Silicon Valley Global Health hosted their 8th podcast in partnership with Aaroogya international with serial entrepreneur and impact investor Ms. Rekha Pai. Ms. Pai has worked in Silicon Valley as an engineer, marketer, and product manager, and now works as an investor and partner in a non-profit grant-making fund called Silicon Valley Social Venture Fund. CEO and board member of SVGH and executive director of Amici Lovanienses, Martine Bolsons-Peetermans, directed the conversation with questions regarding advice for those wanting to start a tech company with a socially responsible bent, the distinction of non-profit and for-profit business models, and the key factors in a successful impact investment.
Like some eager entrepreneurs with an interest in socially responsible business, Ms. Pai recalls how “the engineer in me always wanted to help build a solution to the problem, but the artist in me wanted to create a more sustainable and equitable planet.” After years building and pursuing investments in “compelling and impactful market based tech driven solutions that generate positive, and environmental and social change,” and committing all of her family foundation funds to investing in ESG strategies and impact investments, Ms. Pai has concluded that a company’s decision to be a for-profit or non-profit business should depend on the specific need that company intends to address in a population, and therefore the sources of funding that company can be involved with.
If the population with which a company is concerned is severely underserved or has incomes too low to utilize a company’s product, for instance, it may be better for the company to choose a non-profit model to ensure maximum impact. Additionally, if a government funding platform or grant making organization has a specific fund for that similar tool, the non-profit route is even more advisable.
What does Ms. Pai look for in an impact investment? A balanced team with qualified, diverse backgrounds; an attractive market with room for traction; the ability for consumers to pay for the product (in the case of a for-profit business); a thorough, thoughtful solution to a substantial problem; a large breadth and depth of impact; scalability, measurability, and intentionality. Ms. Rai only begins to view financials after elements like these have been assessed.
Impact investors look to make a social impact, as well as a profit return, Ms. Pai reflected. Thus, it is important also to note that while many companies choose at the outset to be either for-profit or non-profit, as Mrs. Bolsons-Peetermans observed, these categories are “fluid”; businesses can hybridize their operations to be both with and without profits, and attract a variety of funders at a variety of stages, depending on who, what, and how they want to impact.
Considering this model, Ms. Pai is optimistic about the prevalence of socially responsible business practice in the coming years. Over the past 20 years, Ms. Pai observed, even markets seem to require increasing measures of diversity, equity, and social responsibility. As part of this trend, for-profit businesses like Patagonia and Etsy for instance are already using their profits not only to ensure returns to their shareholders, but to make a positive impact on the communities they touch.
You can view the full podcast at the link below for more information: