A New Measure of Success: Investors’ Circle Launches the IC 20

By Molly Deringer

As a network of entrepreneurs and angel investors, Investors’ Circle is acutely aware of the fact that launching and growing a business is an uphill battle. According to the Small Business Administration, less than half of all start-ups survive beyond four years after their launch.

Despite this humbling fact, social entrepreneurs continue to break new bounds and redefine success. It is clear that entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well. In the last 12 months, Investors’ Circle—an organization serving 200 accredited investors and 2,400 entrepreneurs—received over 600 entrepreneur applications to present to the progressive-minded investors in attendance at their exclusive Spring and Fall National Conferences.

Every six months, the organization screens deals, sends them on to investors, and supports them through the fund raising process. Since its inception, Investors’ Circle has funded $131 million into 212 firms. But where are these high-growth-potential firms today?  How have they grown and profited—and more importantly—how have they realized their human and environmental missions?

Compared to Venture Capital Funds, angel investor groups (Investors’ Circle included) tend to be notoriously poor at tracking the success of their investments, since each group’s “portfolio” is a mix of its various angels’ individual portfolios. As Jean-Luc Park of Calvert Social Investment Fund explains, “Angel investors have only themselves to answer to.  It is their money, and they can do what they want.  It is human nature to highlight the wins and diminish the losses.”

As an organization advocating for the crucial role that angel investors play in promoting social enterprise, Investors’ Circle recognizes that it is important to look back, assess its collective successes and failures, and draw inspiration from these lessons.

At the Fall 2009 Conference in Washington DC, IC will announce the IC 20: a list of the top twenty high-impact and profitable firms that have come through the IC network.  Covering seventeen years of ventures and accounting for financial, environmental, and social results, this unique list will be the main source for profiling fast-growing companies that are beneficial for both investors and society. Companies surveyed will be asked to report on several factors, including:

  • Revenue Growth
  • Job Creation
  • Board and Employee Diversity
  • Energy and Water Use

The importance of tracking the growth of a business is understood as fundamental to finance. Inc. Magazine has been profiling the top 500 fastest growing companies every year since 1982. Increasingly, however, businesses and entrepreneurship organizations are recognizing the importance of measuring a company’s social and environmental impact in addition to their financial success. Rockefeller Foundation, B Corporation, HIP Investor Inc, and Social Venture Technology Group are leading the effort to determine how to assess business impact. At the same time, a growing number of S&P 500 companies are self-reporting their companies’ impact on their business websites and to company shareholders. Today, Investors’ Circle is reconnecting with companies that approached the organization years ago with, for example—a two-person team, $50K in capital from the founders, a sound model, and a laudable mission—to find out where they are now. Are the “winners” the companies that were expected to take off all along? Are the pioneers of social impact also companies with the greatest revenue growth?

Ultimately, Investors’ Circle hopes that the IC 20 will help inspire a new generation of entrepreneurs. “The IC 20, like the Inc 500 and Fortune’s Best Companies to Work For, will highlight the new ventures that provide high growth, great jobs, inspiring products, and ultimately an attractive financial return and significant benefits for society. What could be better?” – Paul Herman, HIP Investor, IC Member.

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