Siam Organic won first place at Chivas's entrepreneurship competition in Los Angeles.
Is it possible to run a sustainable business by doing good? Chivas Regal thinks so.
For the third year in a row, whisky brand Chivas awarded $750,000 to five socially-conscious entrepreneurs to help them grow their companies. The money came out of The Venture, Chivas’s $1 million fund dedicated specifically for innovative social businesses “helping to create a better future.”
After sorting through thousands of applications and narrowing them down to 30 candidates, Chivas selected only five finalists to pitch to a star-studded panel of judges on Thursday evening at the Los Angeles Design Centre. They included actress and philanthropist Halle Berry, founder of Pencils of Promise Adam Braun, CEO of Pernod Ricard Alexandre Ricard, and executive director of the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University, Sonal Shah.
Get Data Sheet, Fortune’s technology newsletter.
After pitching his five-year-old startup Siam Organic, Peetachai “Neil” Dejkraisak walked away with a $400,000 check. He had not raised any outside funding for his Thailand-based company prior to this competition. “I’m stretched to the limit,” he says. “It’s very hard for a social entrepreneur to get outside funding. For investors, social impact is a nice thing to have, but it doesn’t add any financial value to them.”
Dejkraisak was getting his MBA when he began to work on his idea for Siam Organic, a brand that works with small-scale farmers to grow Jasberry rice, a new variety of non-GMO whole grain rice. By training rice farmers in organic farming methods, the company has reportedly helped them earn 14 times more profit.
Although Dejkraisak was seeking $500,000 to accelerate his expansion efforts, he says it’s not the size of the check that matters in the end. Through the program, Dejkraisak has met other founders who have given him even more motivation to keep going. “After you meet 30 like-minded people, you know you’re not crazy,” Dejkraisak says.
More and more businesses are addressing social problems as part of their core business strategy. In 2015, Fortune debuted its “Change the World List,” highlighting companies such as GlaxoSmithKline and General Electric that are helping solve social challenges through core profit-making operations.