Testimonials for the Mentor Capital Network

Formerly known as the William James Foundation (WJF)


Nuru Energy is creating affordable and reliable solution to light up people's lives. Nuru's portable, rechargeable LED task light mimics a kerosene lamp. 

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.

Samer Hajee

Sameer Hajee

Nuru Light

Founder and CEO


DayOne Response develops and supplies solutions for disaster relief, including the DayOne Waterbag, a lightweight reusable personal water treatment device that provides all the essential functions for water purification. 

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.

--Tricia Compas-Markman, founder and CEO


Ecozoom makes clean, highly efficient, and durable cookstoves accessible and affordable in developing countries.

It definitely put us in touch with very good and interesting people, and that was helpful for us, one of the groups ended up investing in us!

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. --CEO Ben West


EGG Energy delivers electric power to low-income African households one battery at a time creating a portable grid. 

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.

-- Co-Founder Alla Jezmir


KeoK'jay (now Tonle) employs HIV positive Cambodian women to produce handcrafted, eco-friendly fashion clothing and accessories. 

 

Rachel Faller, Founder, 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 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...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."

        


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."


 

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… 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." 


Snack Packers delivers 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 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."


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."


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.  

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."


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."


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."