells a portable, rechargeable LED task light that mimics the characteristics of kerosene, in terms of its functionality and the way it’s consumed through microfranchise businesses. Sameer Hajee, founder and CEO, recalls "We’ve won now about 20 awards. Many of them came after the WJF award. The WJF was one of the first awards we won that helped us initially prove our concept. But of all those 20 awards, the WJF was the only one where we actually had access to a lot of the feedback from the judges and it was fantastic in helping us to adapt the model. We just put together our business plan for this next fundraising round and I went back to all the WJF judges’ comments to see whether or not we had addressed some of the issues that were raised there. That’s been really helpful for us, even two, three years after we won the award."
DayOne Response develops and supplies solutions for disaster relief, including the DayOne Waterbag, which is a lightweight reusable personal water treatment device that provides all the essential functions for water purification. Tricia Compas-Markman, founder and CEO, says “For social enterprises that are in that early stage prior taking on investment, I really think that all [of those] companies should be involved with the WJF competition because it provides immediate feedback on your plan, even if you only get through the first round. The feedback helped build our team focus. It should be in the entrepreneur handbook – you’ve got to do WJF.”
Ecozoom makes clean, highly efficient, and durable cookstoves accessible and affordable in developing countries. CEO Ben West recounts "It definitely put us in touch with very good and interesting people, and that was helpful for us, [for example] one of the groups ended up investing in us, [during] our capital raise. One of the really cool things was they got to see where we were at the time, which was 3-4 months into the company. And then they got to see us a year into the company—I think it was the change in what we’d done in that time period that made them really excited, so that was really helpful, regular check-ins and people seeing where we’d come from, from point a to point b. ...It’s amazing what you accomplish here. We’re behind it, I wish we had more time to promote and reciprocate as well. I think it was really being in touch with those who reviewed our plan that was the most helpful."
EGG Energy delivers electric power to low-income African households; one battery at a time creating a portable grid. Co-Founder Alla Jezmir says "It was wonderful. Provoc, one of the In-Kind prize sponsors, developed an excellent graphic that we used to explain our business model, which is a tough thing to capture. Also, the access to the social finance and the entrepreneurial space has been terrific through the network. We’ve met a lot of great people, people who have become not formal advisors, but have become huge supporters. And just affiliation with the William James Foundation name has been a great asset. We’ve been very successful in winning business plan competitions, and the Foundation is always recognized as one of the leaders and supporters of social entrepreneurs and having been vetted by the Foundation is helpful to additional capital raising efforts we’ve had."
Food Shift is dedicated to building a more just and sustainable food system that curbs waste, empowers communities, respects the environment and nourishes all. Dana Frasz, founder, thinks "[The WJF Team were] fantastic communicators. [They] checked in consistently and helped me feel updated on the status of the competition."
KeoK'jay employs HIV positive Cambodian women to produce handcrafted, eco-friendly fashion clothing and accessories. Rachel Faller, CEO, says "I liked hearing the feedback from different judges both from their personal experiences and a technical standpoint. The feedback of this competition is what makes it so valuable, and I was also pleased that so many of the judges were willing to share their email addresses and receive more questions from us...Being at the [2012 Annual Gathering] was great because I got to meet a lot of people there. The pitch sessions where the investors were critiquing the presentations were so interesting. I don’t know how I would have otherwise gotten an experience like that. I'm really glad I didn’t present because they would have ripped me apart because I don’t have an investment pitch, but just seeing how that all worked gave me a better idea that if I do want to present to investors, what exactly they’re thinking and what they’re looking for. Because otherwise, I really wouldn’t have known at all. That was just so eye-opening. Obvoiusly getting to meet people, getting contacts, getting to see what else is going on, getting feedback from other people--that was cool. [WJF Executive Director], Ian has been really helpful—he’s just been a great mentor and a great person in connecting me with other people. I also got to go to the LOHAS forum, which was really exciting--that’s the result of us being a finalist for the LOHAS prize and that obviously led me to a ton of other people. It’s just been a really great opportunity to make a new network that hopefully I’ll have the time and energy to tap into. And it has taught me a lot about a field that I didn’t know much about. I feel like I’ve gotten so much perspective over the last 6 months—it’s been great."
Malô creates and sells affordable, culturally appropriate rice-based products in Mali that enhance the health of mothers, children, and the planet. Salif Romano Niang, Co-Founder, thinks "The [WJF] feedback by far is the most comprehensive, detailed feedback we've had, and we have participated in a lot of competitions. And the fact that judges are willing to have you follow up with them is great."
Mozambikes is the first provider seeking to build a bicycle industry and make bicycles a commodity in Mozambique. Co-founder, Lauren Thomas reveals, "We won some prize money in this past year, 2012. That was really an important boost in our ability to cover month-to-month expenses while we’re gaining new clients and to begin some exciting initiatives that are not necessarily income generating, such as a proposal to build a bicycle lane network in Maputo, which we’re currently working on…The in-kind prizes that we received are really invaluable. We’re working with Worldways and ChangeMatters. WorldWays is really using a lot of resources to help us launch a marketing and advertising campaign that we had desperately needed for quite a while and ChangeMatters is assisting us in fundraising…What we find is that while there is so much philanthropic capital out there, it is very nichey, so one reason why the WJF competition was so amazing is that it was broad enough and yet specific enough to allow Mozambikes to shine…Presenting one's business in front of some of the world's prominent social business thinkers [at the Annual Gathering] was a really great exercise, and we really enjoyed the questions from the audience. We certainly enjoyed all of the sessions we got to participate in beforehand, especially the breakout session with the cycling gang, which was really fun since we got to meet other social entrepreneurs out there using bicycles for their innovative solutions. We’re already helping each other get connected to some other potentially helpful industry players"
Affirm Global helps end poverty by finding socially beneficial products – and distributing them through their powerful, global network of partnerships to provide economic, social, environmental, and character profits to the people living in developing countries. Founder Al Caperna says "[The WJF] helped with meeting people and mak[ing] connections that I am still in contact with....I found the William James Foundation the easiest [resource for social entrepreneurs] to engage with."
Atayne makes high performing outdoor and athletic apparel that is safe for people and the planet. Founder Jeremy Litchfield, thinks "The biggest part [of the WJF competition] is the connections created. It also helped us to get feedback in designing our plan in order to actually launch. I’ve maintained contact with judges that evaluated our plan and that was over four years ago."
AYA Community Markets is an innovative farmers market and holistic health experience helping to provide access to fresh produce in a “food desert” and gateways to community health resources that residents need to get healthy and stay healthy in Washington, DC. Founder Chris Bradshaw remembers "The one-minute pitch [live event] with subsequent feedback circles were great [as well]…The judges’ feedback helped me to think through the next iteration of my business plan, it helped me find the answers to the questions that I had, and most importantly, it helped me think of questions that I hadn't asked yet."
Bennu is a socially responsible product development and marketing company that completes the recycling loop. Their sustainability solutions increase enterprise value by aligning clients' business objectives with consumer demand and environmental resources. Ashok Kamal, Co-Founder, says "The WJF network has introduced us to mentors who not only gave us advice, but also led to suppliers and partners."
Brooklyn Victory Garden, located in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, is a favorite neighborhood destination for meats, gifts and cheeses that are locally, ethically and sustainably sourced. Tess Gill, co-founder, says "I got some excellent feedback on my plan, very detailed feedback from a variety of different people with different professional expertise. It was definitely some very educated, knowledgeable people who gave me valuable feedback when I was still planning the business, so that was helpful to me.”
Micro Market Developers aims to build a crowd-funding platform in Pakistan, that brings together ‘idea originators’ from the bottom of the pyramid with ‘idea mentors’ who are subject matter experts and ‘idea investors’ to foster the inception and sustainable growth of thousands of enterprises. Uzair Sukhera, founder, recalls "Insights from judges helped us find our blind spots. It also helped us figure out that what was [written in] our plan wasn't fully representative of our mental plans. Though we had answers to the questions raised by judges but we did a poor job in documenting them. This was valuable feedback."
New American Tavern is a movement to build restaurant/bar/cafés for people who care about politics, current events and community. Todd Schechter, Founder, says "I invested my time into applying to [the WJF] because I knew that it would offer me a guaranteed return on investment: feedback!...The most unexpected aspects of the experience that have helped me have been the softer ones that come from becoming part of the WJF community."
Prosperity Candle empowers women to rebuild their lives through candle making. Founding Partner, Siiri Morley, remembers "The feedback from the judges was great, the networking from the [Annual Gathering] was great – we’re still in touch with another one of the prize winners, Kwai, and we’ve been supporting each other informally, just sharing resources and having conversations when we can…The biggest value for our team was the internal process of getting a business plan together and really making sure that as the three founding partners, we were all on same page about what we were doing and why we were doing it because until then, it had been the startup scramble where we all assumed we were on the same page, but we were not 100% sure…Ian Fisk and the WJF team have been really supportive on an ongoing basis with us and have always been willing to share campaigns we’re working on and tell our story. It’s great to know that I can always reach out to Ian and he’ll do a tweet or he’ll do something to help us spread the word about what we’re doing because we’re now part of the WJF family."
Shifting Patterns is a socially responsible consulting practice that helps social enterprises access funding and strenghten their people and organizational capabilities. Kimberly Jutze, Chief Change Architect, says"I feel like [WJF] is a big gift that keeps on giving--that’s how I like to describe it. It has helped me enormously in terms of the feedback I got from the business plan competition itself, in helping me to strengthen my business plan and address gaps I hadn’t seen before. It also helped me out in terms of being able to go to other events and feel like I’m able to stay in touch with what’s going on in the social enterprise space. It’s been a huge bonus for me in terms of connections I’ve made to either potential partners or potential clients. Overall, it’s helped me enormously and I’m very happy to be part of this community."
Snack Packers delivers by bike healthy, individually portioned snacks to offices around Washington, DC. Snack Packers is a socially, environmentally and health conscious company trying to help everyone create less waste (or less waist, as they like to say). Ali Cherry, Founder, says "When I think about starting a business, the scariest things are questions. It can be stressful to have people poke holes in your idea. But those holes are necessary for building a solid foundation…Through the WJF process, more than 20 reading judges, 3 in-person judges, and many other contacts asked me really hard questions about my business that I wouldn't have thought about. The process of answering these questions was incredibly helpful to make sure that I thought through all the different elements of what goes into a strong business."
SocialMobileBuzz supports organizations by integrating and leveraging social media and mobile marketing with their existing marketing plans in order to deliver positive returns. Michael Tucker, founder, says "When I entered the competition, I had one concept of the business that I’d like to run and through all the feedback I received from the judges and coaches, I realized the model I presented wasn’t necessarily effective and so I went back and revisited the entire model and Social Mobile Buzz came out of that revision."
Soupergirl serves fresh, homemade soup made with ingredients from small local farms that practice sustainable farming methods in Washington, DC. Sara Polon, founder, recalls "I started Soupergirl with a very extensive to-do list that 4 years later I still haven't completed. [The WJF competition] forced me to finish a business plan, and run the financials completely for Soupergirl. The feedback [from WJF judges] was fantastic, and helped reveal where I could save money, and where I had growth potential."
StartSomeGood empowers people from around the world to become social innovators. They've taken the crowdfunding model and customized it to reflect the unique needs of social entrepreneurs. Alex Budak, co-founder, says "The amount of feedback we got on our business plan was pretty incredible – nearly 75 pages all told from expert judges. And winning the prize of co-working space at the Affinity Lab has been so valuable. I’m now surrounded by a great community here."
Tandem is a global strategy and organizational development consulting group that helps organizations do good and do it better. Founder Seisei Tatebe-Goddu, says "WJF made us focus in the early stages and provided us with extraordinary feedback. We had never had so many people looking at our business plan at the same time before, and their comments challenged and stretched the way we thought about the company."
Vari aims to provide convenient and hassle-free resources to farmers in India so that they can sell their produce on their own terms (i.e. price, location and buyer) and to initiate exchange of information between seller and buyer, thus developing commercial activities without total reliance on intermediaries. Sai Krishna Dandamudi, founder, says "The judges’ feedback helped me to further develop my revenue model which has helped as Vari continues to grow. The William James Foundation judges did a great job at giving me constructive feedback."
Verde Sustainable Solutions uses technology and private sector products to solve today's environmental problems. They created the VERDE iPad app to help consumers reduce their electricity usage in homes and businesses through a home energy audit. Jamie Johnson, founder, recalls "Of all the things I’ve applied for, the WJF’s process was the best. The trick was the feedback the judges gave – it was a 5 or 10 page document with really thorough criticism....I’ve applied for hundreds if not five hundred different foundations projects or programs or different things, and I’ve never gotten thorough feedback. All WJF judges gave a unique thorough opinion about what my product is lacking and that was really beneficial. It actually led to some product design changes in the middle of what we were working on, which was really helpful. I really think the thorough feedback was helpful and I did reach out to all of the judges and I kept a relationship with at least one of them, which has been really helpful."
WeBike offers simple, flexible, affordable bike sharing in a station-less package. Co-founder Brad Eisenberg says "[WJF Executive Director] Ian Fisk is the first person we go to say hey we need advice about this and we don’t know anybody and he does…The WJF was the impetus to start building our network through the WJF community and ultimately through the community of the Affinity Lab – that is how we were able to build this pretty big network of support and it’s been hugely beneficial to us." Co-founder Allie Armitage recounts “We entered the [WJF Competition] two times. The first time we really didn’t know what we were doing with the business plan, [and] hadn’t put a ton of time into it, so we got ripped apart, but the feedback was great and it was our first time really coming up to an audience that was going to look at the viability of the business and give you critical feedback on that.”
Wello empowers individuals to use the WaterWheel as an income-generating tool to lift their families out of poverty. Cynthia Koenig, founder, recalls "The feedback I received from WJF was far and away the most comprehensive, detailed and useful feedback I’ve received. In fact, over 2 years later, I still refer back to my feedback forms! I'm still in touch with a few of my judges, who continue to provide advice, feedback, and support."