“Social impact and social enterprises are the next evolution of capitalism. The future is in MEANINGFUL PRODUCTS and INCREASING SOCIAL VALUE. “
Toni is on the founding team of beyond.uptake, the philanthropic and civic innovation arm at the predictive analytics company, Uptake. She oversees the Data Fellows Program and projects for beyond.uptake. Prior to Uptake she co-founded a pan-African education technology company called Eneza Education. She also co-founded a program called WISERBridge in rural Kenya and was a Teach For America corps member. As a social entrepreneur, Toni is an Echoing Green Fellow, Unreasonable Fellow and Bluhm Helfand Social Innovation Fellow.
During “Global Opportunities Beyond Borders” conference which took part at Faculty of Economics in Split, we sat down with Toni for an interview.
About her work
Uptake is a predictive analytics company that provides data insights from machine learning to large industrial clients. I work for a philanthropic arm of the company called “beyond.uptake” , that uses that same expertise and offers it to the social sector for free. We are building data tools for them as well as providing programs and support for social leaders, non-profit organizations and government offices through our “data fellows” program. The aim is developing and improving skills for these data leaders. We work for organizations from the US and from all over the world. But, they have to pass the selection process.
Before Uptake, I co-founded a company. I relate to these student entrepreneurs here regarding the challenges they are facing in their work. If you want to be a social entrepreneur you need to be thinking long term. If you are providing some type of social value, your company is going to stay relevant for a very long time. At the same time this is really hard because it is difficult to bring your profit to a point it is sustainable, Often, either your users can’t pay for it because they can’t afford it or somebody is supplementing it. You have to scale your company and build a business model that will be profitable and grow revenues.
In my opinion social impact and social enterprises are the next evolution of capitalism. We still don’t know what it will look like and we are still trying to figure it out. But I have more faith in market having meaningful products and increasing social value.
About differences regarding entrepreneurial challenges in Croatia vs. USA
I think government has a lot more involvement here in entrepreneurship endeavors than in the US. But other than that everything else is similar; getting the right timing in the market to launch a product, making sure that the product and the need fit, choosing the right distribution channel, staying ahead of the competition etc. The types of companies are interesting because many of them are around tourism. I was so impressed with the pitches today and the people who have built their products from nothing. They did great research and some people even have customers already. In these kinds of pitch competitions this is the most important thing; having the market validation with people willing to buy the product.
Word of advice for entrepreneurs
When I was a student I wasn’t thinking about how much value there is in starting your own business young and even just trying and failing. Looking back the risk is so much lower when you are younger and the worse thing that could’ve happened to me is moving in with my parents again. As you get older you usually don’t have that freedom, especially if you have family and different kinds of financial responsibilities. So, when thinking “when?”, your time is NOW. I would say it would also be wise to partner with people who are older and wiser and who could help you with experience.