This post is the first in a series of profiles of last year’s winners as they share their best advice and insights for the 2014 contenders.
Casey Dilloway is one of four founders of Community Sourced Capital. He spends his days championing the power of community funding of local businesses. “A community is stronger when its local businesses are thriving.” And Community Sourced Capital, a for-profit social purpose corporation, offers micro investors a means to support business people who may be family or neighbors and local customers; $50 at a time by way of “the blue square.”
Imagine a visual (if you will) of what it would take for a local business to open up a new location, but imagine it like a puzzle made of one inch blue squares. Each square or puzzle piece represents three things. First, it represents $50 in capital support. Second, it represents an individual providing that capital and a message of “I believe in your business.” Third, it represents the power of the collective in community-based action.
When I caught up with Casey, I was genuinely surprised to hear that 2013 was the first year they had applied to SVP Fast Pitch because CSC went in as a first-time contender and finished a winner in multiple ways. They won the $47,500 2nd place Investment Fund Award, the $2,500 Audience Choice Award, and the $2,500 Impact Donor Award.
So, I got curious about that story and dug deeper to find out what exactly it was that CSC did to go as far as they did. I know of at least two other innovator applicants who were applying for the second time: Project Feast and Snohomish Soap Company. It makes sense that if you applied one year but didn’t advance to the finals, but you understood what you could do differently to be more effective, to reapply could take you further.
Casey and his co-founders adopted a different strategy to prepare for their Fast Pitch experience. In 2012, they watched and watched and asked questions as they observed Innovator candidates work their way through the process. CSC members are also HUB members and that meant they could be flies on the wall, so to speak. What did they pick up as they watched for a season of Fast Pitch in 2012?They noticed what was impactful. They noticed who advanced forward and what Fast Pitch judges appreciated about pitches and how information was presented. And, fortified with this kind of “intelligence” they applied in 2013.
Casey says the feedback from Quarterfinals was extremely valuable. The coaching and mentoring received after Quarterfinals and through the Semi-finals brought them to the McCaw Hall stage on November 17th feeling confident, prepared, and appropriately excited and nervous. Casey gave his best pitch yet that evening and it paid off big time.
His advice to those in the program this season as coaching and clinics begin, “Ask a lot of questions. Then ask even more. Being at the Impact HUB also gave us great insights because there were people to network with and talk to.” (I concur, spending time at the HUB is wise counsel.)
What has being an SVP Fast Pitch winner done for CSC? Casey shared that the whole experience helped them clarify their message, their story; and this clarity is impacting their marketing plans. I asked Casey if the exposure they received has helped CSC in attracting more potential clients and community investors. To some extent yes and more every time they also receive more positive press.
What really struck me about talking to Casey was how enthusiastic he was about the whole experience they had as first time applicants. They didn’t expect to win. They wanted to do their best on what they learned from a season of observing others in the process.
Casey also said, “It is important to ask enough questions that make it clear (for you) if your business or program is right for the SVP Fast Pitch criteria.”
Is your idea socially innovative? Is it fully formed? Is it already in the works and working? You can’t ask enough questions, apparently.
So what made CSC a judges and audience favorite? Part of the SVP Fast Pitch intent is to essentially micro-fund businesses born in the Greater Puget Sound that immediately impact their communities. CSC is about providing an accessible channel for community funding and reaping the benefits of thriving local businesses that are patronized by the people who live in those communities.
Life after Fast Pitch continues to be exciting as CSC grows from four co-founders to four full-time staff and one part-time staffer in Seattle. CSC is growing. “Our footprint and clarity and marketing message is more solid thanks to our Fast Pitch experience,” stated Casey.
And as much work as it was to prepare for each stage of the process, CSC rose to the occasion, watched and listened and took the coaching and feedback provided.
According to Casey, “Getting feedback that was both negative and positive made the difference. In fact, the feedback on what didn’t work was in some cases more valuable.” Being aware of what was not working gave Casey and his team a problem to solve that would make their business case even stronger. And, it’s working!
To date CSC has initiated over $370,000 in loans for 23 businesses with support from nearly 2,500 “squareholders.” And, their team is expanding as is the location of the businesses they are helping to attract “community sourced capital.” According to Casey, “Financing is an essential part of creating a more sustainable environment and society,” he says “Our motto is ‘fund the world you want to live in’.”