Why Silicon Valley is failing when it comes to social impact investing
Monday, December 21, 2015
By Oded Ben-Dov, CEO and cofounder of Sesame Enable
Lately there is a lot of buzz in Silicon Valley about social impact investing. Startup executives and venture capitalists with an earnest gleam in their eyes increasingly talk about using hi-tech to make the world a better place for everyone — rather than just vying for the multimillion-dollar exit. It sounds great in principle, but when it comes to social entrepreneurship, how many Silicon Valley investors are actually willing to put their cold hard cash on the line?
When we set out to raise funds to develop the Sesame Enable phone — a completely hands-free smartphone developed for people with spinal cord injuries, ALS, Multiple Sclerosis, and other disabilities that impair the use of hands and arms — we were met with resounding enthusiasm. “What a great idea!” “It’s so useful to so many people,” venture capitalists told us.
But it ended up being a lot of talk and no action. Raising money for products that revolve around special needs isn’t at all easy. Eventually, after months of slaps on the back but no backing, we found angel investors who were earnestly seeking a chance to make a difference. And, along the road, we won $1 million from Verizon and additional funding as winners of Michael Bloomberg’s Genesis Generations Challenge. We were also fortunate to be chosen for the first round of the A3i Accelerator — the only accelerator in the world focused on “ability tech.”