A year ago, the founders of InVenture—a company which connects investors with ambitious small businesses in developing countries—were still operating from their apartments. Now, the group has moved into offices on Second Street, launched a new website and, more importantly, funded 47 businesses in India, Mali, Ghana and Mexico.
InVenture is aiming to get the Santa Monica community more involved in its international efforts. During its current Fostering Social Economies campaign, anyone who makes an investment of at least $25 in October receives discounts of up to 25 percent at several Santa Monica businesses. The discounts are valid through November.
“It’s all about small businesses helping small businesses,” InVenture Director of Product Development Jon Blackwell said.
Some of the local businesses include , which recently hosted an event for InVenture in honor of the campaign, and Rachel Café, which provided appetizers.
InVenture, a B corporation and the brainchild of CEO and founder Shivani Siroya, provides growth capital of $1,000 to $10,000 to small- and medium-size businesses in various developing countries. InVenture employees travel to those countries, where they partner with local microfinance institutions and meet with business owners to determine if they’re a good fit for the company’s investment model. The group specifically looks for entrepreneurs—people who are determined to grow their business and create jobs that spur the local economy.
After choosing the businesses in which to invest, InVenture raises the capital and then provides the business with customized guidance, such as by reviewing metrics and providing pricing information.
“In the U.S., not only do we have access to different forms of capital, but we have advisers and access to different forms of information,” Siroya said. With InVenture’s businesses, “You have to think about the person who you're helping. They have no access to the Internet, they usually don't have access to mobile, and so what we do is come up with very basic ways to provide that information to them.”
So far, InVenture has seen success, with a 100 percent repayment rate. All its businesses have earned profits and created at least three jobs each, Siroya said. The businesses span all sectors, from retail to agriculture to manufacturing, and InVenture takes a small percentage of each one’s sales, meaning it only succeeds if the business does.
InVenture finds investors through social media, word of mouth, partnerships and monthly happy-hour events that are known as "Social Enterprise Tuesdays" and held throughout Los Angeles (but mostly in Santa Monica). While investors can get their loan back, most people choose to reinvest the money.
Siroya met InVenture’s other employees at various events around Los Angeles, such as Meetup groups and microfinance events. After working from home for a year, they moved into ’ co-working offices in June and debuted their new website.
When deciding where to base InVenture, the founders considered New York and the Bay Area, areas that already have a startup innovation culture and plenty of investors. But InVenture “wanted to be the first ones to actually start here in Santa Monica and start growing this social-enterprise community,” Blackwell said.