ACCESS TO IMPACT FINANCE | EU|BIC Associate SocialFare
By: Martina Muggiri, Startup Acceleration Programme Manager, EU|BIC Associate SocialFare
SocialFare is the first centre for social innovation in Italy. We believe social value generates economic value. Through acceleration programmes and seed fund services, we seek to develop solutions to contemporary social challenges by supporting impact-driven innovation. The goal is that our startups bring social and environmental benefits to society together with financial returns.
Generally speaking, however, seed funding for socialdriven start-ups is an underserved segment. There is investment available for established firms from traditional funds with CSR policies and mixed funding bodies. But seed funding is still lacking, creating a bottleneck in expanding the sector. New companies with innovative approaches are needed. That is where we specialise.
It is the reason we decided to create a fund. SocialFare Seed is a private company backed by two large foundations, a successful investment firm, and SocialFare in a smaller stake. All stakeholders in our governance have goals and missions aligned with our own. SocialFare is contracted by shareholders to manage the fund. This setup allows us to maintain a focus on our mission and goals without compromises.
We have decided to involve a short number of shareholders so that our core mission and value are aligned and maintained. This governance allows us to keep our public mission while remaining private.
Through success, more shareholders can join but have to agree to the previously laid out working terms.
The fund is set up as a limited liability company, not as a fund. We do not have a large amount of capital. Being a company allows us to be leaner, smaller, and with reduced costs. It maximises capital directed at companies. Aside from these elements of governance, everything else works like traditional seed funding. We try to deploy capital in the first five years of a start-up, exit in another five years, and regularly launch new funding programmes.
Usually, we charge a small fee to supported companies of around 15% and 20% in services by our accelerator. Usually, fees are much higher. Our shareholders have foregone their share of fees, which allows us to be more competitive than average. Throughout our existence, we experimented with cancelling mandatory fees. However, experience shows that charging can be advantageous.
It increases the return on value companies get from accelerator services.
Our best story is in the growth of Unobravo. Funded in 2020 with an MVP launched in 2019, SocialFare Seed was the first to invest in Unobravo by betting on a project in its infancy. The value proposition is simple: make psychotherapy accessible for everyone by reducing: costs for specialised therapists, location, time and mental illness stigma, etc.
We received Unobravo’s application in November 2019. At that time, the start-up still had to be incorporated. They were just a group of therapists with ten patients. The product (MVP and a website on Wix), the brand, and the digital marketing were all made by Danila, a psychologist and the founder of the start-up. The value proposition was clear and strong: online therapy with the possibility to help Italian expats.
We started the acceleration services in March 2020: Italy’s hardest COVID-19 lockdown. It was our first full-remote programme. After four months of intensive acceleration and expert consultancy with our Acceleration Team and the network of advisors led Unobravo to grow immediately at an uncommon pace, distinguishing itself among the most promising impact start-ups in the Italian panorama. Today, Unobravo is the largest online psychotherapy platform in Italy with 2200 therapists (93% women) and more than 53,000 patients.