SEATTLE — On July 13, Chivas Regal Whiskey held its third annual Chivas Venture, a pitch-based global search to discover and support startups led by social entrepreneurs who want to be economically successful and lead sustainable development in their region.
Chivas Venture awards a total of $1 million to five finalists who pitch their startup to a live audience. Audience members this year included actors Javier Bardem and Don Cheadle.
A judging panel comprised of celebrities, nonprofit leaders and businessmen determine the amount of prize money awarded to each startup. Halle Berry, one of this year’s judges, said the social entrepreneurs in the competition were “modern-day heroes.”
Thailand’s Siam Organic received $400,000, the largest award of the evening. Siam Organic arose out of the need to address extreme poverty among Thailand’s small-scale farmers. Seventeen million Thai rice farmers currently have the highest costs and the lowest yields in all Southeast Asia. On average, they earn only 40 cents a day.
Now working with 1,100 farmers, Siam Organic produces Jasberry Rice, a non-GMO whole grain rice that has a dark purple hue and is high in antioxidants. Siam Organic assists the farmers in every step of the process from field preparation to packing and distribution. As a result, the farmers working with Siam Organic are earning 14 times more profits than conventional farmers.
In 2011, Siam Organic became the first Thai company to ring the closing bell on the NASDAQ. On receiving $400,000 from Chivas Venture, Peetachai Dejkraisak of Siam Organic said the prize money would “fast-track our project by three or four years – and save me a lot of grey hair and sleepless nights!”
Having completed its third year, Chivas Venture received more than 6,000 applications from startups worldwide. Due to the millions of dollars Chivas Regal gave to social entrepreneurs, 300,000 people in more than 40 countries benefited.
WeFarm, a winner from last year’s competition, is another startup aiming to help poor farmers. Most of the world’s 500 million small-scale farmers live on less than $1 per day. WeFarm provides a free SMS service, which doesn’t require internet access, so that its 100,000 users can share information to improve their crops.
Actor and comedian Josh Gad, the 2017 host of Chivas Venture, was greatly inspired by the event saying, “With ideas like these, the future is bright.”
– Sean Newhouse