Ready to cast your vote in the Social Innovation Challenge? Here’s how to make a smart pick

Challenge 2018 judges

Judges at the 2018 Social Innovation Challenge

The teams that participate in the Social Innovation Challenge are usually brimming with passion, enthusiasm and a kind of dogged determination to bring their ideas to life.

But while all of the previous challenge winners have been passionate, they’ve also been prepared. On pitch day, the judges (including audience members) are looking out for a few specific, vital things to show them that teams really could put their business plans into action and foster social change.

If challenge participants truly want to win, they can’t just be dreamers—they must be doers, too. Here’s what the judges are looking for:

1. A clear value proposition
The business must provide value to its clients or the population it’s trying to serve. Sarah Tinsley, Lead, Small & Growing Business Fund, says that everything starts here: “once you know where your value lies, then the rest of your business plan flows out of that,” she says.

The idea should be unique in some way—a new spin on an old model, perhaps—and teams should keep in mind that because the challenge parameters are quite narrow this year, many teams might be suggesting similar solutions. The team that gets really clear on how its solution will bring value to its specific customers and avoids making vague, general statements will stand out.

2. A thoughtful business model
The Social Innovation Challenge is about “business, market-based solutions,” Tinsley says. If teams propose a model that relies on donations and doesn’t generate a sustainable source of revenue, they’ll be disqualified.

Teams should also know the difference between their “customer” and their “consumer”—sometimes these overlap, and sometimes they don’t. The difference is that the customer is the entity that’s paying for the service, and the consumer is the person or group that’s using it. If teams are proposing a waste-collection service, for example, their customer might be a municipal government; the consumer would be the population with homes in the area.

3. No big question marks
One of the biggest mistakes teams can make as they prepare their proposals or pitches is “not really thinking it through,” Tinsley says. Teams must do the imaginative work of walking through every step of both their “customer journey” and the journey of the product as it works its way through the distribution channels. They must consider all the details, Tinsley says. If a team says something like “we’re going to deliver it by truck,” well, are they buying trucks or renting them? Are trucks the best vehicle to deliver in that area, considering the terrain?

4. Cultural relevance
A key feature of the Social Innovation Challenge is that as teams refine their offering, they have the chance to exchange ideas and get feedback from community members in the Philippines. Teams must be willing to listen deeply to this feedback, and to do secondary research beyond the outline or brief they’re given, in order to devise solutions that make cultural and geographic sense.

5. A long-term vision
Teams should think about building their businesses in stages—starting small at first and making sure the product is viable, but also thinking about the stages down the line. Could this idea work in other communities? Could it be tweaked to give it an even broader or deeper social impact? What does the business look like in two years, five years, even 10 or 20 years?

6. Thinking about impact
The judges will look fondly on teams that have thought about how they can track the social impact of their businesses; teams should ask themselves what kind of data they will collect, and what “success” will look like. Tinsley recommends participants research the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and consider how they could use these targets to guide their visions.

The Social Innovation Challenge pitch competition is June 19 in Toronto. Good luck to all the participants!