Village Capital identifies issues and then builds teams to attack them

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Let’s try Village Capital’s proven model for tackling big problems in local areas

Since 2009, New York-based Village Capital has sought to tackle real-world problems in local areas, by using the principle of peer-selection, and investing and leveraging capital. It has sought to focus on big problems, and to tap directly into sources of expertise and of funding that relate to them.

Village Capital’s mission is to find, train and invest in entrepreneurs solving real problems. If MIT’s REAP works for entrepreneurship on a national scale (see www.johnwhatmore.com October 2016), VilCap works for it on a more local scale (see also my website Nov 2013).

It has concentrated on certain sectors, namely those that are about the essence of our future:

* access to opportunity for all communities (health, education and financial inclusion), and

* resource sustainability (energy and agriculture); and it has operated mainly in the US, sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America,

It has several unique features:

  • it operates entirely by peer selection – of projects, methods and funding;
  • its projects have a sector specific theme that fits with local/regional strengths; and
  • it partners with any organisation that is committed to the same objectives.

Aside from the contributions to life in the places where it works, (which are effectively incalculable), it has supported over 500 ventures in 45 programmes, made 72 investments with a survival rate of over 90%, leveraged over $200mn of additional capital and created almost 10,000 jobs.

Examples include a company in Cincinnati which focused its programme on innovation in water; a company in Guatemala which focused on the future of its agriculture-based economy; and Philadelphia launched a financial technology programme building on its history of financial services R&D.

It is oriented towards social and public enterprise and its underpinnings, and bears little resemblance to the venture capital based model of the commercial startup world (with its idea-lite pop up entrepreneurs). And its methods run counter to the accepted wisdom of that world, in that it relies on expert entrepreneurs and collaborative working.

How do you find and train entrepreneurs are topics that currently concern Vilcap. The parallel here is: is the pool of lead investors/serial entrepreneurs big enough and/or sufficiently widespread; and how can the pool be grown. My work, supported by the then Department of Trade and Industry was clear but not easy to implement: they are essentially learners by experience! (Is failure a useful stepping stone?)

What better model could there be for the Scaleup Institute to espouse, and enable it to work with LEPs to revive the fortunes of run-down areas such as Grimsby, Toxteth or Tottenham?

John Whatmore, October 2017

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A uniquely comprehensive development arena

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A UNIQUELY COMPREHENSIVE DEVELOPMENT ARENA Quite unlike most startup or scaleup programmes such as Techstars or Startupbootcamp (which tend to be short term injections), the programmes at Goldsmiths Centre are unique in that they aim to cover comprehensively all the stages and aspects of development for people in its field. The startup world needs something of this sort. 

The essence of the Goldsmith Centre is the professional training of goldsmiths. While these people are charmingly depicted as bespectacled, white-haired, elderly craftspeople, the skills and talents of the next generation are clearly an important target.

This training takes the form of a ‘community that works and learns together’ – a community of trainees, working goldsmiths and other interested parties – to help them grow and thrive; funded substantially by the Goldsmiths Company, and overseen by a Board of Trustees.

The Centre which opened in 2012, runs for budding goldsmiths a progressive series of programmes that are aimed at developing their future – for what will mostly be small craft businesses. Here are six of them:

* a one week programme of intensive workshops, seminars and talks called ‘Getting Started’ – for recent graduates in precious metals, which introduces its 30 participants to the basics of business.

* a one-year programme called ‘Setting Out’, which is currently home to 8 young goldsmiths, carefully chosen (this year from 30 applicants), who take part in a curated programme that aims to equip them with business, creative and product development skills.

* a one-year Foundation Programme in which 10 young goldsmiths are attached to the Centre and enabled to use its excellent working facilities.

* an appenticeship scheme, under which some 40 young goldsmiths are attached to ‘Masters’ and meet regularly at the Centre for further training.

* a membership scheme called ‘Creative Links’ for people with aspiring or established businesses to attend events and make and meet contacts at the Centre and a special membership scheme for craftspeople requiring ad hoc access to benches, hotdesking or a meeting room.

* and the Centre houses some 80 resident makers and businesses on the premises – on special terms as providing work collaborations for the goldsmiths who are connected with the Centre.

In addition to short courses on specialised subjects, the Centre has also created a number of videos and runs taster workshops; and there is a substantial programme of all sorts of events.

Some 50 craftspeople are linked to the Centre as providers of skill, tutoring, information etc; as are some 15 business people as contributors to the Centre’s business programmes.

The Centre houses the latest equipment and facilities into a meticulously crafted old building, and provides an atmosphere of spare elegance in which design, skill and beauty meld.

It includes spaces of all kinds: there are 24 professional workshops and 4 educational workspaces; tool rooms (one containing over 150 different kinds of hammer!); a CAD room with terminals; a conference room; a snug; a high quality café cum meeting space (depicted as ‘coffee, kitchen and craft’); and an area for exhibitions, conferences, product launches, receptions etc.

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In the startup world, training and development do not have a place: that world relies instead on ‘entrepreneurs’ to emerge spiritually. There is an urgent need for some organisation in the startup world to take up these roles.

John Whatmore, October 2017