We can all name the people in our lives who have inspired, influenced or otherwise taught us the most. For us as impact entrepreneurs and social change leaders, there are few who meet this profile more strongly than Joel Solomon.
We discovered Joel not long after we fatefully met one another while attending a Community Leadership course in the fall of 1999. Madeleine had recently closed her store and garment manufacturing business to focus solely on developing Lunapads and Suzanne was seeking ways to leave the corporate world.
The course brought together a cohort of over forty leaders from diverse backgrounds and invited guests from numerous sectors (ie: the Arts, homelessness, First Nations, transportation and politics) to engage and develop us into leaders of our community. At one of these sessions, a young woman made a presentation called “Green Venture Capital”. She worked for a firm that invested in local businesses with a demonstrated social or environmental impact. We were mesmerized and promptly asked for her card.
Renewal Partners was the name of the firm and Joel was the President. We set to work crafting a business plan and pitch deck to land them as investors. It was tricky to get a meeting with the mythical Joel Solomon, however one fine day he walked through the door of our office and, following a 3 hour conversation, our dream came true. We still remember how closely Joel paid attention to each of us personally in that meeting: what were our stories and where had we come from?
The next couple of years actually brought a heap of challenges. The market for alternative (washable, reusable) menstrual products was still in its infancy in the early ‘90s, as was online shopping. Our original model – selling to US-based distribution companies who would in turn place the products on the shelves of health food stores – proved expensive and challenging with a very limited marketing budget.
One of our most iconic Joel moments was actually one of the hardest: basically going to back to him to report that Renewal’s original investment capital had been drawn down and we needed more. He was incredibly patient in hearing us out and then explained that while he was not prepared to continue to fund a model that was not panning out, he believed wholeheartedly in us as leaders. Sending us a healthy dose of tough, yet supportive love, he told us to go back to the office, put our heads together and figure it out.
And that we did. Buoyed by his faith in us, we decided to invest our remaining few thousand dollars in a new website, with an emphasis on online shopping. It took a few years to turn the ship around, but it totally worked and we have never looked back. Today over 80% of our sales are transacted online and we are often held up as models of small business e-commerce success.
Thanks to Renewal’s investment in Lunapads in 2000, we not only gained an investor who was highly aligned with our mission and values, but a trusted advisor who would provide guidance and introductions. Whether during our annual one-on-one meetings to talk about the business or during brief exchanges at social or professional events, Joel provided us massive doses of insight and inspiration, both personal and professional.
Over the years we observed Joel work his similar magic, mentoring hundreds of other social entrepreneurs and people involved in not-for-profit and philanthropic work. His work has attracted and inspired an entire community of impact investors and philanthropists, including Kay, one of our past investors, who proudly made her first entrepreneurial investment at the fine age of 85! Since then, she donated her shares in Lunapads to her adult granddaughter. Fresh out of University, her granddaughter is now an investor participant in the growth of Lunapads, allowing us to mentor the next generation of feminist capitalists and impact investors.
There are few people in our circle in higher demand than Joel. What if all his knowledge and wisdom could be available to everyone? Fortunately, now it can.
Joel’s new book The Clean Money Revolution: Reinventing Power, Purpose, and Capitalism lays out a hopeful plan for the future of capitalism. By sharing his personal journey and providing examples from his own and other people’s investing decisions, the book provides a valuable perspective on how capital, when deployed for social, environmental and economic justice, can chart a better future.
For example, seeing beyond the old-school patriarchal business world, Joel identified early on the value of Lunapads achieving B Corporation certification. Joining the global B Corp movement to use business as a force for good has not only allowed us to walk in the same circles as the likes of Patagonia, Warby Parker and Ben & Jerry’s, it has inspired our company to take annual measures to improve our social and environmental impact; in 2016, Lunapads was honoured as a Best for the World (ie: top 10%) company in the environment category.
Those of us lucky enough to get some quality time with Joel know how to use it wisely. For those without that access, his book is an inspirational guide and model for both new and seasoned social entrepreneurs and impact investors to follow. The tone, stories and calls to action (“Let us be billionaires of good deeds, billionaires of love, billionaires of meaning and purpose”) feel like Joel is sitting beside you in a local coffee shop wisely counselling you to take the torch and see what could happen. You’ll come away eager to grab the torch, take action and help ensure The Solomon Effect shines brightly for future generations.