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How To Convince Your Company To Help Start Your Social Enterprise

Dave Fanger, founder of socially responsible investment company Swell, explains how he got the insurance company he worked for to help launch his new product.

How To Convince Your Company To Help Start Your Social Enterprise
[Photo: courtesy of the author]

While working in mergers and acquisitions at a mutual fund company, Dave Fanger noticed that companies that had a mission tied to social impact tended to perform better–but it wasn’t easy for average investors to choose to support those companies in their retirement accounts, or to choose companies in line with their own values.

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Fanger decided to create a new option for investors called Swell, a startup that offers portfolios focused on solutions in areas like green tech and clean water, for a minimum investment of $50. But instead of launching the company like a typical startup, he decided to pitch the idea to his bosses at Pacific Life, the insurance and mutual fund company where he already worked.

At the Fast Company Innovation Festival, Fanger shared the story of how he convinced the 150-year-old company to incubate his new startup as a wholly owned subsidiary of the firm. He knew that working with the established company had advantages to striking out on his own–he could work with Pacific Life’s lawyers to deal with regulations, for example, and with an existing HR department to hire staff.

[Image: courtesy Swell]
Decision makers at the company also already knew him, versus what the situation would have been if he had pitched a room of VCs. “There was just more credibility there that allowed that first conversation to happen and even be heard,” he tells Fast Company. The company has innovation meetings open to employees, so Fanger started attending, where he met managers who were interested in supporting innovation and could champion his idea.

Fanger eventually set up a meeting to pitch the idea to management, where he gave the business case–highlighting the demand from millennials, in particular, for socially responsible investment options–and shared a mockup of his product’s website that he had put together with a basic website-building tool for non-programmers.

The presentation was a success. “Those were the two things that really aided in the first approval for capital . . . to start to do some in-depth research around what should this product look like from a consumer standpoint and how they would like to use it,” he says.

For others who want to pitch new business ideas to their own companies, he recommends starting small. “It can just be grabbing some paper and sketching out what are the minimum core features of your idea,” he says. “Just start putting some action to it. Once you have a sketch like that, that’s what allows you to then have discussions with others and start sharing that and getting feedback. It’s that iterative loop that’s going to allow you to build out your idea and really bring it to life.”

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Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that Swell’s minimum investment is now $50, not $500.

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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