Creative Distillation - Transcript for Episode 46: Natalie Eng (Alberta) on Social Enterprise Ecosystems (LA Road Trip!)
Stefani H 0:06
Welcome to another episode of Creative Distillation. Your hosts Jeff and Brad from the University of Colorado Boulder is Leeds School of Business discuss entrepreneurship research while enjoying fine craft beverages. For their second of three interviews recorded on location at a cocktail reception during the Social Entrepreneurship Conference at USC, Jeff and Brad speak with Natalie Eng, a third year graduate research assistant and PhD student at the University of Alberta School of Business in Edmonton. While enjoying a nice IPA from LA's HopSaint Brewing, Natalie talks about what she's discovering through her study of social enterprise ecosystems. Specifically, she's interested in how people collaborate to produce an ecosystem in the first place, and how the strength of that ecosystems infrastructure can predict the viability of the ventures within it. Enjoy and cheers!
Jeff York 1:06
Welcome to creative distillation, where we distill entrepreneurship, research and actionable insights. I am your host, Jeff York, research director at the Deming Center for Entrepreneurship at the Leeds School of Business University of Colorado Boulder. I am still in Los Angeles, and I'm with my co host, Brad Warner and Jeff, I'm just watching rat circle.
This is not a joke, though.
Jeff York 1:30
It seemed like Joe, Brett, introduce yourself to your tirade about.
So I am Brad Warner I Jeff and I work together. I do that. But I'm an entrepreneur. And I'm really thrilled to be at this conference with you Jeff, first of all, because it's my first time I don't know if I will ever be invited back.
Jeff York 1:51
I will really upset anyone so far. No one's listened yet. Well, that's true. When they start hearing spread talking about
here's, here's the thing about the conference today, I saw a few PhD students doing their thing and I was like wishing for a martini. Finally, which I finally found,
Jeff York 2:10
which is not one of our tasting beverages. You just felt the need. We have we have an open bar. We have also a giant tub of excellent beer that you love. And a giant bottle of rum and we even have find mixers here.
And yet you well, we can do fine, fine, but you know what? Sometimes you just need to get Martini. Well,
Jeff York 2:32
okay, I hear you. I mean, who am I to judge you? Back to back to my
story? Story. It was so fascinating. My first conference ever I saw three PhD students present papers to me once. Yeah. And all of a sudden the third one popped up and she was excellent. And the speaking style was amazing. I thought the content was relevant. And we are lucky to have her as a guest. I am so
Jeff York 2:56
thrilled and sticking to our new innovation for tonight's podcasting. We are going to allow her to introduce herself. Take it away.
Natalie Eng 3:04
Thank you for that I couldn't have asked for a kinder introduction. That's amazing. My name is Natalie Eng. I'm a third year PhD student at the University of Alberta. My supervisors are Dr. Emily block and Dr. Christopher Steele. And I studied institutional theory, but I'm here at a social enterprise conference.
Jeff York 3:22
Awesome. Yeah, I was kind of surprised to see. Not not that there aren't many folks at the end. So those of you that are not academics listen to this. Anybody in the management world with academic world would know that. I mean, University of Alberta is the home of institutional theory management, it says renowned, and well just explain a little bit for our listeners who may not know what is institutional theory?
Like even back a little bit. Oh, I'm sorry. How the hell do you get to Alberta?
Jeff York 3:49
Great measure you drive or take? away? We didn't even offer a drink? Oh, yeah. We'll get that burn essay. So you can mix cutwater rum with Portuguese blend pineapple mint leaf soda. Or if you want to be a real innovator here, you can mix it with something called brainwash, which, yeah, that's got a skull with a brain exposed, or we have a wide selection of all the beers we have some Pale Ale we have. We have a pale ale called pure intention. We have an IPA from hops Sainte Marie. We also have an Oktoberfest beer, something called Chocolate trip, which I'm going to drink before the nights over. And producer Joel be a huge fan of that one. I just have a feeling about that. What would you like to have
Natalie Eng 4:30
you? No, I think I'll try that pale ale. You?
Jeff York 4:33
Awesome. Awesome. This is a pure intention from hop saying, which, depending on the ordering of these podcasts,
wasn't it one of their award winners? Yeah. So
Jeff York 4:42
when a silver medal at the Great American Beer, right, it was it was it is a pale ale so it's not like IPA strength or anything like that. has a really nice balance. Uh, hops, I think has a really nice hop nose, and, and a nice kind of biscuity malt flavor that balances out. And I just wanted to give another shout out Topsail This is amazing brewery. Yeah, we went and ate lunch there. We love that so much that we had to come back and do a podcast there. And they were so cool. They gave us not only a case of beer, which we have brought to the conference, but also T shirts. So cheers. We give you a
little bit of them. No one has seen so good that I will go for that. All right, Brad is
Jeff York 5:21
in our course taking his martini. minutes, jurors. We go like Oh my gosh. Creatives constellation. We have plastic cups. producer Joel. He's sort of sneaking away from the rats. Oh, and he's still he's trying to steal one of the cans. Which one's going for it? That's great job. Well, you think
Natalie Eng 5:40
is fantastic. Yeah, there's a lot of breweries in Alberta. Actually a little known fact we do.
Jeff York 5:44
I figured there might be
Natalie Eng 5:46
if Edmonton loves one thing it's craft. Breweries craft whiskey craft distillery. Really? Yeah.
Jeff York 5:53
So now that we are I mean, I won't say the pandemics over but will the institutional theory conference get going again?
Natalie Eng 5:59
Yes. We just had it in the summer.
Jeff York 6:02
Oh, yeah. Of course. Iwasn't invited. Yeah.
Natalie Eng 6:04
You gotta just come.
Jeff York 6:05
Yeah, no, I just I think I'll just show up like a
crash. A conference. That's, yeah, I
Jeff York 6:09
think that's the only way I'm ever gonna get to this top right side of
Natalie Eng 6:12
it. wasn't that bad band? No, it's in Edmonton now.
Jeff York 6:15
Oh, see, like I was excited about going to band for emphasis in Edmonton. Yeah. But it's amazing. I mean, like, so anyway, so I have a long history with this conference of like, you know, submitting things or, and I get lovely notes from Michael bonds. Barry, tell me, we really want to invite you. We really did. But we didn't.
So they didn't want your $1,800
Jeff York 6:38
I know I that's I think it's free. It's like a nice conference.
The ones that are not nice costs money. Yeah, exactly. That's kind of academic. goes. Yeah, that's hilarious.
Jeff York 6:51
I mean, the nature of the conference, the less likely you actually have to pay to attend it.
is running around.
Jeff York 6:58
Did you pay to attend this? I did that. There you go. It's a nice conference. There you go. Except for the
the people are incredible. Rats
Jeff York 7:07
have nothing to do with.
Teasing Jill and Sophia put on an
Jeff York 7:12
amazing conference. So be careful. But there were a couple rats out. Anyway, so you like this beer? Then you a hoppy beer drinker or you just like awesome. Very cool. Yes. Is a great beer.
Okay, so back to your story. Alberta.
Natalie Eng 7:29
How did I get to Alberta? Well, actually, I did my undergrad at Alberta. And I was an economics major. Because in my very first year, they said, We're gonna tell you how markets work, right? Money's made up. This is how markets work. And I thought that sounds amazing. Sign me up. And then I spent five years doing derivatives. Just doing a lot of equations. And no one told me how markets worked. Yeah, it's a little disappointed. But then I ran into the people the business school by accident, and they're like, that's what we study. How do markets work? Why do we put money into these things that sometimes fail sometimes crash? Why do we trust these institutions? Right? So this idea of, you know, why does a bank look like a bank and not like a kindergarten when it would be way more fun, right? If you walk into colors everywhere, we'd all be at our bank.
Jeff York 8:13
Capitol once tried to do that with their cafes make banks really fun.
Natalie Eng 8:17
Well, they succeed. It's a legitimacy story.
Yeah, I work there. Well, you're talking about bank for the coffee, that what the right.
Jeff York 8:27
Alright, so you're doing your undergrad in economics? And then you said, Well, you just it sounds like you were a little dissatisfied with the explanation that economics offered. Because it's so I mean, you don't believe that all people operate on self interest all the time with perfect information. And, you know,
Natalie Eng 8:44
you know, as much as I love to think I have perfect information. My choices would suggest otherwise. Yeah. Yeah. So
Jeff York 8:52
we had somebody drink this brainwash earlier tonight, so
Natalie Eng 8:57
yeah, so I institutional theorists are sometimes in the academic world accused of brainwashing right here. We are a theory that takes over. They got me they had me hooked when they said we study taken for granted in this
way. So did you go right, from undergrad to PhD? I
Natalie Eng 9:11
went right from undergrad. That's interesting. Wow. That's kind of right. Yeah. I found Emily and Chris. And I thought, Okay, this is good. Yeah. It's not often you find great PhD supervisors.
Jeff York 9:21
Yeah. And those are just a couple of the amazing people. I mean, like, really, you could like, I mean, it's amazing school. Brad, we definitely gotta go up there sometime. So okay, so you start there, and now you're three years into your PhD and what are you interested in?
Natalie Eng 9:33
What do you study? Yeah, sure. So right now I have an ongoing study with Dr. Madeline to Bianna who's used to be part of the Alberta faculty but has since moved on to Ottawa and Oh, yeah. Which is a tragic loss for us but a big win for Ottawa. So the study I have with Madeline is on a social enterprise ecosystem collaborative, are trying to develop a social enterprise ecosystem in a province and we're really trying to study how does that happen? How do people get together and producing ecosystem, these ecosystems have been put forward as a solution to a lot of different problems. But we don't really understand how people actually go about developing them intentionally. Right? Yeah.
That's interesting, I think. But so my question actually offline to you was, people just don't go out and say, Hey, let's build an ecosystem. Yeah, well, those people aren't doing that. Well, what kind of but I mean, so tell us kind of the genesis of of that. I mean, you some social entrepreneur, discovers a problem they want to solve, tell me where the ecosystem comes in, kind of in the life expectancy or the lifespan of here's the problem, we've identified two, we're going to solve it and where does that fit in?
Natalie Eng 10:38
So the ecosystem literature suggests to us that instead of focusing on one organization and thinking about why did it succeed, or why did it fail, we should actually look at the other factors that surround it. So we need to be thinking about whether investors were able to invest in that company, do we have early stage investors? Do we have late stage investors are their mentors? What's the policy like? And when we think through all these other factors, what we get is this ecosystem, right, all of these different players who actually affect each other in deep and important ways. So the ecosystem is something that affects the venture, right? From founding through to success or death, right there at every every step. But what our literature seems to suggest is that in really strong, healthy ecosystems, ventures tend to be successful. And then ecosystems that, you know, lack infrastructure, lack support, those ventures, even if they're started with great principles might struggle. And what about the evolution of an ecosystem? So the evolution of an ecosystem is something that's been studied by people who do these beautiful, big historical studies. And it suggests that there's a lot of different variables that influence it, like regional culture, regional politics, right? So often they start because you are in an area that has already a strong tradition of maybe welfare sector or a lot of NGOs, right. And then maybe there's some change in government. So you're climbing back on funding to not for profits, and now there's a void that needs to be filled. And so maybe the people who were previously in the not for profit world come together, and they start to look at how we can, you know, work together to create a social enterprise ecosystem.
Jeff York 12:07
Yeah. Which I'm really familiar with, like the ecosystem, like with technology, entrepreneurship, and people. I mean, this implies Oh, Silicon Valley versus Boston. I mean, all this stuff, right? Well, Boulder. Yeah. I mean, we have we like to think we have our own little ecosystem there. But, but I'm not so familiar with people studying social entrepreneurship ecosystems. That's really interesting. Is there a place that we think of as a social entrepreneurship, stronghold of ecosystem Island?
Natalie Eng 12:31
Oh, yeah, of course. Claim to Fame. Yeah. Social enterprise world. Right. Right, of
Jeff York 12:36
course, is where the Social Innovation Forum and all those things happen. Yeah, I didn't think about that. And they were way ahead of us and creating legal forms for social enterprises and things like that. Okay, cool. So when usually, like, you know, I'm just thinking about the ecosystem literature, a lot of times it's anchored on like, one big success story, Dell in Austin, right? Something like that. And then that creates, like this momentum around that. But social enterprise is so different. I mean, it's not like somebody makes it. Just try to think of the parallel, right. I mean, I'm struggling here helped me out. I'm just trying to think about this.
Natalie Eng 13:11
Oh, well, and I think what's interesting is what I'm seeing in my context, yeah, there is no big success story. Right back, there's very few success stories, and that they come together to build the ecosystem. Right. So in my context, right, I'm not studying Scotland.
Jeff York 13:25
Talk about that the paper though today about how it came about the beginning, that's really addressed. Yeah. So
Natalie Eng 13:30
the genesis of the the context I'm studying is that it was a really fragmented space. Yeah, the big players, the big funds, they need each other. Right? They tend to be kind of community funds that are sitting at the same tables that's in government funding. But that's like maybe five to seven, maybe even across
government ship, right. I mean, there could be some stewardship crossovers that you have board of directors that are on both boards. Yeah.
Natalie Eng 13:51
So you have some some familiarity there. But, but that's kind of it's pretty fragmented. Otherwise, you might know of people but you're certainly not collaborating. So what you'll see often in the tech space, right is, okay, I'm gonna do the early stage funding. And then if I did, like, you know, you're I'm going to de risk it. Now you're gonna come in, and there's none of that happening. Right, right. So there's just people putting in money. And the problem is, of course, the people who do early stage funding can't find anybody who's suitable the people who are doing late stage funding can only invest in established organizations are really struggling. And the government is only interested in not for profits at this point, okay. There's a branch that deals not for profits, and that's it. And they say, okay, you know, we're hearing about the social finance stuff, social innovation, we're willing to put some money on the table, they put money on the table, and then they pull it back. They promised the money government changes, take some money off the table. So the social finance people who are really sick at this point of having money put in front of them taken away and they're taken away say we got to take matters into our own hands. So they call a giant meeting they rent the biggest space they can and they just say anybody who's at all interested remotely interested show up and we're gonna we're gonna have like a town hall, right? Wow. They get together and they're talking and some of the bigger funds are sitting together at a table and they're saying, you know, we got to do something got to do something they said We've been in this position before, we know we got to do something, and no one ever does. Alright, let's put some money on the table. So they all agree to put some money on the table to hire somebody who's going to be their staff member who's going to coordinate this. And that becomes the steering committee, and then they decide we're gonna develop an ecosystem, this is our main goal. So out of those 50 people that attended, five of them are like, we're gonna put money on the table, we're gonna make this happen, right? And it grows to seven, and they hire some staff members, and they just get started trying to build an ecosystem.
So, so building an ecosystem, though, actually means how do we support our mission?
Natalie Eng 15:30
Exactly, right. Yep. So yeah, they needed better social enterprises, more social enterprises, better connections to people, and this is how they were going to go about doing it.
Jeff York 15:40
Okay. That's cool. And, and it worked. To some extent, right. Absolutely. All right, then in that case. So because Natalie, please straighten me out when I screw this up. Because in the case of social enterprise, and social entrepreneurship, the likelihood of having a unicorn, yeah, like, I don't even know what that would look like. I mean, it's like, it's hard to like, even think I mean, yeah, you're like, Well, you think of units maybe like, but then that's not like a unit. So because there's not likely to have like a unicorn that anchors the beginning of an ecosystem. If you're trying to get an ecosystem going around this, you're gonna have to put a group of stakeholders together, they're willing to commit resources before they know exactly what's going to emerge from
Natalie Eng 16:28
it. Yeah, that's absolutely what we see in this context. That's yeah, but that's pretty wild. I mean, hard to do. Yeah. It's really hard to imagine, and only some people are able to do it.
So the other the other component is, though people with the money that want to see the social good done. They're looking for impact. Yeah. And how do you how do you how do you describe what impact is so them? You know, what's
Natalie Eng 16:48
funny is I was talking to somebody who manages a really big fund, man, it's a community fund, and he gets a lot of money from government. And I was talking to him and he said, Natalie, we started this social enterprise fund, because I kept being told, Oh, there's rich people out there who have big hearts, and they really want to put their money to businesses that matter. And he said, Natalie, it's been seven years, and I have had one rich person donate. And that's it. There's been no other individual donors. Right. Wow. So so I'm not sure if it's a matter of getting lost in translation or, or if it's just a matter of the fact that the profit margins aren't there yet, especially not in this particular region. Right. We're not so huge, profitable social enterprises for the most part. So it's, it's definitely a tough sell. Yeah.
Jeff York 17:30
Wow. All right. So your study, this money comes in. And so how many years? Have you been following this this project? Two years, two years? Yeah. Where are they now? Like, what what is kind of like the I mean, what what has happened since the initial investment? That leads you to say, well, this actually did get some things going? And do you think I mean, I know it's probably early, these kinds of studies usually lasts much longer than two years. But what are you seeing as being effective or what's not being effective?
Natalie Eng 17:59
Yeah, great question, Jeff. And you're right, it's definitely going to take a long time before we know definitively where this is headed. But so far, what they've managed to do is they've managed to bring a lot more people to the table. So you start with just five organizations, but then they develop communities of practice. And there's quite a few practitioners at those. And it really offers a opportunity for knowledge sharing, right? So for the social finance intermediaries, a lot of them aren't the only social finance intermediaries in their organization, right? So it's one person, one office, and they're kind of making things up as they go and what to invest in? And what is risk look like in this context? Right, right. So having the opportunity to sit down with somebody else who's experiencing similar issues was huge. Similarly, the chance to find out oh, there are early stage investors, like, Oh, that's a thing that we can be doing deal flow. That was a huge lightbulb moment. For the country. There was no conception of this prior. And it was like, Oh, actually, there's a lot of organizations, we're talking to all of us. Wow, everyone at the table, but there's no way everyone at the table is a good fit. Right. Right. So then, you know, how can we be more efficient as an ecosystem or getting these funds out there? That's huge for the social finance community. Yeah. And then the other thing is that you have a chance for social finance intermediaries to talk with the support organizations like incubators and the university units that are trying to support entrepreneurial students, right. To tell them, Okay, this is what we're looking for. And here's what we're not seeing in our applicants. Right.
Jeff York 19:21
Okay. So it's, as the stakeholders have come together and started to evolve, they're getting more clear on what they actually would like to see. And then you're starting it sounds like they're starting to be a recognition or maybe even the creation, I don't know of have like a support system of like incubator programs to help people develop that skill set.
Natalie Eng 19:38
Yes. Pretty cool. Yeah. So I think they've actually been quite successful at bringing people to the table and kind of assessing what's out there. What do we know already? And how do we fill in the gaps?
When I when I think about this, though, I'm thinking about scalability and scalability and with right that it works in one community and it can spread to another and another and so forth. I think that is really cool. And I think incredible. be impactful as time goes on.
Jeff York 20:02
Yeah. And I mean, if you can tease like, so if you follow this, like for a long time, if you find out well, you know what? That seemed like it was gonna go well, and then it didn't. I think that's actually really helpful. I mean, I mean, I think it's interesting, but we try to almost stay away from the interesting on the pocket. Like, oh, that's so interesting. But like, No, I think it's actually useful to know that, but obviously be even more useful if you say, Hey, here's what went right. And now we can tease out you presented early process model today. But then you can tease out those principles of what drove that process. Mom that direction? Yeah. Yeah. Awesome. Other questions about?
So I guess, I guess my my final question is, as a PhD student, and you've been doing this for three years, what's been your biggest surprise? Ooh,
Natalie Eng 20:50
great question. I have to say my biggest surprise would be just that the social enterprises themselves were not at the table. That to me was really interesting. I spend a lot of time talking about social enterprises. Yeah. But they aren't part of those conversations. Right. And to me, that's, it's a fascinating power dynamic around who's driving this? And just thinking through what does that mean for who's in control of this ecosystem? Yeah, especially if we think that social enterprise ecosystems are maybe unique, maybe require these kind of powerful, financially viable players to step up and start it? Yeah. What does that mean for who's able to join it? Right?
Jeff York 21:29
Yeah. Wow. And that's like, I don't know, most of the stuff I do is in sustainability. And I always think about our newsroom when we talk about creating ecosystems or community based things. And like one of the founding principles of her work was just like, you can't do this without the stakeholders at the table, helping to create the system, like for whatever system you're trying to create, like if the if the people that are impacted by it, or don't have voice in it, then they won't buy and it won't work. But I hope that's not the case here because it sounds promising.
Natalie Eng 21:56
It's interesting, I'm part of it is that the social finance intermediaries and the support organizations spend all day talking about social enterprises. So they do have capture that voice, the voice but in a different way. Right. Yeah. That's interesting. And being at the table, and, and it's also a matter of, how much can you really do as an ecosystem development collective right, you can only develop so much. And if you're trying to develop the entrepreneurs, and the social finance intermediaries and the support organizations, now you're doing everybody's job, right? If you're supporting social entrepreneurs, you're a support organization. Right. So finding your niche within the ecosystem as a collective was actually a really challenging process.
So exciting work. Yeah. Really, really exciting work.
Jeff York 22:37
Wow. So Brad, your previous discussions with PhD students on the podcast? We're not. We have
a little different level here. By the way, daily, please tell me don't mix McCallum and coffee.
Natalie Eng 22:50
I would never, yes, yes. Yeah. But if we can
ever lower you to Colorado.
Jeff York 22:57
Just give me a call. He's gonna be looking for
Natalie Eng 23:00
some great mountains. Right. Yeah. I love the mountains. You guys have met? Oh, great.
Jeff York 23:06
Touch. Yeah, the work you're doing sounds really interesting. Talk to you. You have great taste in beer. Thank you, guys, for joining us. Natalie, a third year PhD student at the University of Alberta. And it's been awesome to meet you.
Natalie Eng 23:21
Thanks, Jeff. Great to meet you both. Yeah.
Nice meeting you. And by the way, Natalie is going to be an academic star. I can see this coming. And this is my prediction. I don't know if it's an insight, but it's a prediction. If we can, if we can bet on academics, maybe that's
Jeff York 23:35
why we can start betting on academics. Yeah, sounds like a whole thing. Okay,
here we go. I'm putting 100 bucks on Natalie to win. We got we got we
Jeff York 23:43
have a prediction sound we're gonna do is a new innovation on the creative distillation podcast, brought to you by The Deming Center for Entrepreneurship at the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado. And I think our funder, Eric Miller was going to be so excited. We're introducing a new sound for
Moses, predictions, predictions, predictions, here
Jeff York 24:03
we go precocious. That's a terrible. He's not there.
Natalie Eng 24:09
But about rat sounds.
Jeff York 24:13
Good. All right. Our funder of this podcast and sponsor Eric Miller is gonna be so excited because he is the man behind the actionable insight chime.
Yeah, but this is gonna be new Jeff. We're gonna do a prediction. second segment. We're
Jeff York 24:27
here for the birth of an innovation prediction segment. Second, newsflash,
make your prediction. My prediction is Natalie is going to be an academic Rockstar.
Jeff York 24:38
I choose to that I think. Thank you for joining us. Thank you. All right. So that is another conversation to live and die in LA. Hopefully we'll live as long as my name is still. I'm still well, at least for the next till this podcast is here. The research director of The Center for Entrepreneurship at Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado Boulder.
I am Brad Warner. I'm the faculty director at the Deming center. And this feels like a one Martini podcast. So I'm ready to get another.
Jeff York 25:10
Oh my goodness. Look out for the next episode. It'll be the two marquee podcast. Caution. Maybe we'll be some more predictions. That will be awesome. Thanks again for joining. Thank you.
Natalie Eng 25:20
Thanks for having me. This is great.
Stefani H 25:23
We hope you enjoyed this episode of creative distillation recorded live on location at the 19th Annual Social Entrepreneurship Conference hosted by USC Marshall School of Business. Learn more about Natalie Eng on her faculty page at apps.ualberta.ca. We'd love to hear your feedback and ideas email us at CDpodcast@colorado.edu, and please be sure to Subscribe to Creative Distillation wherever you get your podcasts. The Creative Distillation podcast is made possible by the Deming Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado Boulder's Leeds School of Business. For more information, please visit deming.colorado.edu. That's D-E-M-ING and click the Creative Distillation link. Creative Distillation is produced by Joel Davis at Analog Digital Arts. Our theme music is "Whiskey Before Breakfast" performed by your humble hosts, Brad and Jeff. Thanks for listening. We'll see you back here for another episode of Creative Distillation. If you've enjoyed this episode, you may also enjoy Leeds Business Insights, check them out at leeds.ly/lbipodcast.