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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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Criteria for Selection
- Process for Selection
- Other Resources for Social Venture Teams
- Venture Portfolio
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. Current students may not enroll in the Investing in Social Ventures course in the same semester in which they apply to the Fund for their venture. 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 strongly recommend current students take advantage of the courses offered at Columbia before applying to the Fund (see the Other Resources for Social Venture Teams tab for more information on courses available). We encourage you to apply when your application can clearly address the following questions:
- 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?
- 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
- 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
Shaiza Rizavi '96
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
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
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.
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.
Lawyers Alliance for New York is a leading provider of pro bono business and transactional legal services for nonprofit organizations and social enterprises improving the quality of life in New York City neighborhoods. They use a co-counseling model, meaning each case is handled both by an attorney at Lawyers Alliance and a member of its network of more than 1,800 volunteer attorneys, each with requisite specialized experience in the substantive issues specific to the client’s case. Using this model, Lawyers Alliance provides pro bono assistance on a wide range of legal services including corporate structuring and formation, corporate finance, intellectual property development licensing and management, human resources, tax, regulatory compliance, 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.
180 Degrees Consulting aims to strengthen the ability of international and domestic nonprofits, social enterprises, and socially-minded companies to achieve high-impact social outcomes through the development of innovative, practical, and sustainable solutions. Past projects have included fundraising, marketing and social media, market research, and impact measurement, among many others.
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.
Ventures (B2C ventures preferred) may be connected with pro bono marketing research conducted by a group of MBA students enrolled in the Marketing Research and Analytics class, overseen by Professor Kamel Jedidi. 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?
Ventures may also apply to take part in Operations Consulting, conducted by Master’s degree students at the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science and overseen by Professor Soulaymane Kachani. Ventures are matched with a team of eight students, who conduct a consulting project from October through May each school-year. The student teams focus on identifying, modeling, and testing (and sometimes implementing) operational improvements and innovations with high potential to enhance the profitability and/or achieve sustainable competitive advantage for their ventures. Interested ventures should contact Ryan Thomas McNellis at email@example.com over the summer (before August 10th).
Barnard/Columbia Design for America (DFA) is part of a national network of passionate young thinkers and activists revolutionizing the way college students engage with and improve the world around them. DFA partners with local social impact organizations in NYC and matches them with a team of undergraduate consultants who work to address a problem related to their organization or the community they serve over the course of the academic year. These consultants use human-centered design thinking to focus on users, crafting the most impactful solution possible for the community.
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.
Entrepreneurship Office Hours and Executives in Residence
Get feedback on your venture or entrepreneurial career goals, delve deeper into your entrepreneurial plans, and learn about Lang Center and University resources around entrepreneurship. Lang Center Office Hours are open to both current students and alumni from across Columbia University. Office hour practitioners and online appointment booking can be found on the Lang Center’s website. Office hours are available on a first-come first-served basis.
Columbia Technology Ventures’ Executive in Residence (XIR) Program aims to connect Columbia inventors and technologies with seasoned industry executives, venture capitalists, and serial entrepreneurs. By doing so, they hope to leverage the deep domain expertise of these individuals to help accelerate the path of these promising technologies towards market success. Interested Columbia students, faculty, and researchers should email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 and Workshops
Spark Workshops provide social innovators with the opportunity to explore resources, connections, and potential solutions to help their social and environmental ventures. Spark is a platform for ventures to make valuable connections, as the audience is a self-selected group interested in the topic area. Ventures are also able to gather diverse ideas through group brainstorming to help them address specific questions or problems within their business or organization.
The center also organizes various events including speaker panels, advising roundtables, and other meetings and workshops designed to connect experienced advisors with Columbia-affiliated social entrepreneurs.
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.
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.
The Tamer Center for Social Enterprise can also refer ventures to the Athena Digital Design Agency (ADDA) located at Barnard College of Columbia University. ADDA teaches students how to build and update simple, beautiful websites for small businesses while supporting the next generation of female technologists. Their services range from building entire websites from scratch to updating and improving existing websites, and are available for a small fee.
Before applying to the Tamer Fund for Social Ventures, it is strongly recommended that Columbia University students take both Launching Social Ventures and Social Venture Incubator, taught by Professor Ron Gonen each spring. Students from across campus are encouraged (and alumni may be able to audit the course), but should check with their home school's Academic Affairs office on available seats and the process for enrolling in courses across Columbia University. Many weaknesses in applications that the Fund has seen in the past would have been addressed with a better understanding of social venture models and the individualized venture coaching that takes place in these courses. Taking these courses before applying to the Tamer Fund for Social Ventures will help you maximize your chances of submitting a successful application.
Innovation and Entrepreneurship @ Columbia is also recommended, and is open (by competitive application) to teams of Columbia students from across campus, faculty, and staff members.
In addition, undergraduate students should take Venturing to Change the World, taught by Professor Damon Phillips and Amol Sarva, before applying to the Fund.
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 are also provided by Columbia Entrepreneurship, which resides in the President's Office at Columbia University. For example, see the Innovation Ecosystem google sheet. 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.
Praava Health is launching a network of urban wellness centers in Bangladesh offering primary care and full in-house diagnostic services.
Eat Offbeat delivers authentic ethnic meals that are conceived, prepared and delivered by refugees in New York City.
Visit.org is an online marketplace for tours and activities offered by nonprofit and community-based organizations around the world.
Xylem is a mobile platform that aims to revolutionize the world of mentoring by better connecting mentors and protégés, and by providing organizations with the insights they need to measure and track success of mentor pairings.
Radiator Labs is changing how we heat our buildings. The first product, the “Cozy,” is a low-cost radiator cover that eliminates overheating waste while improving tenant comfort and connecting heating systems to the cloud.
change:WATER Labs develops disruptive technologies to expand access to safe, dignified sanitation and low-cost water treatment to poor and vulnerable communities.
Dechets a l'Or collects and processes solid waste in cities of West Africa into products such as fertilizer, recyclable material, and energy.
Kidogo improves access to high-quality, affordable early childhood care and education in East Africa's informal settlements.
Kheyti provides low-cost agricultural technologies with end-to-end services to help small farmers increase yield and predictability of produce, giving them a seamless path out of poverty.
DeansList Software organizes holistic student data so schools can address the real issues affecting student success.
Kinnos raises the standard of infectious disease decontamination to protect healthcare workers and patients.
Trek Medics International builds emergency medical systems in countries that don't have them—911 where there is none.
Folia Water manufactures the world’s first consumer goods water filter for the four billion who make less than $10 per day. Paper for pennies, water for billions.
Alina Vision is establishing an international network of eye-care hospitals addressing the leading causes of preventable blindness by providing affordable, high-quality, sight-saving surgery and comprehensive eye care to low-income communities.
Made in Brownsville is a youth creative agency employing youth in design and technology apprenticeships to increase economic mobility through STEAM professions.
Plentify builds sustainable, intelligent African cities one home at a time by providing reliable internet-connected energy, water, and waste services more affordably than the grid.
Bonbouton is a technology platform for preventative diabetic health care whose first product is a Bluetooth-enabled shoe insole that detects the early signs of foot ulcers.
Young New Yorkers (YNY) provides arts based alternative-to-incarceration programs to teens in the adult criminal justice system with the long-term goal of transforming the criminal legal system.
Maine Harvest Credit Project is working to create a specialized credit union focused on the financing needs of Maine’s small farms and food producers as a model for other states and regions.
Think.iT trains the brightest minds from North Africa to become technology change-makers, and places them as distributed team members with leading engineering companies.