What actually is social entrepreneurship, and why does it matter? Simply put, it’s when entrepreneurs start a business or venture with hopes of making a positive impact in their communities.
Earlier this year, Alley and Verizon teamed up to admit 10 startups to the Tech For Good accelerator, a hands on digital program designed to help social entrepreneurs improve their products, offerings, and technologies.
Here at Alley, we believe in the power of uniting entrepreneurs with enterprises to create meaningful change. Companies like Verizon make that possible through their commitment to supporting impact-driven startups as they scale and set out to make a difference.
Corporations are ready to support social entrepreneurs and impact-driven startups, and our panelists will show you exactly how that relationship can look.
In this panel, we hear from members of the Tech For Good 2020 cohort to learn about their experience in the accelerator program, and from the team at Verizon about the importance of mentorship, and fostering relationships with the startup community
Verizon 5G Labs:
Verizon's 5G Labs works with startups, academia and enterprise teams to build a 5G-powered world. We work on 5G trials, hackathons, industry partnerships, prototyping challenges and more.
Noelle Tassey 0:00
Welcome to today's Tech For Good Panels: Supporting Social Entrepreneurship. Thank you all so much for joining us today and thank you to our amazing panelists. A few quick announcements before we get started. For those of you who don't know me, I'm Noelle Tassey, I'm the CEO of Alley. If you don't know, Alley, I'm not sure how you ended up here, but glad you're here. We are a community-driven innovation agency. So we unite rich and diverse communities around the world with our corporate partners to drive impact-related technology and innovation initiatives. So speaking of those partners, special thank you to our friends at 5G Labs, Verizon 5G Labs.
For those of you who don't know them, 5G Labs works with startups, academia, and enterprise teams to build a 5G powered world. So we work on 5G [INAUDIBLE], hackathons, industry partnerships, prototyping challenges, and more. And you can always check out our upcoming events on our website at Alley.com. So without further ado, I'm going to cue and all of our amazing panelists to introduce themselves quickly. Talk a little bit about what they do and why, you know, they're here talking about social impact with us. So Sonya, do you want to start off?
Sonya Pella 1:20
Absolutely. Hi, my name is Sonya Pella and I have two passions tech and gender equality. In tech. I'm the marketing executive with a passion for building B2B SaaS companies, startups. I also mentor founders at Alley and also at The Alchemist Accelerator. And for gender equality, I put time and money on the line. I'm a founding LP, limited partner at the VC Venture Fund How Women Invest. Our focus is to fuel high potential female founders which start to fuel and mentorship to success. I run a dual career in nonprofit. I am the president of the board of the award-winning Maitri based here in the Bay Area, and I also advise nonprofit founders and boards. Thank you for having me on the panel Noelle.
Noelle Tassey 2:08
Wonderful, thank you so much for joining us. Yeah, I mean we're all so inspired by the work that you're doing. And that goes for everyone on this panel. It's just a really fun one. Next up, Elise, do you want to go next?
Elise Smith 2:22
Sure. Hi, everyone I'm Elise. I'm the co-founder and CEO of Praxis Labs. We're changing the way that organizations train on diversity and inclusion through immersive learning experiences and virtual reality. We move the needle on inclusion belonging and equitable outcomes for our clients by providing powerful and actionable insights on our learning and reflection platform. We're focused on making workplaces and ultimately society more equitable. And so our clients like Target, Amazon, Google, and eBay partner with us to ensure that all their employees can show up as inclusive conscious leaders and to see measurable impact within their organizations. We're launching a suite of trainings later this year and so I think clearly [LAUGH] social entrepreneurship, social innovation is so core to what we do and having a real impact as well.
Noelle Tassey 3:15
Awesome. Super happy to have you here as well today. Alessia, would you like to go next?
Alessia Morichi 3:22
Sure. Hi everyone. My name is Alessia, and I'm leading for the marketer of KEGG. KEGG is the first user-friendly medical device that tracks the cervical fluid and it tracks women fertile window up to 7 days in advance. These are our product, super small. It's an FDA registered product that we officially launched in the United States back in May. But when-
Michael Morath 3:44
Isn't this the prototype?
Alessia Morichi 3:46
This is the real product.
Katie Davis 3:49
Wow, that's amazing. [COUGH]
Michael Morath 3:51
Alessia Morichi 3:52
And about myself-
Michael Morath 3:55
Alessia Morichi 3:56
Michael Morath 3:59
Noelle Tassey 4:02
Michael, I think you might be having an audio issue. Mel will message you to help you resolve it, maybe. Sorry about that.
Alessia Morichi 4:13
No, it's fine. So about myself, I have almost a decade of experience in international marketing, and the privilege of work in an agency and then at Google, especially on brand reputation and the partnership project. Before moving to California, I launched a Kickstarter campaign for a STEM toy startup based in London. I define myself as a tech optimist. I do believe that technology will solve some of the biggest world's problem. And this is also one of the reasons why I'm really happy to be at KEGG because we are on a mission to empower women by increasing body literacy and making fertility data more actionable. Thanks so much for having me here today.
Noelle Tassey 4:58
Awesome. Thank you so much for joining us. Let's see next up, Katie.
Katie Davis 5:06
Hi, everyone. I'm Katie Davis, I lead Social Innovation at Verizon. I joined the company about 9 months ago after working in the global health space for about 10 years. And really joined as part of a new arm of Verizon's Corporate Responsibility team focused on how we can more closely align our social impact and social responsibility activities in line with our core business. And so, I'm tasked with bringing a social innovation lens to our work. Specifically looking at how we can drive new products, new services, even new and innovative business models that simultaneously drive significant social and/or environmental impact while also driving business growth and aligning with our corporate strategy. And so, there's really two paths that we take to looking at this. One is bringing a social innovation lens to our own internal innovation and product development processes. And then also looking at how we can bring in ideas from the outside and from the external startup ecosystem. So really excited for this conversation today.
Noelle Tassey 6:18
Awesome. And thanks again for joining us. Last but not least, and hopefully the Internet's up and working, Michael.
Michael Morath 6:25
Yep. I'm Michael, I'm the co-founder of Incare, and we have a mental wellness startup. And we have developed Ease Vest, which is a smart compression garment that can help you to come down with a squeeze of a hug. So our mission is to help people to manage their mental health on their own terms. And my background is in industrial design, so I've worked at startups for about 3 years bring their products to the market. And like 2 years ago, I've also started my own company, and I'm very excited to talk more on this panel. Thank you for having me.
Noelle Tassey 6:59
Thank you so much for joining us. I love that product, I could probably use one of those. [LAUGH] And if it fixed my posture to then we'd be totally in business. Anyways, you know, he doesn't need that [INAUDIBLE], so great.
So to kick off today, I'm just going to kind of put this to the entire panel, or shall I queue you guys in since there's so many of us today. But we're going to start by talking a little bit about what social entrepreneurship and innovation means to each of you. Why it's important, and also how it drives value to companies. Because a lot of what we're talking about today is how to take, you know, the work that we've done all of us in our careers in various places around social innovation and really, like link it to, you know, corporate value, right? That's how you can really get I mean, that's at least that's our innovation model here at Alley, like social change through corporate partnerships. And so Sonya, do you want to kick us off?
Sonya Pella 7:56
Oh, absolutely. And you know, this is so I found this increasingly over the years, this topic has become so critical for me personally, and I see the amazing change that's happening. But in the end, you know, social entrepreneurship is really impact at scale. And it's about improving lives or health, education, creating a better like future for everyone. And the other part that I think is really critical, which is about justice, which is leveling the playing field for the unconnected, under-connected, underserved and so that each of us can live to the full potential. But here's the amazing thing about this, is about social entrepreneurship, it's about also making profit, so I don't see both these pieces mutually exclusive. Actually, see them working hand in hand and you can do social good and you can also make money. So it's an amazing time to be talking about this topic, really, truly.
Noelle Tassey 8:53
Definitely. Alessia do you want to go next?
Alessia Morichi 8:59
Yeah, sure. I believe that for us, you know, social innovation is basically at the core of what we do. I mean, for me personally, is the reason why I wake up every day because I feel like very proud of making an impact on women's health. And this is also the reason why I would say that Christina founded this company because she realized that she had this idea of like making, you know, this device. And this was going to solve not just her own personal problem, but this was going to, you know, help like millions of women who are like having like challenges in tracking fertility. And I do believe that nowadays is very important for company to, as Sonya was saying, to ever mention that the in parallel is, you know, being like profit but the same time is having an impact on the community. And on one way I would say that what in the past we used to say is very important now for entrepreneurs to give in back to the communities while they're making profit.
Noelle Tassey 9:55
Yeah, for sure, Elise.
Elise Smith 9:59
Yeah, happy to jump in. I think Alessia and Sonya have said it so well about justice. About doing things that they're passionate about and get them excited to go to work. When we think about what social entrepreneurship and innovation means for us at Praxis Labs it's, I mean, it's inextricably tied to justice, like Sonya said, but even more specifically around diversity, equity, and inclusion. And we know that that actually drives really positive business outcomes. I mean, you can read report after report that'll tell you firms that are more diverse and inclusive are 43% more likely to have above-average profits. They're more creative, they're more innovative. We know that if your workplace hat is inclusive and fosters a greater sense of belonging you're going to retain your talent. You're going to be more productive because you're better at working across difference. And ultimately, you'll be able to even attract more diverse talent because that's the type of organization, that's the type of company talent wants to work out. And if you're doing so with partners who are diverse, with partners who are aligned with impact, and the products and services you put out into the market are making the world better like that is what creates a place that people want to work at. And that's what's going to create better outcomes not just for your workplaces but for the places that we frequent every day.
Noelle Tassey 11:22
Definitely, I think everyone on this panel is sort of on a path to proving that you can be a good business for your employees, a good business for investors, and a good business for the society that you operate in, right? That's, I mean, that's what we are kind of, we set out to prove at Alley. You know, I've never really worked somewhere that I felt like really crushed it on all three of those [INAUDIBLE]. It's really cool to see your own lineup of people who are all really committed to that. Katie. [INAUDIBLE].
Katie Davis 11:49
I fully agree with what everyone's saying. And I think it's important to that we're sort of unapologetic that we have this dual mission, right? I think there used to be kind of this old school thinking that you kind of do the good work over here and the real work over here and there was kind of a line between the two. And I am personally very passionate about like how we bring those two things together and how we actually use our core business to have impact. Because I think that's how we get to Sonya's important point this is about like, how do we drive scale? How do we solve big complicated problems? And I think there's an increasing awareness that the private sector has a really critical role to play in that along with cross-sector partners across the board. And, so I think this idea of like using our real work to solve problems and address these challenges is really, really inspiring to see other people thinking that way.
Noelle Tassey 12:46
Michael Morath 12:48
Yeah, I totally agree. And I also think that technology can bring a lot to it as well. Because like when we founded Incare like we saw the Autism community was underserved. Like there were existing products, existing compression products are like very dumb and like, you know, old school products. Like they are very obtrusive and, you know, prices medical products. And we found by creating something smart and putting the technology and, you know, we can have a huge impact in, you know, an existing product category bring it completely to the next level. And also, it's not only the Autism market we've found that we can target a larger mental health and wellness market as well.
Noelle Tassey 13:31
For sure. And so next up I want to open up one more question the whole panel before we get a little bit more specific. Which is, you know, this isn't a completely new idea, but I think we've all seen it. And Katie just touched on this evolution over the last few years of really the intersection of, you know, profit and social good. And I'd love to start, you know, talking a little bit about where that came from. You know, we had, you know, which companies really pioneered this and driven change in this way? I mean, when I think about it off the top of my head I think back to, you know, the early B corps. You know, I think you had like what, 15 years ago you had TOMS and everyone's sort of like, I don't know, like, is this actually good question mark? Actually, I still don't know.
Sonya Pella 14:20
For just [UNKNOW].
Noelle Tassey 14:22
Sonya and but then, yeah, then you got into the B corps and all the startups of today. So Sonya, let's kick off with you.
Sonya Pella 14:28
I know, you know, I have to say I have been very ambivalent about TOMS in particular. I don't want to, you know, bash TOMS in particular.
Noelle Tassey 14:35
Sonya Pella 14:36
But here's what I mean kind of thinking about this, and just to give you some perspective that I have been doing nonprofit work for 27 years. And it was only the last 7 or 8 years I felt comfortable talking about it in a corporate setting. Because you were supposed to keep doing good, what Katie just said, you know, doing good was here and your corporate stuff was here. And if you were doing good, then you will may be wasting your time in corporate. But now what I see and there are two or three things that have really I think are amazing changes. And there's this sort of conversion, this confluence that has happened. One is that the millennials, I mean, look at this panel, I'm so impressed by them. The rest are the Alley cohorts, right? The millennials are driving social entrepreneurship. You know, they really care about this trifecta which is, and I'm speaking to them about themselves. But let me I'm giving you the outside view of what I think, right? Wellness, community, and fun is so important to them. I mentor a lot of young people, young women in their careers. I see this get it done attitude and collaboration, but how can we solve big problems together? Not like oh, this is my baby and therefore nobody else is allowed to have this idea.
I also see that they care so much about social impact and making a difference. And not making a difference like oh, I want to, you know, painted houses for this project, etc. So I look at that number one, number two, what I see is that companies or organizations like Kiva, Charity: water, IDEO, I think Samasource is another one. They were the first to sort of use tech for social good, but many of them are nonprofits. So, you know, it's yes, they are changing the world but it's not social impact at scale. Again, you know, this is going to sound like this mantra that I'm talking about. It's not, you can help people for some time but if you don't teach them to fish it's still going to be you're providing the fish to them, right? That terrible old hokey saying. And so when I look at this, I really think that unless you look at social entrepreneurship and profitability together you cannot get that scale, honestly. And so for me, it's just been seeing the change with the millennials and Gen Z's now coming up, is just very gratifying. Really gratifying.
Noelle Tassey 16:58
Awesome. Well, hopefully we can actually use all of the skills of all of the people, you know, in our generation on this panel everything to actually solve these problems. We were talking about climate change before we went live today and now it's top of mind for a lot of us right now with fire in the Bay Area and two hurricanes ripping through the Gulf Coast. So Alessia, do you want to jump in there?
Alessia Morichi 17:24
Yeah, just a nice thing that we [LAUGH], we kind of like can read each other like minds. But I just want to add a couple of thoughts to what you just say. Because someone who really is part of me like in this industry is my founder, you know, Christina. When I met her like a few years ago I saw this, you know, super young lady. She was jumping from one plane to another one to meet investors all around the world. And I was so impressed by her energy and, you know, like a strong charisma she was always looking for changing the world to make an impact and I was very impressed. And this was one of the reason, you know, that brought me here because I say I really want to be part of this, you know, this challenge among millennials as well. So I really believe that what you Sonya, you know, said is true like millennials like, you know, driving these change in the industry and of course the technology gave, you know, a huge boost to the industry and helped us to, you know, accomplish these that in the past, just a dream and now it's coming to reality thanks to technology.
Noelle Tassey 18:34
Yep. Elise do you want to jump in there?
Elise Smith 18:37
Yeah, I think what I similarly it's like it's, I think what is inspired me and what I think has moved the needle around social innovation, social entrepreneurship is young people but also old people. It's really movements. Its Me Too. Its Black Lives Matter. I mean, we think about all of what is going on even this week whether it's the, to your point Noelle, whether it's the forest fires in California or whether it's, you know, shootings and police brutality and racial injustice. And I think it's us. It's the people who show up at work. It's the WNBA and the NBA who are like, we're going to strike. It's the people who are saying, I won't frequent that restaurant. I won't frequent that, I won't patron that retail store because they are not aligned with my values. And my values are very much in a, you know, social-driven focus and social impact space. And I think that has really propelled companies and organizations to think about how do they respond to this new normal? To the moment that we're in? And I think how do they meet it in a way that's authentic and real? And a lot of that is inspiring and motivating and it's what gets me up in the morning is to see people literally and figuratively putting their lives and their jobs on the line to move the needle forward.
Noelle Tassey 20:12
Yeah, for sure. And Sonya, I love that you're kind of tying that to the moment that we're in right now. This is actually the longest I've gone in a single panel all in the last 6 months without talking about COVID. But, you know, this is such a unique time for us in so many ways the country and it's going to be very interesting to see how this accelerates. Hopefully accelerates investment in, you know, socially conscious entrepreneurship to your point, you know. So we're living through a very unique moment. If that's one of the changes that it pushes then, you know, not being able to see my family for 6 months has definitely been worth it. Sorry, mom, if you're listening. I - [CROSSTALK]
Sonya Pella 20:51
I think one of the things that I think Alessia has mentioned, other people have mentioned, we had all of these issues that we are seeing come together, but we had them one at a time. And then, you know, they would sort of emerge and then sort of calm down and die down. But now, so many things have come together that it's impossible to turn your eyes away. And then we have this amazing group of millennials who say, we're going to change it, and then we work together and do it, right? So it's a-
Noelle Tassey 21:02
Sonya Pella 21:20
Positive time. It's a horrible time, but it's also a positive time.
Noelle Tassey 21:25
Yep, definitely. Katie, do you want to share as well?
Katie Davis 21:30
Yeah, I mean, I think this has been well covered by my fellow panelists. I will say, you know, I came into Verizon just recently, as I mentioned, from the global health space. And I, you know, have seen a few different industries from the inside and from the outside. And I think there is really this recognition over, you know, there is a change I think in how companies view themselves. In how the external environment of both customers, shareholders, and also, you know, those partners who are the traditional good actors, if you will, right? The NGOs, the funders, everyone, I do think there is this change in how the private sector and the role of companies and entrepreneurs is being viewed as really critical in making change. And you know jobs like mine did not exist in very many companies 10 years ago, I was looking for them. There were very few, right? So I think that the fact that companies are investing in building capabilities is really positive, and it's a journey, right? Some are way ahead and we're leading and some are kind of coming along. But I think there's a groundswell on the whole that people are paying attention to this.
Noelle Tassey 22:45
Yep, definitely. And, Michael, I know we've covered this pretty exhaustively, but I want to give you the last, the chance to get the last word in.
Michael Morath 22:54
Sure. Yeah, I think the Coronavirus crisis that kind of sped up or accelerated this progress. Like to doing social things, like doing good for the community. Like in design, I personally see like in last few months I had so many more projects that were like focused on doing something good for society. I think this crisis is a really big chance to, you know, to change like our set of values to like how can design, you know, offer something positive? So, you know, a lot of products are just built to, you know, built to make more profit, but we need to make sure that it's a product that we love to use that helps a bigger community, a bigger sense and not just making profit. But I think we can be a little bit more selective about the projects we choose to work on now because we have learned that, you know, that social good and making profit can go hand in hand if you choose your projects wisely.
Noelle Tassey 23:54
Yeah, definitely. And so the next question that's a great sort of segue into where we're going next, which is going to be, you know, we just all talked a little bit about how this is becoming a topic that's more and more intensified and it's been accelerated this year. And we're seeing this a lot within larger enterprises, especially. And, you know, obviously, like we work very closely with companies like Verizon, Anheuser-Busch, Katie's here from Verizon, I know Sonya, you're doing, you have been doing and continue to do a lot of work in the space with enterprise. And I just would love to hear from both of you the other side of what we've been talking about. Which is like why larger companies should be prioritizing this? And, you know, how to really like go beyond philanthropy to drive impact which is, you know, that kind of profit motive intersection we've been talking about?
Sonya Pella 24:45
I'm happy to go first. So here's the thing I see is that, you know, all of us now, or at least most of us, really care about what's going on in the world, right? So many issues have come together. We care about social innovation. We care about social impact at scale. And here's the thing, if we don't get it in the companies we work in whether they're large or small, we will go out and start our own companies. And this is true of all waves of founders that come through in breaking tech. If there is this vacuum, they find a vacuum. I mean, I look at Elise, I look at, you know, Michael, I look at everyone's products. I see so many health tech products that come out which are really about enabling access to health tech, right? And so if a company doesn't innovate a large company or even a medium-sized company, people are going to say, you know, I'm going to create a solution that is going to do it. And for large companies, I think Katie would probably speak very well is that, you know, having these partnerships with social innovation companies would be an amazing way to help the social innovation companies scale and do meaningful work within the larger company and make a social change that impact, right?
The other thing I've been kind of thinking, I know that, you know, for me it's the first one that I've been on where it's all focused on social good in an incubator program. And, you know, I was just wondering that is there a way to create large, you know, larger companies to create these kind of incubators and put a commitment? But you know it is a serious commitment from leadership both time and resources to say we incubate a company, or we do a partnership, and we do social good at scale. And are we ready there to, you know, sort of do this kind of commitment? And maybe that's why, you know, CSRs are so much easier. You donate things, you donate money, your employees have a day out, and you kind of sort of done, right? And it's a little cynical to say this, but I've been thinking about this and why can't larger companies really commit to social impact companies?
Noelle Tassey 26:52
So I'm so excited to hand this over to Katie because a lot of what we have been doing with Verizon and are hopefully going to be doing very soon actually does center around this and then taking kind of some of these ideas and making them a lot bigger kind of to your point about building like longer-term programs at scale that focus on this. And I think like something that we've seen even like, you know, in just in our work with them so far that's been really cool is, you know, when you're a corporation with a platform like let's say, 5G, it's going to be a real like phase shift for the economy, for society. Like it's going to drive a lot of change. And just expanding the number of seats at the table no matter what technology you're building on the platform if you're building it from a broader perspective, you know, that's how, for instance, you know, one thing that 5G Labs has done a lot with is like AI. And we make sure that as much as possible, we can bring in diverse founders who are going to make sure that perhaps they're building AIs that don't have racial bias, right? Like it's super important. It's a once in a lifetime, once in a generation opportunity to make sure that technology is built and rolled out. You know, you have more people in the room looking at it. I say this a lot and some people think it's hyperbole probably, but you know, I think if a woman had, you know, built Facebook we probably wouldn't be living in the world we're living in today. I think a lot would have been done differently. I mean it was literally it was a Hot or Not platform, you know. It's like wow, and here we are in 2020. You know, but if like more women had, had seats at the table in computer science like with the first social network. The dominant social network be that. I don't know I hope not.
Sonya Pella 28:36
It wouldn't have been [UNKNOWN]. It wouldn't have been.
Noelle Tassey 28:38
Yeah. And would have shut down bad behavior faster anyways. So but Katie, over to you to talk about all the awesome stuff you guys are doing.
Katie Davis 28:45
Yeah, I just have so much to say on this topic, but I'll try to be reasonably concise. First, I will say, you know, Verizon has a long history of doing really robust philanthropic work, volunteer work that has done a lot good, and that will continue forever, presumably. But I do think if we think about scale and think about the opportunity to put the resources and the talent and, you know, the brainpower of our company towards solving these problems, it's just so powerful. And it's also an opportunity, right? Back to the beginning of our conversation. You know if we are intentional about bringing social impact, thinking differently about markets, and thinking differently about communities it opens new markets for us, right? It takes us into ground that we haven't, you know, that isn't already well-trod for the company. It can spark creative solutions that just wouldn't have otherwise come to bear. And all of that hopefully translates into business opportunities.
And I think Noelle, your points about diversity and inclusion are so critical, you know, particularly when we're thinking about looking differently at markets and communities. Having those people that we're trying to serve representative in the conversation, whether that's through the product design process, or how we think about taking things to market, really bringing those voices to the table is a really critical element. And I think Sonya, I hear your challenge to us. It's not as easy perhaps as you know, coming up with sort of a partnership that we can kind of own end to end and, you know, put money towards and control the whole process. But I will tell you, we are definitely trying to crack the code on how we can bring in innovative ideas from the outside, from diverse founders from, you know, just different places, different people who have different ways of thinking, and how we can use that to enhance the work that we're doing in Verizon.
Noelle Tassey 30:53
Watch this space, I would say, Katie's got some pretty cool stuff planned. So awesome. And sort of to build on that sort of the large corporation side, Elise, I know that you have partnered with, you know, like some of the biggest corporations, some are like Google, Amazon, Target. How did that even happen? And what were those engagements like? What were kind of some of your takeaways?
Elise Smith 31:19
Ah, I mean, I guess to even answer how that happened that really is tied to our theory of change at Praxis Labs. Like our whole goal is to make society more equitable. And the reason why we're targeting workforces is that's where we believe we'll reach the most people and have the biggest impact at scale. And so for us, partnering with some of the largest enterprises is so aligned with our mission to have the greatest impact. And I think our relationships with those partners really came out of kind of a shared values and vision of actually, you know, believing in the value of diversity, equity, and inclusion work. But also knowing that if we're going to do it differently, we have to be measuring it in a way that we're not just measuring how many people go through a training and how valuable they think it is but really the attitudes, mindsets, and behaviors. And actually treating becoming a conscious, and inclusive leader as a competency. As something you can grow and get better at. And so that was really how we connected with our clients is through kind of conversations and talking to one chief diversity officer who connected us to another and I think the work we're doing kind of spoke to that.
But I think what's been exciting about our partners is seeing how they have embraced social innovation and social entrepreneurship broadly. And we are one of the partners that supports in the diversity, equity, and inclusion function, but there's other partners that they're supporting in other ways. And I think Target is they have an accelerator and, you know, we weren't when we joined and started working with them they had a bunch of other companies who were coming from historically underrepresented founders that were looking at how to make the world better in their specific way whether it was kind of a product targeting a specific underserved group. Or whether it was how do we think about young people and connecting them? And I think it was really interesting for us to learn from them in that way. But yeah, I would say for us, large companies are just so centered to our mission that it only makes sense to partner with them, but really with small and medium businesses as well.
Noelle Tassey 33:40
Definitely. Yeah, I mean, we love partnering. Like our large corporate partners are, they're all awesome. It's really nice to see kind of that shift in focus, for sure, kind of to your point. So, you know, again, building on how to drive social innovation especially within again like larger corporate infrastructures, do you guys feel like that is something, and this is the whole panel, something that should be driven internally or externally? And I think me, and I will say on the Alley side, our model is like a real combination of both because I don't think you can do anything good without both parties very engaged. But I'd love to kind of hear everyone's thoughts and think everyone on this panel has a very unique perspective on it. Michael, do you want to kick us off?
Michael Morath 34:27
Yeah, sure. So I mean, we founded this whole company, like this mission of having, you know, a social impact on the Autistic community doing good for this group of users. Like, we like, build our whole company around this mission, right, to help people to manage their mental health on their own terms. And so like, in my opinion, it needs to come like from the inner's core of the company to drive this process. But we also you know we partner with like mental health institutions and so we get a lot of impact and a lot of feedback from them as well. So I think the mission is there, but obviously you have to partner and get feedback from, you know, larger institutions as well.
Noelle Tassey 35:14
Yeah, definitely. Katie, do you want to go next?
Katie Davis 35:18
Yeah, I mean, I think it's definitely both. And that's how we're trying to work it from the Verizon side. I think within large companies if you are only trying to kind of parachute ideas in from the outside and not also working the internal systems I'm not sure that that's the most successful way. But at the same time, really using that external ecosystem to bring in a different more nimble maybe more creative way of thinking that's not always constrained by the corporate mindset certainly is an excellent way to kind of generate new energy and new ideas. But I do think that's not, you know, not at the expense of also doing the work internally and trying to build those champions within the organization. Trying to spark the ideas from the people who are close to our technology and really understand our capabilities. And so, I think we're really trying to work it from both ends and hopefully generate good ideas both ways.
Noelle Tassey 36:23
Yeah, definitely. I think we've already seen some of that and hopefully more to come. I know this is probably like the least controversial question that we're going to ask. So for our remaining three panelists who haven't answered. Do any of you kind of have like a hot take on this? Do you want to share? Or are we all in agreement that it needs to be done both ways in concert? I'm genuinely curious. Like, I feel like I'm 90% like I put money on everyone saying it needs to be both but if anyone wants to be contrarian.
I'm taking that as a no.
Sonya Pella 37:00
I think we all agree with you.
Noelle Tassey 37:02
Yeah. So for everyone listening and take no. Terrific. So, Alessia, I guess I want to kind of hand this question to you because I think, you know, with the work that you're doing with KEGG it's just like so, so pertinent. You know, how do you see companies or products with the social impact ties, you know, received by consumers? You're obviously you're selling, you've created and are selling a consumer good. You know, how do you I guess, how do you see like your customers responding to that?
Alessia Morichi 37:36
Yeah. First of all, I think that I was pretty lucky at the beginning of my career to get an internship in Italian fashion company. It was very active in corporate social responsibility. And at that time I had the possibility to observe the impact and the power of, you know, a CSR in general and PR visibility but especially on the customer side. And this was incredible to me because I saw that the customer were not buying just the product there but they were buying like, you know, values. And nowadays, this is actually like, you know, more true than ever because I would say that customers overall acquire a different, you know, consciousness and a knowledge about the purchasing process. When they buy they don't buy for the sake of, you know, buying. They want to, you know, buy and they want to see that companies are like you know, giving back and they're like their mission that also is a shared mission with our customer values.
And specific with the, you know, what I would say that in general, there's always like in the short-term might look like as a very like is impacting the cost, unfortunately, but in the long-term is paying customer's loyalty. And back to KEGGs specifically, this is like very true for us because, you know, making like women lives better is at the core of our business. And I feel that our customers they really believe that we are trying to do our best and especially when we ship the product. For example, we got some delayed in the shipment and I noticed that our customers were really, really, you know, supportive with us. They didn't like pick up any fight with us but they were like very understanding. They say, well don't worry we know that you are like, you guys are trying to do your best. It's not your fault if the product shipping late. So I would say that this was, you know, an example of our, you know, customers. When the mission is shared by your customers you can get like, you know, favorability among your community as well. And this something that I would just encourage everyone to, you know, to achieve. Trying to be always like to look beyond your product and to trying to sell not just, you know, the products sell but some kind of like values. And, you know, we are all in this panel everyone is like a strong mission behind the product, so I'm really happy that somebody has driven the industry, to be honest.
Noelle Tassey 40:12
Yeah, definitely. And Michael, I know, you know, you also have built and designed a consumer product. So I'd love to kind of build on that question. Also, you know, would love to hear a little bit about the design process for your product, you know, as you're kind of trying to mindfully design something that is a tech product. It's also, you know, actual piece of hardware and, you know, wellness social impact centered.
Michael Morath 40:43
Yeah. When we designed our Ease Vest we had a very strong focus on the user testing that was placed very important for us. Like there's so many decisions that we had to make along the way. Like how should we initiate the compression program, right? Like, is there like a phone that should initiate it? Like press of a button or more like, you know, a smart gesture like that? So many different technologies today control devices so we had to like make each little change, and then, you know, test with a larger group of users to see what kind of features work the best, and how to interact with the product in most intuitive way. So it can be very frustrating at times because you have to go back and forth. And actually an idea that you love, you know, actually isn't good for the consumer, so sometimes it's going back and forth. And what we really realized also is that the hardware, the technology side is not good enough. Like we have to expand to a smart technology platform like a companion app, so we can actually build a support network. So the technology, you know, it's innovative by its own but like, you know, creating the software on top really made our product innovative. Because our goal is like long-term to create support community for users to reach out to each other and share like hugs virtually like to family and friends. So like, you know, especially in times of social distancing, like a virtual hug is often like the best you can get. So we really like found out that those features are the most needed but user testing is the core for us.
Noelle Tassey 42:26
Yeah, definitely. The COVID angle there is really interesting, right? I mean, we all crave touch it makes us-
Michael Morath 42:35
Noelle Tassey 42:35
It makes us happy, makes us feel connected to people, and yeah. I love that all the companies in this panel, and the two consumer products are just so interesting. I'd love to like someday I hope I'll be in a shop like or probably on Amazon I'm buying both of these products.
Cool. So kind of getting into how we can do a better job of supporting and building this ecosystem. You know, we'd love to hear it from people who've done it. So Elise and Michael, can you tell us just a little bit about the experience of starting your company? What success looks like for you? And like what the most important drivers were, you know, helping you get a social impact business off the ground?
Michael Morath 43:23
Right. So for me personally, like when we launched Incare, so we looked at the market, right? Like what products are out there to help, you know, the Autistic community. And there are compression vests in the market but like we found out that they're very, very expensive. They are priceless. Medical products that are consumer products and not many people have access to those products. And also, like those products are not intuitive at all. So, you know, we really had to change the game [LAUGH] and make like, you know, a product that is smart, intuitive. And you know it's more like a product like a cool jacket that you want to wear every day because the product in the market all were like stigmatizing and like very bulky and, you know, so there was no good solution out there. But like long-term, our goal is, you know, to target a larger mental health and wellness market because the technology our product is based on it's called deep pressure touch and it can also help, you know, a larger population like with stress and anxiety. So we really hope to bring this technology to the next level. Like actually also long-term designing undergarments as well that you can actually like wear, you know, under everyday clothes. Like on a suit and tie or dress, so even more inconspicuous.
Noelle Tassey 44:46
Michael Morath 44:48
Noelle Tassey 44:49
Elise, do you want to jump in and sort of share your perspective?
Elise Smith 44:53
Yeah, I mean, I think the way we think about ours what success looks like for us is, you know, if we're not actually making the change that we set out to make then, you know, we're not going to be successful. And so specifically, it means that if we actually aren't helping people become more empathetic, take on different perspectives through immersive experiences in VR where they're, you know, essentially we let people take on a different background identity perspective than their own selves experience an incident of bias or discrimination themselves as a bystander and then get to practice responding to it. So if we're not helping people, one, develop that empathy through that perspective taking, if we're not helping them identify incidents of bias or discrimination and then we're not helping them build up a repertoire of responses then we haven't made the change that we set out to. If we aren't helping organizations better understand their culture of inclusion then we haven't, you know, set out and done and achieved what we set out to do.
And so, for us, it's really tied to the impact is what success looks like for us. We could be a huge company but if we're not moving the needle on the diversity and inclusion and outcomes we care about that we know, if we're not helping encourage the interventions that we know create more equitable workplaces then we aren't a success. And so, that to us is what's most important. And I think when you, you know, in this getting started phase, getting partners and funders who are aligned with that mission, and the way we saw the world was so important. Because if you have funders who aren't aligned with what your impact, what your success metrics look like then you're, you know, you're just not going to be able to have the same expectations of what that means, and that you have to do to achieve it. So that's been something we've learned throughout the process. And we're really grateful for those who've come with us on this journey. Who do see that as their success metric too.
Katie Davis 46:52
Can I just say to you, I think this metrics point is so important because the business metrics are kind of well understood, right? They're the same almost in every company, right? Revenue, profitability, standard. The social metrics are harder because they're not the same for everything, right? Like Elise's metrics and Alessia's metrics are not going to be the same. And so, I think it's easy to not set them or to not be as robust about tracking them as we are about like the financial side. And I think we all know what you track and what you measure is what people ultimately, what you incentivize is what people pay attention to. And so I just wanted to pick up on what Elise was saying that having those social metrics in addition to the business metrics I think is a really, really critical component.
Noelle Tassey 47:47
Yeah, definitely. And I think something we find yeah, to that point is like sometimes we'll be in the room with a corporate partner and we're like, okay, let's like talk about what you want to do. Like what do you want to show for this in a year? And it's sort of like I'd like to just say I did a lot of events and were like, that's cool but like what else? [LAUGH] And that's where and then once you dig into that you get, you know, some really, really incredible responses and ideas. And you're like, okay, now I can actually build something.
Also, and sort of tie to this somebody actually just wrote in the Q&A asking if at Alley we help early-stage companies find and develop relationships with the corporate partner that's like most aligned with them? And I just wanted to answer this one live since we just talked about the sort of internal or external corporate social responsibility model. That is what we do, but we do it in a way that's driven by the corporate partner. So it's not driven by the startup. Like we, well, we actually do both but mostly corporate partner, so we kind of figure out what they're interested in doing and then work through them. So anyways, but thank you for the question. Somebody else just wrote in, so speaking of KPIs what are the social metrics or like impact metrics that you guys look for? I think that's kind of a great question since it is something that to everyone's point, the things you measure are what matter. Anyone? Yeah, you're really, this is to the whole panel or to whoever wants to take it since its a live question.
Katie Davis 49:23
I mean, I would just say, I think it is, it's hard to give one answer because it's unique depending on the mission, the product of the company, or the initiative. So I think it's hard to say like, these are the social metrics. What is important I think is to make sure that the social metrics actually have impact. Which you know, I think Noelle what you were just saying kind of made me think of that like are we having events for events? Like what's the so what after like the obvious thing that's easy to count? I think someone earlier mentioned the theory of change, right? So I would say it's less in my mind like that there are these 3 to 5 to 10 things that you want to measure and more about how do we be really thoughtful about setting metrics that link to impact as opposed to just kind of counting things that are easy to measure.
Noelle Tassey 50:17
Sonya Pella 50:18
You know, I wanted to add to this. And this is so important as a marketeer as a, you know, person who works in marketing. Whatever gets tracked and measured and you report back on you will be assessed by, right? And one of the things I thought was a really great idea Pinterest of this several years ago, where they will put on their blog on how many women engineers they plan to have by the end of the next 12 months or the fiscal year. And when they failed at it, they actually updated it and said, you know, this year we actually failed. And, you know, the goal was 26% of all engineers should be women and we made it to 23% or something. But I think staking, putting a stake in the ground and saying that this is the impact we are going for is also about accountability. You know these should not be just feel good programs that oh, we've got money in so-and-so. And I think the time has come for if you are really about diversity, inclusion, social impact, whatever you decide, I think everyone should be clear about it in the company. Everyone should be working towards that goal and then they should be okay we succeeded or we failed.
Noelle Tassey 51:28
Sonya Pella 51:29
And that's a radical change, honestly, for a lot of companies. I'm not talking about Verizon because I know Verizon actually does a lot of good by the way on nonprofit benefits from Verizon every year. And, you know, small world, right. But I think if, you know, so many companies put up these things on their websites about their mission/vision, but what is the stake in the ground that says, we succeeded this year or we failed this year?
Noelle Tassey 51:53
Elise Smith 51:53
Yeah. And I think that's, I think you're so right, Sonya. And that's why when we think about our impact measurements we are looking at not just our product impact, so the individual learners, the organization, and we have a ton of metrics tied to our individual learners growing as a conscious leaders our organization's becoming more inclusive. But we also have a ton of internal metrics that we want to hit. Are we use our own training, right? We go through our own learning models. Are we growing as leaders? Is our team diverse? Are we building products in an equitable way? Are we across all of it? And I think for us, it's so important to practice what we preach. We're super diligent around metrics and making sure that if we don't hit it to your point, Sonya, then we acknowledge that and we do better.
Noelle Tassey 52:42
Definitely. Oh, this is such a good conversation. I really actually want to keep going on this route. But I know we're also approaching time now and I want to be respectful everyone's time. So we're going to do one last question for everyone on the panel. Looking to the future, especially as we're in this, you know, incredible transitional moment. What is the future of social innovation and entrepreneurship look like to you? Elise, do you want to kick us off?
Elise Smith 53:10
Oh, wow! No, I don't. [LAUGH]
Noelle Tassey 53:13
Elise Smith 53:13
But I'll try. Yeah, I mean, for me the future of social entrepreneurship and innovation is one that is diverse and inclusive. It brings all ages, all backgrounds, all ethnicities to the forefront, and we're able to work together to solve some of the problems that we've seen in society that haven't been solved. Diversity, equity, and inclusion being one of them.
Noelle Tassey 53:33
Yeah, definitely agree. It's a much more interesting landscape for sure. A much like richer group of people as well which is really cool. We're seeing it now. It's awesome. Alessia, do you want to jump in there?
Alessia Morichi 53:50
Well, to be honest just look at the panelists today. I can see that I see the future here because we are like a very diverse group of people who are trying to change in the world. So I really wish that we're going to inspire more people and we're going to have like more intrapreneurs in the future like [UNKNOWN].
Noelle Tassey 54:10
Oh, that, you're going to make me cry. And it really is cool, though. It's nice, it's so nice like being able to put on these panels. This would have been so hard to do 2 years ago. It would've been so hard to run this accelerator 2 years ago. And like here we are with this incredible group of people and around this panels investing in the next generation of social entrepreneurs as well.
Katie to next.
Katie Davis 54:34
Yeah, I would certainly echo everything that Elise and Alessia said. And maybe just add that I do think the uniqueness of this moment is really spawning a lot of sort of forced innovation, right? So by companies, by individuals, things that would have taken years to get done Verizon turned over 100,000 employees remote in like a matter of 2 weeks. Which is something that would have like would've just not even happened, it wouldn't have even taken a long time, it would have just not been endeavored, right, in previous times. And so I think, you know, all of these different innovative ways of working innovative solutions that are coming out of it, just innovative ways that we're living our lives now, right, has been challenging for a million reasons. But I think there's a real opportunity, particularly when we come out of this moment to think about like what really worked? And where did we change things and disrupt things in a way that was really productive and that we can continue to learn from those best practices and continue to disrupt change?
Sonya Pella 55:45
I want to add to what you just said, Katie is that you know if you can't get a seat at the table you better make your own table. And that's what we are doing at How Women Invest. We kept hearing stories of how women founders were not getting funding 7, 8, 9 rounds, you know. And we get constantly being told we don't understand what you're doing, what you're doing. And so finally we said, okay, fine, you know what we're going to do our own VC fund. 90% of the investors in our fund are women and 54% women of color. So we're going to build our own table. We're going to start a new party. And I think all of us should really think about this, that this is the time right? Otherwise, when is the time?
Noelle Tassey 56:26
Yeah, definitely. And so this is the point about the changing time that we are in, and seats at the table. We're kind of at a time in America where a lot of changes being accelerated, but also the current crisis is accelerating, you know, gaps and divides that had been growing and making them even wider. And so, how do we seize this moment to add seats to the table before, you know, or build our own table before this gets worse and the access to that table is cut off? And that's something that I think about a lot. I think a lot of the people on this panel probably do, Michael, to you with this question. Last but not least, you're going to close this out.
Michael Morath 57:07
Sure, I couldn't agree more with Sonya. Like it's really important to like not wait for anyone else to do those changes. You have to do the work. You have to be hard on yourself. And, you know, each company, if you don't see a product in the market that is missing and you can do good for the society you just have to do it. You can't wait for anyone else. And even if it's uncomfortable, you got to be hard on yourself. And I think just the Coronavirus crisis has accelerated this whole process. You know, like what can technology bring to the table and do good for society? So I think it's possible but you have to be really mindful. And as always, more technology it's not always good so you have to be really careful about what's good for social impact and what's not.
Noelle Tassey 57:56
Yeah, definitely. And I heard it's a greater point. People talk about innovation then change and technology a lot of times. And this is getting better and better, but as it fits, you know, just a universal positive and as we've seen way too many times by now it's not. Unfortunately, we are over time so I want to give a big thank you to all of our participants, to our panelists thank you guys so much for sharing your Thursday afternoon with us. For those of you who are listening, this conversation has been recorded, and it will be available tomorrow on our website at Alley.com if you would like to share the content with your community. We'll also be sending out an email later with some resources from all of our incredible panelists. So thank you guys, again, for sharing the last hour with us this has been really fun and we'll hopefully talk to all of you soon.
Katie Davis 58:47
Thanks so much.
Sonya Pella 58:48
Thank you. It's lovely talking to everyone.
Elise Smith 58:51
Have a lovely day.
Michael Morath 58:53
Thank you, you guys.