Renewal2 Investment Company, Alter Eco, in New York Times

On June 23rd, Alter Eco, a Renewal2 portfolio company, was featured in the printed Edition of The New York Times.  The article presented Alter Eco as a successful social venture that is able to attract “talented people” and specifically names Alter Eco's VP of Sales Kate Tierney as a prime example.  Writer Susan Moran explains how “tough times may be increasing interest in social ventures” and uses an Alter Eco as an example of a firm that supports “companies that are doing the right thing right from the start”.

Some Ways to Get Started as a Social Entrepreneur
New York Times
Published: June 22, 2011

With the economy still struggling, it may seem like an impossible time to start a do-good social venture. It can be hard enough to operate any business profitably — let alone one that also tries to improve the world. But some observers believe that the tough times may be increasing interest in social ventures.

“I get the sense that the recession actually has resulted in more people taking interest in investing in companies that are doing the right thing right from the start,” said Wes Selke, investment manager at Good Capital, a social-impact venture capital firm in San Francisco. As one indicator, at least three social-impact funds have raised more than $100 million in the last couple of years: Ignia Fund, Leapfrog Investments and MicroVest.

Marrying mission and money in one business can be tricky. This guide focuses on commercial, profit-making businesses and entrepreneurs who want to build self-sustaining social ventures, a term that encompasses nonprofit and profit-making companies as well as some new types of legal hybrids, like an L3C, which stands for low-profit limited liability company. These ventures are commonly thought of as enterprises that serve a so-called triple bottom line: people, planet and profits.

At a social venture, the social mission is expected to be at least as important as the money-making mission. So, for example, the tobacco giant Philip Morris does not pass the test even though it donates generously to artistic and social causes. But a business that addresses a socioeconomic or environmental challenge as part of its DNA — for instance by selling low-cost solar-powered lanterns to villages that lack electricity — would be considered a social enterprise, according to Deb Nelson, executive director of Social Venture Network, an organization of some 500 chief executives, company founders, nonprofit leaders and investors.

To those looking to start such ventures, social entrepreneurs and investors offer the following pointers.


HIRE CREATIVELY Despite paying less than mainstream companies, social enterprises have the ability to hire talented people.

Mathieu Senard is chief executive of Alter Eco Americas, a San Francisco-based company that sells organic Fair Trade products, including dark chocolate bars, quinoa, rice and sugar to retailers. (Fair Trade purchasers offer above-market prices and promote sustainability in developing countries.)

Mr. Senard and Edouard Rollet started the company in the United States in 2005, hoping to fight poverty through business. They buy goods at a premium from small farming cooperatives in developing countries. Mr. Senard expects sales to grow to $5 million this year from $3 million last year.

Alter Eco broke into Whole Foods early on, but its products were not widely distributed nationwide. Mr. Senard feared that he could not afford the industry talent he needed to capture more shelf space. His big break came unexpectedly, four and a half years ago, when Kate Tierney, vice president for sales at a big natural foods distributor, agreed to serve on Alter Eco’s board.

Ms. Tierney introduced Alter Eco to influential brokers and retailers. At one point she joined Alter Eco executives on a visit to a farming cooperative in Thailand. Not long after spending three days in a small village, Ms. Tierney told Mr. Senard that she planned to leave her job and come work for him. “I was like a deer in the headlights,” Mr. Senard said. “I said, ‘We can’t afford you. We’d have to cut your salary in half.’ ” Undeterred, Ms. Tierney joined Alter Eco and has helped double the company’s sales.

Read the full article online.