Supporting Mission-Driven Leaders Along Their Journeys
“The best way to predict the future is to create it,” said famed entrepreneur and thought leader Peter Drucker. Such is the idea behind the Caravanserai Project(www.caravanseraiproject.org) the innovative nonprofit dedicated to supporting young social impact entrepreneurs dedicated to addressing problems in education, nutrition, housing, social justice and workforce development. On Thursday, May 26 (5pm – 7pm), Caravanserai will “graduate” its next class of mission-driven innovators in a special ceremony and “pitch competition” at the Palm Springs Art Museum (101 N. Museum Drive).
”Many see the support provided to startup mission-driven entrepreneurs, for profit and nonprofit, as a risk-taking mission,” says Mihai Patru, Executive Director of the Caravanserai Project. “Yet, the real risk lies in ignoring these entrepreneurs, especially emerging within historically underserved communities, whose in-depth understanding of decades-long challenges leads to relevant solutions.”
Creating the space for – and a “class” of — innovative entrepreneurs is the idea behind Caravanserai’s SEED Lab Pre-Accelerator: an 8-month (90 hour) program for early-stage social entrepreneurs. Developed in partnership with the University of California Riverside Extension, the SEED Lab Pre Accelerator aims to tap the deep reservoir of unrecognized talent within historically marginalized and under-served communities and support their efforts to identify and develop pioneering paths out of inherited problems that have buried and muffled those voices.
“Specifically, we have prioritized these social innovators in the Inland Empire and beyond whose work has the potential to turbo charge irreversible system changes within their communities and environments,” explains Patru. “The event on May 26 is part celebration and part supportive ‘Shark Tank’ for these inspiring graduates. Our goal is to inspire, but also to define goals for solving real world, real time problems. This is not just a philosophical exercise.”
Since 2018, four cohorts of SEED Lab fellows have graduated from the program, demonstrating the success of their ventures and initiatives that provided a space where they access tools to build sustainable and impactful businesses. In addition, they learned how to develop financial resources, meet peers and exchange experiences. The Caravanserai Project targets from startup to advanced entrepreneurs within historically marginalized and underserved communities. In 2020 and 2021, over 1200 entrepreneurs attended its programs. Almost 80% of Caravanserai beneficiaries identified themselves as women and 79% as BIPOC. To facilitate access to these specific communities of entrepreneurs, Caravanserai Project has established partnerships with regional and national organizations such as UC-Riverside, San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, Inland Empire Community Foundation, Inland Empire Community Collaborative, Making Hope Happen San Bernardino, Alianza Coachella Valley, The LGBTQ Center in Palm Springs and Coachella, Independent Sector among others.
“Connecting with established entrepreneurs, experts and other networks is crucial in advancing mission-driven enterprises and ensuring their long-term success,” says Patru. “The Caravanserai model is about building a successful business that has the right human, economic, and material resources to grow,
stay relevant, deliver impact, and create jobs.” The name Caravanserai is a metaphor for the mission and vision to provide a safe space for entrepreneurs to get the support they need and continue their journey forward. A caravanserai [KAR-AH–VAN–SE-RAY]was a well-known meeting place along trade routes from Asia, North Africa to Southeast Europe. It provided merchants and travelers with a safe place to rest and opportunities to exchange and trade goods and acquire information about the challenges ahead. It had a crucial part in the cross-fertilization and exchanges of cultures by exposing travelers and locals to new ideas, beliefs, and languages.
Caravanserai Project was founded in 2016 as a mission-driven hybrid venture whose goal is to support social impact entrepreneurs (for profit and nonprofit relevant organizations that are working towards irreversible system change. Caravanserai Project designs and implements technical assistance and capacity building programs with a particular focus on entrepreneurs and organizations in the Inland Empire and Southern California but works
extensively across the nation and internationally as well.
- SEED Lab Pre-accelerator, launched in 2018, is an 8-month program (October – May) designed to help startup and early-stage entrepreneurs build viable mission-driven ventures from ideation to piloting and scaling. In 2019, the program was approved by UCR-Extension as a 9-professional credit Specialized Certificate. It consists of cohort workshops and monthly one-on-one coaching and mentorship sessions. Priority is given to applicants representing historically marginalized and underserved communities. To date, over 47 fellows graduated from the program, each year up to 12 new fellows joining the program.
- Breakthrough Masterclasses and Strategic Networking and Planning Circles are short-term programs for leadership of advanced mission-driven organizations. Cohorts of up to 10 participants are part of curated conversations, training, and exchanges of ideas.
- Monthly Webinars are 90-minute free workshops offered to our broader audience on a wide range of topics that reflects their interests at a given moment. They cover topics from DEI, data for mission-driven entrepreneurs, financial accountability, and governance to business planning, branding, and communications.
- Business Readiness Training and Grant Making are interconnected and provide mission-driven entrepreneurs both technical support and access to funding. Starting 2022 to 2024, Caravanserai Project will work with over 300 beneficiaries in the IE and provide a total of over $2 mil in micro-grants.
- Fiscal sponsorship for US based and international organizations and entrepreneurs.
- Original content that reflects our approach to mission-driven entrepreneurship from op-eds in various media outlets to our own Jet Fuel Blog Series, as well as substantive content that is complementary to topics under discussion during our workshops and trainings.MAJOR AWARDS
- $1 million grant awarded by the Wells Fargo Open for Business Fund to continue designing, implementing, and conducting programs for mission-driven entrepreneurs from minority groups and historically marginalized areas (2021).
- 2021/2022 Technical Assistance Expansion Program by California Office for Small Business Advocate to provide technical support to minority mission-driven entrepreneurs in the Inland Empire (2021).
- Dream Fund Program by California Office for Small Business Advocate to provide the Business Readiness Training Program and access to $500,000 worth of micro grants to over 60 startup mission-driven entrepreneurs from historically marginalized communities in California (2022).
- $2 million award by the Employment Training Panel of California to provide technical assistance and capacity building programs to minority entrepreneurs (Spanish speaking) in the Inland Empire and access to $1,5 million in micro-grants to those attending the programs.