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HuffPost Innovators: InnoCentive, Waste Farmers And More (PHOTOS)

First Posted: 07/22/10 02:40 PM ET   Updated: 05/25/11 06:10 PM ET

In the latest version of our HuffPost Innovators Series, we've compiled some of the most interesting and promising startups from the HuffPost community.

These firms, all of which were submitted by HuffPost readers, are doing everything from a crowdsourced approach to corporate innovation -- which has attracted investment from Silicon Valley's elite -- to devising an eco-friendly solution to restaurant and food waste. One firm, which bills itself as an Expedia for personal appointments, just wants to make it easier to book a massage.

(Check out the first edition of our innovators series here.)

To submit an innovative entrepreneur, startup or established company, click "ADD A SLIDE" below and upload a short description and picture of the founder or business leader you'd like to nominate. (Note: Please skip the marketing jargon and keep your descriptions short.) If your story is compelling, a HuffPost staffer will contact you to learn more about your story.

Which company is the most innovative? Check out the latest edition of the HuffPost Innovators Series below:

Know an innovative startup, entrepreneur or an established company that's changing the way we think about business? Tell us how you're innovating! Let us hear from you!
HuffPost Innovators Series
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InVenture Fund: A 'Micro-Venture Capital Fund'
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Number of Employees: 5
Based In: Santa Monica, California
Founded: 2009
Funded By: Self-funded
Audacious Five-Year Plan: To become the global leader in "micro-equity"

Intended to help struggling entrepreneurs, microfinance loans can end up being a burden. A new nonprofit wants to offer startups that have previously borrowed from microfinance providers with interest-free funds -- on the condition they reinvest in their community.

"The fact is, a microfinance client is not going to take risks with their business or be incredibly creative in selling their products because they are so concerned with repaying their loans and the interest on them every two weeks or every month," says Shivani Siroya, who in late 2009 founded InVenture Fund, a firm that calls itself a "micro-venture capital fund."

InVenture's clients are existing microfinance borrowers with a proven track record -- they've been taking out micro-loans for at least 3-5 years and they have at least a 98 percent repayment rate. "Traditional microfinance is really for the startups or for early stage companies," explains Siroya, "but we're working with businesses not to start, but to expand."

InVenture lets anyone contribute "micro-investments" to entrepreneurs who get the funds as interest-free loans. Without the burden of interest payments eating into their profits, struggling entrepreneurs can focus on how to "expand their business into new territories, and create a marketplace where others can succeed." The latter is accomplished by requiring InVenture's clients to reinvest 5 percent of their profits back into their local community in such areas as clean water and education. (Investors who are repaid by InVenture clients can either re-invest in other businesses or put their money back into the original business.) "Good capital can grow businesses, and good businesses can grow communities," Siroya points out.

To test the model, the InVenture team invested its own capital in 35 entrepreneurs in communities in Ghana, Mali and India. Over the last six months, all of the entrepreneurs they invested with have paid back the principal, generated a profit and reinvested 5 percent of their profits back into their community. With the first three pilot programs complete... more
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Filed by Ryan McCarthy  |