When GRIT (Global Research Innovation & Technology) applied for the Social Innovation Forum’s 2013 Social Business Accelerator, the company had started offering its initial product, the Leveraged Freedom Chair, in developing countries, but had not yet entered the U.S. market or begun raising growth capital.
GRIT had just finished the MassChallenge startup accelerator, where it took home one of the four top prizes. While MassChallenge provided significant opportunities and $100,000 in prize money for the young company, CEO and Co-Founder Tish Scolnik and her team of MIT-trained mechanical engineers were eager to learn from other companies focused on social impact. Tish also wanted to connect with the growing community of investors and mentors specifically interested in mission-driven companies.
GRIT truly matured as a company through our work with the Social Innovation Forum.
GRIT was one of four Social Innovation Forum (SIF) “Impact Entrepreneurs” selected for the inaugural Social Business Accelerator cohort, designed to help emerging social impact businesses accelerate their growth and to build the field of local impact investing.
SIF worked with GRIT to focus on highlighting the social impact part of its work as well as the financial return. Tish had the opportunity to share experiences with and learn from like-minded leaders facing similar challenges. During the program, mentors from the business community asked tough questions that helped GRIT deepen its presentation content and hone its message. GRIT created a prospectus and pitch deck to introduce the company to prospective investors. Additionally, mentors offered GRIT tangible help around how to develop and structure successful investment deals. In April 2013, Tish pitched GRIT to more than 150 potential investors at SIF’s Impact Investing Showcase.
Through SIF, the GRIT team gained visibility and exposure to potential investors, particularly those who were looking to back companies that promised both a financial and a social return. Tish and her team took advantage of SIF networking opportunities while in the program and continued to engage actively in the SIF community as alumni. Through SIF, Tish met Jeff Kushner, former CEO of BlueMountain Capital, Europe, and an active social impact investor, who later became a lead investor and GRIT board member.
“GRIT truly matured as a company through our work with the Social Innovation Forum," said Tish. "We have a much better understanding of the impact investing space and have a strategy in place to raise funds. Being part of a cohort with other fantastic social enterprises made the experience even more valuable.”
Since 2013, GRIT has sold more than 1,500 chairs in developing countries, and the company has brought an updated version of the Freedom Chair to market in the United States. Drawing on the materials created with SIF, GRIT began actively fundraising, and in July 2015 closed its first funding round, raising $600,000 from 16 impact and angel investors, many of whom came through the SIF network. GRIT will use this investment to build its marketing and sales capacity so that it can grow both its social and financial impact to the next level.