Crowdfunding in the Context of Social Entrepreneurship

MCSELast week, from January 24-26, the Launcht team attended the Middlebury Center for Social Entrepreneurship second annual symposium focusing on social justice.  The goal of the symposium was to gather together students, educators, and practitioners to discuss and collaborate on social entrepreneurship ideas.  The three day symposium, packed with speakers, workshops, and panel discussions, not only gave time for reflection, but also inspired and encouraged activism.

The opening address of the symposium was given by Billy Parish, co-founder and president of Oakland-based company, Mosaic.  Earlier this month, the company launched their crowdfunding platform that enables the public to invest in clean energy.  The site has been able to attract over $1 million in investment for solar projects.  Mosaic has been largely successful because it breaks down barriers, both financial and political, that prevent the clean energy sector from growing rapidly.  Despite lower cost in solar technology–prices have declined by nearly 80 percent over the past five years–,there has been little increase in investment in the industry.  This is in large part to the high transactions costs of investing in smaller scale projects for banks.

The lack of a stable policy environment discourages banks to finance the clean energy industry.  With the continuous uncertainty of whether or not legislation or subsidies supporting clean energy will pass or expire, banks are unwilling to invest in solar power.  As a result, there is only 0.1% market penetration of solar panels in the United States.  Other countries, such as Germany, have shown that with policy supporting solar power and consistent pricing, there is much more investment and market penetration in the industry–50% of electricity in the country comes from solar panels owned by the people.

In order to accelerate the transition from fossil fuel to clean energy in the United States, Parish created an online platform to give people the opportunity to become involved and invest in solar panels.  By putting power directly into the hands of the people to invest in clean energy, Mosaic is helping to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Crowdfunding has the ability to remove financing barriers in all industries, not just clean energy.  It empowers people and gives them the opportunity to support causes or businesses that they believe in.  It can help drive change and justice as citizens become more aware of the pressing social issues that we are facing.

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