Bringing World-Class Entrepreneurial Talent to our Backyard — And Changing the World

By Scott Tillitt and Ajax Greene

Social Venture Institute / Hudson Valley

Current events in the Hudson Valley have us feeling incredibly bullish on the Hudson Valley. We truly believe that our region can and should be a leader in the Localism movement. It is the locally owned, independent, triple-bottom-line businesses found up and down the river that will lead our economy — and our communities — to a place of vibrancy.

One way to do this is to have more thoughtful, savvy and connected business owners. Which is exactly what Social Venture Institutes (SVI) have been doing for almost 20 years. SVIs provide emerging, values-driven entrepreneurs and innovative non-profit leaders a forum to share challenges and get expert advice in a safe, trusting environment. Founded by Gary Hirshberg of Stonyfield Farm, the SVI model provides an interactive and practical way to connect with and learn from peers and experts alike. We like to think of it as an ad hoc advisory board, with depth.

SVI is a program of Social Venture Network (SVN), a community of the world’s leading social entrepreneurs working together to create transformational innovation, growth and impact. Since 1996, SVIs across North America have provided more than 1,500 entrepreneurs the opportunity to strengthen their business skills, network, and rejuvenate their vision. This is a proven path for social entrepreneurs to succeed.

We’re doing our own independently organized version here: SVI Hudson Valley.

The people and organizations behind SVI Hudson Valley are some of the original thinkers and doers of the social enterprise movement. It’s being presented by Re>Think LocalAntidote Collective and On Belay Business Advisors in partnership with Omega Institute and Social Venture Network.

We’re bringing world-class entrepreneurial talent to our backyard.

A signature SVI feature is True Confessions, whereby leading entrepreneurs share their trials, tribulations and triumphs in creating their socially responsible businesses. Our Saturday night keynoter is Dal LaMagna, who started Tweezerman in 1980 and built it into a multinational personal-care-tool brand that practices responsible capitalism and corporate social responsibility. He’s currently the CEO/CFO of IceStone, which makes countertops out of recycled glass and cement, and an active investor in social impact businesses. Dal has recently taken root near Rhinebeck, and we’re luck to have him share his insights.

Case Studies, however, are the core of the SVI model, where the greatest learning happens. In these sessions, a presenter poses a specific business problem to a panel of “expert” respondents or seasoned socially responsible entrepreneurs. Panelists and retreat participants alike offer advice based on their experience and expertise. Each Case Study receives an hour of focused problem solving. It’s a powerful way for the entire group to work together and gain a wealth of practical ideas about how to deal with the challenges of running a socially responsible company.

It can be painful for the presenter — as direct, constructive criticism can be — but the learning that occurs can be immeasurable. Reinventing the way the world does business is no easy task. To be a successful social entrepreneur, fundamental change must occur. (As of this writing it is not too late to apply to be a presenter.)

We’ll combine all that with mindfulness-based practices, community-building and strategic visioning, a vogue-ish high-level exercise in business, urban planning, nonprofits… anywhere where thinking strategically about future direction is helpful.

People say that the real learning and the true value at most conferences come from the downtime, the unscheduled time, the time between the panels and sage-on-the-stage talks. At SVI, those times are built into the program as a central part of the format. This is what makes it so different from most business conferences (aside from the values alignment).

SVI Hudson Valley is a weekend of profound problem solving, visioning and connecting, at one of the world’s premier educational retreat centers. It’s not just about learning a new tactic or discovering a new resource. It’s about harnessing collective intelligence in an inspired setting to actually work through creative solutions to vexing challenges. It’s about injecting new life into your business (or organization)… and yourself.

SVI Hudson Valley will be held May 9-11 at Omega Institute near Rhinebeck, NY. Details at www.svihudsonvalley.com. A portion of the program fee supports Re>Think Local in its continuing work to “co-create a better Hudson Valley.”

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