Tamer Fund for Social Ventures

The Tamer Fund for Social Ventures (“the Fund”) provides seed grants to nonprofit, for-profit, or hybrid early-stage Columbia University affiliated social and environmental ventures. Preference will be given to start-up ventures that have the potential to be financially self-sustaining in the longer term.

For questions, please reach out to tamersvfund@gmail.com.

Criteria for Selection

The Tamer Fund for Social Ventures provides seed grants of up to $25,000 to nonprofit, for-profit, and hybrid early-stage social and environmental ventures. Funding will be made available to around seven ventures each year.

Ventures must be led by Columbia University students, alumni, faculty or researchers, or be advised and have significant involvement by Columbia University faculty or researchers. There is no time limit after graduation for alumni to apply. The entire team need not be Columbia University affiliated; one founding member or significantly involved faculty or research advisor is sufficient.

To be eligible for the Tamer Fund for Social Ventures, ventures must not have closed their seed funding round at the time of application. Preference will be given to ventures that have the potential to be financially self-sustaining in the longer term. This preference includes nonprofits that can be sustained by generating revenues via fee-for-service models, for example.

Typically, ventures can only apply once for funding from the Tamer Fund for Social Ventures. We encourage you to apply when your application can clearly address the following questions:

  1. What is the intended social impact of the venture? How socially innovative is it? What is the potential to scale the venture? What metrics will be used to measure its success?
  2. What is the business model and how likely is it to succeed? (e.g.: Business Model Canvas is a potential framework that can be used by applicants); and
  3. Has the venture already attracted needed resources, including a quality management team, advisors, customer/client or stakeholder connections, and other sources of funding?

Ventures will be evaluated using the following rubric, where each criteria is weighted equally:

Read more about the process for selection for the Tamer Fund for Social Ventures.

Process for Selection

There are two deadlines for applications for the Tamer Fund for Social Ventures: the fall application deadline is August 15, and the spring application deadline is March 1. Please click here to begin the application process. We suggest using your LinkedIn profile to create your login. Applicants selected for screening will be contacted shortly after these deadlines.

Investment Board Members

Stuart Ellman
Mindy Aviles-Kelly
Arrun Kapoor
Julius Mokrauer
Shaiza Rizavi '96
Tony Tamer
Sandra Tamer
Bruce Usher (chair)

All applications will go through an initial screening process by the Tamer Center, and ventures will be notified if they will be invited to participate in the next round. Selected ventures will be matched with Columbia University student due diligence teams. Each selected venture will be required to pitch their idea to the Investing in Social Ventures course and work with their assigned due diligence team, which assesses the venture over the course of six weeks. A limited number of ventures that participate in the due diligence round will be recommended to present to the Investment Board for consideration. We anticipate ventures will be selected by the Investment Board around mid-fall and late-spring each year.

We encourage international ventures to apply. Ideally, social venture management teams will be able to meet in person in New York City during the due diligence process and with the Investment Board. However, we will work with each venture throughout the process if an in person meeting is not possible.

Venture teams may also be referred to members of the Center’s Social Venture Advisory Network and/or Columbia student pro bono consulting teams (e.g. Pangea Advisors, Columbia Impact Investing Initiative (CI3), and Small Business Consulting Program) for assistance with specific areas of the venture.

For more information and updates, please follow the Center on our social media or please email us. In addition, if you have an email ending in “Columbia.edu” please join the socialent-resources moderated email list, where university-wide information and opportunities are shared with the Columbia University community.

To learn what else is available to ventures, read about other resources available for social venture teams through the Tamer Center.

Other Resources for Social Venture Teams

Incubator space

Social Venture teams that receive funding from the Fund, and who desire space in the Columbia Startup Lab in SoHo, Manhattan may receive seats for up to 12 months, depending on the number of social entrepreneurs who wish to be based there (priority will be given to more recently supported ventures). The cost of these seats are partially subsidized, and a copay will be required from social venture teams. In addition, the center can assist social venture teams that receive funding, and wish to be located at other incubators across the US and around the world.

Social Venture Advisory Network

Advisory Network Application

Apply online here

The center plans to screen and then refer social venture teams to a network of professionals, experts and alumni drawn from all Schools across Columbia University. These referrals may also be to other organizations that the center partners with, in the social enterprise, impact investing and advisory field.

Legal Services

The center can connect social ventures with pro bono legal resources, such as Columbia Law School’s Community Enterprise Clinic, which provides legal assistance to social ventures, nonprofits, and small businesses that cannot pay market rates for legal services. The Clinic offers a range of services, such as assisting organizations and businesses to choose and form a business structure, develop governance policies, secure tax exemptions, enter into contracts and comply with regulatory requirements.

Another resource available to social ventures is TrustLaw, a program of the Thomson Reuters Foundation. TrustLaw links social enterprises with top law firms around the world providing pro bono expertise. Through TrustLaw, the center can help ventures secure expedited legal expertise on a variety of matters including intellectual property, legal structuring and incorporation, employment and partnership agreements, and cross-border legal research.

Social ventures may also be connected with New York Lawyers for the Public Interest’s Pro Bono Clearinghouse. NYLPI helps social ventures and nonprofit organizations around the world with their legal needs by matching them with the skills of attorneys at New York’s most prestigious law firms and corporate law departments. These pro bono relationships ensure that organizations receive crucial, high–quality legal assistance for free. The Pro Bono Clearinghouse assists with a wide range of legal issues including social enterprise formation, incorporation and tax exempt status, employment advice, intellectual property matters, and more.

Pro Bono Consulting

The center can refer ventures to various groups providing pro bono consulting services. Pangea Advisors is the pro bono consulting arm of the Social Enterprise Club at Columbia Business School. Each semester, Pangea matches teams of students with clients spanning industries and the globe. The team, supported by a faculty or professional mentor, completes a consulting assignment to advise clients on innovative and impactful practices. Pangea projects generally include one week with the venture on-site at an international location.

Columbia Impact Investing Initiative (CI3) organizes semester-long consulting projects with social entrepreneurs, with projects ranging from refining business development plans and identifying potential investors, to improving pitch books and advising on fundraising efforts with impact investing funds in developed and developing countries.

The Small Business Consulting Program provides strategy consulting services to nonprofits and businesses in the New York area through eight-week long projects each semester.

The Taproot Foundation connects social change organizations to skilled volunteers through pro bono service in the areas of marketing, strategy, HR, and IT. From one-on-one consultations to team-based long-term projects, they offer both in-person and virtual engagements. Taproot also supports the building and strengthening of pro bono providers worldwide through the Global Pro Bono Network, whose mission it is to make business talent available for free to social change organizations around the globe.

Venture Capital

The Tamer Center for Social Enterprise can connect social ventures with Contrary Capital, a university-focused venture capital fund seeking to empower and invest in the brightest young minds through capital, accelerator programs, connections, and support. They invest $50-200k in the top pre-seed startups founded by current students or recent graduates around the nation, as they believe that the next generation’s most successful companies will emerge from universities.

Marketing Research

Ventures (B2C ventures preferred) may also be connected with pro bono marketing research conducted by a group of MBA students enrolled in the Marketing Research and Analytics class, overseen by Professors Kamel Jedidi and Rajan Sambandam. Sample problems that research can help ventures address include: Who is aware of my company? How do I develop/modify my product? How do I price it? Where do I sell it? Whom do I sell it to? How many can I sell? How do I promote it? With whom do I compete? How do I convince someone to invest in my business?

Production, Websites, and Social Media

Creative Content specializes in producing engaging videos, photography and other custom digital content for websites and social media. The Tamer Center for Social Enterprise can refer social ventures interested in pro bono work to Creative Content.

Support to hire Columbia students over the summer

The Social Enterprise Summer Fellowship program has been expanded to enable social ventures to attract and hire Columbia University student talent over the summer. This fellowship program enables students to contribute to building and growing existing social ventures, while gaining valuable entrepreneurial work experience. The center aims to award social venture summer fellowships to a diverse range of Columbia undergraduate and graduate students from different Schools and degree programs, with preference also given to ventures that have a Columbia connection.

Events, Workshops and Courses

The center organizes speaker panels, advising roundtables, and other meetings and workshops designed to connect experienced advisors with Columbia social entrepreneurs. In addition, the Spark Workshop series provides social innovators with an opportunity to explore resources, connections and potential solutions to help their social ventures.

Columbia graduate students may also be interested in social enterprise elective courses (Launching Social Ventures, and Social Venture Incubator offered in the spring semester are highly recommended for social venture teams). Graduate students should check with their home school's Academic Affairs office on available seats and the process for enrolling in courses across Columbia University. Innovation and Entrepreneurship @ Columbia is also open (by competitive application) to teams of Columbia students, faculty and staff members.

Current Columbia students may also use their UNI to freely access online courses from Lynda.com. This platform provides video-based tutorials and resources on a wide variety of subjects. For example, Drew Boyd has several videos on the topics of marketing, branding, and consumer behavior. Additional tutorials include: Nonprofit Fundamentals, Entrepreneurship, Entrepreneurship Fundamentals, Getting Started as an Entrepreneur, Raising Startup Capital, Bootstrapping, Social Media Marketing for Small Business, and website design and other software skills, among many other topics.

Other Columbia Resources for Start-Ups

Programs offered by the Eugene Lang Entrepreneurship Center may be relevant to some students. Resources available to Columbia students are also provided by Columbia Entrepreneurship, which resides in the President's Office at Columbia University. Other centers and programs across the university may also be of interest, depending on the social enterprise field(s) or sector(s) relevant to your venture.

Read more about the Venture Portfolio to see which ventures have received funding from the Tamer Fund for Social Ventures.


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