SVP's Social Innovation Fast Pitch offers nonprofit and for-profit innovators a structured program to develop and sharpen plans and presentations of their work through workshops, coaching, and mentoring. The program culminates in a series of competitive rounds – Quarterfinals, Semifinals, and Finals – that provide recognition, connections, grants, and investments for the winners.
Mentors are each paired with an innovator to work with them on the substance and presentation of the innovator’s initiative. One mentor is assigned to each team, but he/she may bring in other mentors or volunteer experts so that an innovator has the opportunity to hear different points of view.
Mentors will advise, facilitate connections to their networks, and otherwise engage supportively with the innovators’ enterprises. In addition, mentors will coach innovator’s on their 5-minute pitch. All aspects of mentorship should focus on on the elements of SIFP’s judging rubric: societal impact, innovation, sustainability, leadership, presentation, and so forth. (Details at http://sifp.net/rubric.)
Many innovators note that the mentorship they receive through SIFP is the most valuable part of their SIFP experience.
SIFP seeks enthusiastic, qualified volunteers to mentor participating innovators. Mentors should be willing to highlight the vision of the innovator and to seek to draw out their strengths and uniqueness. Mentors are required to have experience working with innovators in non-profit or early-stage, socially-motivated, for-profit ventures. Personal experience with social innovation is desired. Additionally, strengths in the areas of strategy, business planning, innovation, marketing, etc., are very welcome. Mentors should be willing to act as generalists who can offer support on a wide variety of enterprise functions.
Mentoring Tasks and Time Commitment
Mentors must commit to becoming familiar with the SIFP judging criteria, to building relationships with SIFP participants that continue informally through the program, and to providing encouragement and support as the innovators progress.
The minimum time commitment is 8 hours. Even very dedicated mentors are unlikely to spend more than 12 hours per team within the SIFP context, though they are certainly welcome to devote as much time as they can afford.
A checklist of mentor activities is as follows:
- Mentors are encouraged but not required to attend a discussion forum with past mentors for all 2012 mentors, scheduled for June 20th. The discussion will provide an opportunity for mentors to share tips and to hear from last year’s mentors.
- 2-4 hours devoted to reading and scoring innovator applications in June/July, before mentors are assigned to teams. This helps us choose the qualifying 40 teams, and it allows mentors to become familiar with the program and understand the breadth of applicants and their needs. Some mentors may find teams that they would like to be paired with during this process; we will do our best to match teams to fulfill such requests.
- 1-2 hours, once teams are assigned to mentors, to become familiar with the materials submitted by the innovator, and to watch their recorded first pitch at the Pitch Clinic. In addition to watching their own teams’ presentations, mentors should also sample other pitches presented at the Pitch Clinic to get a sense for the competitive field.
- 2-4 hours for at least one in-person mentoring session with the innovator(s) that you are paired with, soon after the Pitch Clinic, and ideally well before the Quarterfinals event, so that innovators have a chance to practice their revised pitches.
- 1-6 hours to attend (or review online) at least a portion of the Quarterfinals event, when all 40 contestants will perform the first version of their five-minute pitches. Mentors are encouraged to watch their own teams’ presentations and that of at least a few others. The Quarterfinals will last between 5-6 hours in total, though mentors are not required to observe the whole event.
- 2+ hours for additional interaction in person, over e-mail, or by phone. This may occur at any time, as needed or as requested by the innovators. Teams that advance to the Semifinals and to the Finals will often benefit from additional rounds of feedback, as the competitive bar rises higher. On the other hand, some teams will not advance, in which case the formal engagement with teams is over. (Some teams may still request mentorship beyond SIFP; such engagement is of course left up to the mentor’s discretion.)
- Mentors are encouraged but not required to attend the Semifinals and Finals, particularly if their teams advance to those rounds.
Innovators will be instructed to reach out to mentors and to take the lead in providing materials, scheduling meetings, etc., but mentors should also feel free to initiate interaction as necessary.
SIFP’s philosophy for engaging with the social innovators is simple: Focus on the vision of the innovator and provide advice to help enhance the substance and clarity of their pitch. To ensure an exciting and rewarding experience for both the innovator and the mentor, two principles should be held in mind. Openness: Be open to vision of the innovator. Listen carefully to their passion and approach. The goal is to bring out the best of what makes them them. Constructiveness: Engage in efforts that build up the innovator. Provide constructive comments for future revision along with any criticism. Emphasize the positive.
Mentors should advise on the substance and presentation of their innovators, focusing on societal impact, innovation, sustainability, leadership, and presentation. These criteria, along with several secondary criteria that are not explicitly scored, are expanded at http://sifp.net/rubric. They will be the basis for judging in all three stages of the competition. Mentors should become familiar with the details of these criteria and emphasize them as necessary throughout their engagement with teams.
- All innovators are asked to submit a one-page description of their work. This is posted online for public consumption (see http://sifp.net/ff), and it is used by judges as a reference during judging. One-pagers should be consistent with the presented pitch, and they could provide additional context or links to more material. On the whole, however, judges make their decisions primarily based on pitches.
- Especially in the early stages, many innovators struggle to explain precisely what they do, why it’s unique, and what concrete impact they have. Mentors are urged to guide innovators to clarify these points in their pitches as early as possible during the SIFP timeline. Some mentors explicitly recommend one crystal-clear sentence that explains what the innovator does, stated towards the beginning of their pitch.
- The judges for all three stages of the competition include social innovators and people who care about social innovation. Some, though certainly not all, will be representatives of SIFP sponsors. Everyone will be familiar with the idea of social innovation, but their backgrounds, expertise, and perspectives are diverse. Therefore, pitches should be appreciable to a general audience with interest in social innovation. Innovators should define any unfamiliar or ambiguous terminology and otherwise minimize the use of jargon.
- Judges are undoubtedly swayed by presentation – the narrative arc of the pitch; the mechanics of delivery; adherence to the 5-minute limit; the personality on the stage; etc. Especially in the later stages of the competition when pitches increasingly score high on all of the judging criteria, presentation can be the deciding factor. Among the most effective recommendations to innovators is to ask them to view video-recordings of their own pitches. Many will not do so unless prompted, but it can be a revelation for them. Mentors may also find it useful to review videos during meetings with innovators to go over ideas point by point.
- Each round eliminates half of the contestants. There will be 40 Quarterfinalists, 20 Semifinalists, and 10 Finalists. There will be one Grand Prize, a couple of audience-choice awards, and several other prizes that will be finalized in the weeks leading up to the Finals.
- Throughout, mentors should support their innovators in ways that go beyond their pitches. Previous mentors have helped innovators connect with potential donors/investors; some have joined boards; others have provided in-depth technical advice; many have provided ongoing advice outside of the context of SIFP. Surveys show that innovators most appreciate the expansion of their network through SIFP mentors and coaches.
Finally, we appreciate the time and energy that all of our mentors put into SIFP. In turn, we hope you will have a chance to learn from the innovators and from the other mentors. We encourage you to make the process both fun as well as productive!