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Last night Trevor pitched SoJo for the first time in front of an audience and panel of judges. At stake was no-strings-attached $1000 grant from Awesome YYC to put towards building an awesome project. I was thrilled to receive the email from Trevor informing me that we made it to the top 4 and were invited to pitch in front a panel of judges. This form of validation was huge and gladly welcomed.

Learning to pitch is an art and although nerves undoubtedly kick in the experience was exciting. True, it was a competition and the main objective was to win the money, but regardless I know that Trevor was looking forward to sharing SoJo with a roomful of people.

90 seconds is not a lot of time and every second has to count. A script was written and re-written. When asking Trevor of his experience, he said: "The pitch was practiced, memorized and then practiced some more.  I stopped short of engaging my dog as a pretend audience, but by the time I left to the venue, I think even the mirror was tired of hearing my SoJo spiel."

One of the other four pitches was delivered by a team who had recently launched a startup accelerator space in downtown Calgary. When the time came for his pitch, Christian, one of the three co-founders, stood up. Instead of delivering the formal pitch he had prepared, he started out “this is a bit off the cuff, but we hope to win the grant so that we can match the $1000 and sponsor SoJo (gesturing to Trevor) to join our accelerator space.” 
By the time the rest of the audience understood his words, Trevor was already beaming.

Both of us were humbled and inspired by the selflessness and belief that Christian had in Trevor and in SoJo.  With scare resources and a risk adverse culture, the startup world  can be very competitive. Collaboration is powerful and this organization clearly understands the strength was comes in working together, not against another.

At SoJo our mandate is to support youth in their journeys of transforming their good intentions into action to create social ventures. AcceleratorYYC has a similar mandate and last night was a living example of how they truly embodied their mandate. Thank you for inspiring us and for setting a new benchmark of what we strive to become.

 
 
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Earlier this month I scheduled a two week networking trip to New York City. Although SoJo has a dynamic network in Canada, our learning tool is not exclusive to Canada and thus it is imperative that we have a presence in a much larger marketplace to aid in building our community of users and add diversity of perspectives as SoJo shapes its vision.

It was a whirlwind of a trip, with many positive developments and the foundation was laid with several organizations for collaborations in the near future. Attending events is a stellar way of meeting new people and broadening a network. From there, connecting on a one-to-one basis was key to building deeper relationships, exploring concrete opportunities for collaboration and in most cases connections to more people.
Here is a screen-shot from one day of my schedule last week.

Part of relationship building is a well written follow-up note that summarizes the items discussed as well as next steps. Follow-up is key to keeping momentum, and essentially the partnership alive.

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While running around the city in back-to-back meetings it was difficult to stay on top of my inbox. Not only was I unable to devote attention to everyday business (I receive on average 50 emails/day), the follow-up notes to all the amazing people I met have also been placed on top of the backburner.
Here is a stack of business cards that still need to be followed-up.

For someone who likes to respond to messages in a timely manner; it is safe to say that I am officially overwhelmed.

It truly is an art to stay on top of the inbox while simultaneously being stretched in many different directions.
I blogged earlier about my challenges of letting my inbox drive me, I now find myself on the other end of the spectrum where I can't even look at a single message. Prioritization is key, as well as having the humility to accept that it is OK that I don't respond to everyone immediately. People who will want to work with SoJo will understand (hopefully).

What are your tricks for staying on top of your inbox when you literally have no time to attend to it?

 
 
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Q: Why do you do what you do?
A: Just because.

On Friday I met with Syreeta Gates, an incredible young lady who only sees possibilities and does not get bogged down by barriers.

At the age of 17 she started The SWT Life to get young people in her community excited about creating projects. Committed to putting her money where her mouth was, she agreed to give participants $15 of her own money to every project that was completed. Among the projects was a book manuscript written by a 16 year old. Her experiences with The SWT Life inspired her to compile a book on youth social entrepreneurship to inspire youth to to take action. Just BE Cause is all about youth taking action: no excuses, no barriers -- only passion and dedication. In the middle of a the debt crisis in the United States, here Syreeta jokes about using her student loan to fund this book, just because that was the best way of getting this book started.

Syreeta and SoJo found each other on Twitter back in April. Shortly after making the connection, I was invited to write a chapter for the book on the topic of balance. Knowing that there were complementary synergies between the book that inspires youth to take action and SoJo that provides the tools to guide youth in their journeys of action -- I was excited to meet her. Surely enough, we discussed synergies and many ways in which our two initiatives can jointly work together (among them a shared launch in 2012 in NY!)

In addition to the excitement that has come from finding an ally and collaborator, I left that meeting utterly inspired. Syreeta is on mission to inspire her peers (most of whom come from less-privileged backgrounds) to take action just because they should. I get frustrated when I try to build partnerships with organizations that are "safe," who need to see proof before they are ready to start a conversation, or who don't take me seriously because SoJo isn't funded and thus assume we're unable of delivering on our mandate.

Syreeta is a living example of someone out there taking action.

More inspired youth + action = a better world

 
 
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I spent the afternoon at an event hosted by Bloomberg called Empowered Entrepreneur. It was a primarily tech start-up crowd, where the panels were centred around high growth companies, venture capital, exit strategies. For the past few months, I've been mingling in many technology and "web 2.0" circles. SoJo is leveraging technology to deliver information in an organized and meaningful fashion to our user base. Down the road, it is possible that we create a unique technology to better meet the needs of our user base.

For someone who is brand new to technology, attending such events is a great way to learn, be immersed in the language and understand what is happening in the space. I appreciate the tech start-up mentality of taking action, getting out there and having your user base co-create a product with you. Its vibrant, dynamic and super fast-paced. It can be exhausting though. It is unrealistic for me to think that SoJo will be the next great thing tomorrow. It will take us time to build our community and be responsive to their needs. It will take patience and persistence to build partnerships with other players in the field and bring together a highly fragmented sector.

Earlier this morning I had a meeting with Erik from Capture Your Flag. They produce original content (in the form of videos), tracking individuals who are pursuing their passion and making impacts in their professional endeavours. Capture your flag has been documenting the stories of select individuals for over 3 years now, truly capturing their stories in real time and the decisions that individuals have to make. At SoJo, we're all about celebrating the journey and it was very refreshing to meet a fellow organization embracing similar values.  

SoJo is a start-up with a purpose. We are driven by the mission of supporting young social entrepreneurs in their journeys of creating social impact in their communities. Although phase one of SoJo is an online resource centre with information on starting a social venture, we have a lot in store and are in it for the long haul.

We must not distort our reality with overnight success stories. They say entrepreneurship is a marathon. SoJo's world-shaking vision of redefining what it means to be social entrepreneur is what fuels our stamina now, to keep us engaged as we figure out the rest. Are you on-board for the journey?

 
 
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Marissa Feinberg, the founder of GreenSpacesNY and I had the opportunity to meet yesterday to lay out the framework of a partnership between her organization and SoJo. GreenSpaces fosters collaboration, linkages and a shared workspace for eco-entrepreneurs in New York. They desire delivering toolkits and resources to their members, however haven't had the time or capacity to aggregate or develop informational resources as their key strength lies in fostering physical connections in the city. We are in the process of creating something they are looking for: what a perfect fit!

Within an hour, Marissa was sold on our vision. She understood the value SoJo could provide to the GreenSpace community, was generous in connecting me to other networks in the city, offered to have me work from the space for a day to mingle with the members and get a feel of their community. Once live, SoJo will be GreenSpaces' official Online Resources Partner; we will provide their 10,000+ community access to SoJo's resources to complement their offline efforts.

I'm halfway through my two week networking trip in New York City. A conference, some events and many meetings are being coordinated with the goal of building a network to ultimately gain access to a larger user base in the United States.  Being based in Canada, there is only so much reach we have, therefore forming strategic partnerships like this one is key to building our user base. I'm excited to announce our first local partnership in New York look forward to telling you about more partnerships as they get formed.

 
 
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Earlier this week I attended an event in New York called IgniteNYC. Ignite is an event where presenters are given 5 minutes and 20 automatically rotating slides to deliver a thought provoking presentation. There was a diverse mix of artists, technologists, thinkers, tinkerers, and personalities who were curated to present on Monday night's event in front of over 800 people.

Matt LeMay was one of the presenters. Now working for a well known tech startup, he managed a touring band for 5 years and drew parallels to the life of musicians and entrepreneurs. His arguments were compelling and convincing. See illustration below summarizing the presentation:


Although musicians are not SoJo's primary audience, in theory they still go through the same process as someone who desires creating a social venture: they have an idea, are passionate, aim to serve their audience, and need to do all the organizational activities of building a community, embrace competitor, and constantly be selling (to venues, managers and record labels). 

As we endeavour to build a community that is diverse and inclusive to individuals who are committed to making the world a better place, I am now challenged to think musician fit in this group as well. This leads me to believe there are perhaps more groups of innovators and initiators who may not necessarily self-identify as an "entrepreneur" because they are not creating tangible "ventures" but equally merit the support and community that SoJo is providing. They can also contribute a fresh voice to the community and share their unique challenges and experiences. Music to my ears, as I've now identified our reach to a whole new market...

My focus will remain primarily on serving the needs of youth in their journeys of building social ventures, however I am encouraged to know there probably many (under-served) markets of beneficiaries eager for something like SoJo to come to the virtual world.