INVANTI, a startup “generator” in South Bend for folks with a hankering to found a social enterprise, but no fully formed idea, recently completed its first class. The six-month program recruited five people from across the country to dig into problems related to Americans’ financial health, ultimately creating four ventures.
The basic idea of the program, launched with a pilot in Sept. 2016, is to help entrepreneurial wannabes research problems, pinpoint market opportunities not being taken advantage of and create companies aimed at addressing those issues.
What’s the process? “We start by working backwards,” says co-founder Maria Gibbs. The first step is conducting a lot of research and interviews in the community to find out what challenges residents face. Then program mentors ask cohort members to imagine that the problem has been solved: Who would benefit and who would pay for it? That line of questioning, according to Gibbs, can lead to a viable value proposition for a potential business.
Each participant in the first official cohort, which kicked off in Sept. 2017, received a stipend—“Enough to cover food and rent,” says Gibbs. Once they got past the idea stage, INVANTI also helped fund a prototype.
Before accepting applicants, Gibbs and fellow co-founder Dustin Mix decided the focus would be on financial health. With that in mind, they did about six months of research, first talking to a variety of organizations working in the area of finance, then conducting “hundreds of interviews” with social service providers, community leaders and others in South Bend “to get the human side of trends we were seeing nationally,” says Gibbs.
Potential recruits, they determined, would be people with work experience, ready to start their own ventures, but lacking an idea. Four of the five applicants who ultimately were selected moved to South Bend for the program.