“When we entered the mentoring program, we had not raised any investment, despite working flat out since 2013 with bilateral and multilateral funds, social impact funds, and private investors…. In 2017, I took our Mentor Capital Network vetted business plan to our donor, and against his initial refusals eventually got him to start investing in our new business line, as a way to expand our conservation impact. Without the guidance and mentoring on our business model and plan, I would not have been able to achieve the subsequent $1 million to build our plant and launch the new business.” – Peter Pinchot of the Ecuadorian company Whole Forest  

PowerMundo operates in rural Peru, managing a worldwide distribution network for clean technology products and supports new local economic development in emerging markets. Michael Callahan, CEO, says “The [MCN] matched qualified judges with the appropriate business plan, and provided constructive feedback. Their competition sets a good example for other social business plan competitions to follow.”

Nuru Energy sells a portable, rechargeable LED task light that mimics the characteristics of kerosene, in terms of its functionality and the way it’s consumed through microfranchise businesses. Sameer Hajee, founder and CEO, recalls “We’ve won now about 20 awards. Many of them came after the WJF award. The WJF was one of the first awards we won that helped us initially prove our concept. But of all those 20 awards, the WJF was the only one where we actually had access to a lot of the feedback from the judges and it was fantastic in helping us to adapt the model. We just put together our business plan for this next fundraising round and I went back to all the WJF judges’ comments to see whether or not we had addressed some of the issues that were raised there. That’s been really helpful for us, even two, three years after we won the award.”

DayOne Response develops and supplies solutions for disaster relief, including the DayOne Waterbag, which is a lightweight reusable personal water treatment device that provides all the essential functions for water purification. Tricia Compas-Markman, founder and CEO, says “For social enterprises that are in that early stage prior taking on investment, I really think that all [of those] companies should be involved with the WJF competition because it provides immediate feedback on your plan, even if you only get through the first round. The feedback helped build our team focus. It should be in the entrepreneur handbook – you’ve got to do WJF.”

Ecozoom makes clean, highly efficient, and durable cookstoves accessible and affordable in developing countries. CEO Ben West recounts “It’s amazing what you accomplish here. We’re behind it, I wish we had more time to promote and reciprocate as well. I think it was really being in touch with those who reviewed our plan that was the most helpful.”

EGG Energy delivers electric power to low-income African households; one battery at a time creating a portable grid. Co-Founder Alla Jezmir says “Just affiliation with the William James Foundation name has been a great asset. We’ve been very successful in winning business plan competitions, and the Foundation is always recognized as one of the leaders and supporters of social entrepreneurs and having been vetted by the Foundation is helpful to additional capital raising efforts we’ve had.”

Tonle produces handcrafted, eco-friendly fashion clothing and accessories. Rachel Faller, CEO, says “I liked hearing the feedback from different judges both from their personal experiences and a technical standpoint. The feedback of this competition is what makes it so valuable, and I was also pleased that so many of the judges were willing to share their email addresses and receive more questions from us. ”

Malô creates and sells affordable, culturally appropriate rice-based products in Mali that enhance the health of mothers, children, and the planet. Salif Romano Niang, Co-Founder, thinks “The [MCN] feedback by far is the most comprehensive, detailed feedback we’ve had, and we have participated in a lot of competitions. And the fact that judges are willing to have you follow up with them is great.”

Atayne makes high performing outdoor and athletic apparel that is safe for people and the planet. Founder Jeremy Litchfield, thinks “The biggest part is the connections created. It also helped us to get feedback in designing our plan in order to actually launch. I’ve maintained contact with judges that evaluated our plan and that was over four years ago.”

Soupergirl serves fresh, homemade soup made with ingredients from small local farms that practice sustainable farming methods in Washington, DC. Sara Polon, founder, recalls “I started Soupergirl with a very extensive to-do list that 4 years later I still haven’t completed. [The WJF competition] forced me to finish a business plan, and run the financials completely for Soupergirl. The feedback was fantastic, and helped reveal where I could save money, and where I had growth potential.”

StartSomeGood empowers people from around the world to become social innovators. They’ve taken the crowdfunding model and customized it to reflect the unique needs of social entrepreneurs. Alex Budak, co-founder, says “The amount of feedback we got on our business plan was pretty incredible – nearly 75 pages all told from expert judges. And winning the prize of co-working space at the Affinity Lab has been so valuable. I’m now surrounded by a great community here.”

Tandem is a global strategy and organizational development consulting group that helps organizations do good and do it better. Founder Seisei Tatebe-Goddu, says “WJF made us focus in the early stages and provided us with extraordinary feedback. We had never had so many people looking at our business plan at the same time before, and their comments challenged and stretched the way we thought about the company.”

Vari aims to provide convenient and hassle-free resources to farmers in India so that they can sell their produce on their own terms (i.e. price, location and buyer) and to initiate exchange of information between seller and buyer, thus developing commercial activities without total reliance on intermediaries. Sai Krishna Dandamudi, founder, says “The judges’ feedback helped me to further develop my revenue model which has helped as Vari continues to grow. The William James Foundation judges did a great job at giving me constructive feedback.”

Verde Sustainable Solutions uses technology and private sector products to solve today’s environmental problems. They created the VERDE iPad app to help consumers reduce their electricity usage in homes and businesses through a home energy audit. Jamie Johnson, founder, recalls “Of all the things I’ve applied for, the WJF’s process was the best. The trick was the feedback the judges gave – it was a 5 or 10 page document with really thorough criticism….I’ve applied for hundreds if not five hundred different foundations projects or programs or different things, and I’ve never gotten thorough feedback. All WJF judges gave a unique thorough opinion about what my product is lacking and that was really beneficial. It actually led to some product design changes in the middle of what we were working on, which was really helpful. I really think the thorough feedback was helpful and I did reach out to all of the judges and I kept a relationship with at least one of them, which has been really helpful.”

Prosperity Candle empowers women to rebuild their lives through candle making. Founding Partner, Siiri Morley, remembers “The feedback from the judges was great…The biggest value for our team was the internal process of getting a business plan together and really making sure that as the three founding partners, we were all on same page about what we were doing and why we were doing it.”

Wello empowers individuals to use the WaterWheel as an income-generating tool to lift their families out of poverty. Cynthia Koenig, founder, recalls “The feedback I received from WJF was far and away the most comprehensive, detailed and useful feedback I’ve received. In fact, over 2 years later, I still refer back to my feedback forms! I’m still in touch with a few of my judges, who continue to provide advice, feedback, and support.”

“Your process and scorecard are truly first rate, better than other competitions I am involved with. Very well done!”Mark Albion is a co-founder of SVN and Net Impact, and the author of True to Yourself and More than Money: Questions every MBA needs to answer. Mark is a seasoned mentor and also helps us recruit mentors.

“I thoroughly enjoyed serving as a judge, particularly given the range of submissions I read. As someone with a busy schedule who is pleased to review and score innovation challenge competitions, grants, awards, and the like, I’m afraid not everyone is as organized or uses people’s time as efficiently, effectively, and respectfully [as the MCN].”Dr. Terry Babcock-Lumish currently directs Islay Consulting, and has been an economist for the US White House. She is a mentor and an in-kind prize donor.

WeBike offers simple, flexible, affordable bike sharing in a station-less package. Co-founder Allie Armitage recounts “We entered the [MCN Program] two times. The first time we really didn’t know what we were doing with the business plan, [and] hadn’t put a ton of time into it, so we got ripped apart, but the feedback was great and it was our first time really coming up to an audience that was going to look at the viability of the business and give you critical feedback on that.”

Micro Market Developers brings together ‘idea originators’ from the bottom of the pyramid with ‘idea mentors’ who are subject matter experts and ‘idea investors’ to foster the inception and sustainable growth of thousands of enterprises.Uzair Sukhera, founder, recalls “Insights from judges helped us find our blind spots. It also helped us figure out that what was [written in] our plan wasn’t fully representative of our mental plans. Though we had answers to the questions raised by judges but we did a poor job in documenting them. This was valuable feedback.”

New American Tavern is a movement to build restaurant/bar/cafés for people who care about politics, current events and community. Todd Schechter, Founder, says “I invested my time into applying to [the WJF] because I knew that it would offer me a guaranteed return on investment: feedback!…The most unexpected aspects of the experience that have helped me have been the softer ones that come from becoming part of the WJF community.”

Snack Packers delivers by bike healthy, individually portioned snacks to offices around Washington, DC. Snack Packers is a socially, environmentally and health conscious company trying to help everyone create less waste (or less waist, as they like to say). Ali Cherry, Founder, says “When I think about starting a business, the scariest things are questions. It can be stressful to have people poke holes in your idea. But those holes are necessary for building a solid foundation…Through the WJF process, more than 20 reading judges, 3 in-person judges, and many other contacts asked me really hard questions about my business that I wouldn’t have thought about. The process of answering these questions was incredibly helpful to make sure that I thought through all the different elements of what goes into a strong business.”