2011 THE BEGINNING
In 2011, Mission HUB LLC realized they had too many internal applications that were not consistent with one another. The executive leadership team at Mission HUB LLC wanted to work in the spirit of collaboration and ensure that their efforts to streamline the application process were in alignment with other program applications. Leaders from ImpactIQ (now known as ImpactAlpha), GSBI® (Global Social Benefit Institute) based in the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, Santa Clara University, and Mentor Capital Network worked together to create an assessment of 30 different program applications to discern which questions were:
- Completely unique; and
- Those that fell in the “messy middle” – asking for roughly the same information using different vocabulary.
2012 – 2014: THE MESSY MIDDLE
The questions in Phase 1 were those that were completely identical across all of the applications reviewed. These questions also aligned with a new effort that began between Emory University and Village Capital to produce academically rigorous data and research on the accelerator community. By 2015, Emory would partner with ANDE, Argidius Foundation, Lemelson Foundation, Kauffman Foundation and USAID to become the Global Accelerator Learning Initiative (GALI), a global study into the effectiveness of accelerator programs. This separate GALI initiative developed it’s own full application adopted by accelerators to create longitudinal analysis of the impact on ventures over time.
The plan for the Common Application was simple. Phase 1 would be the “Common App”, and Phase 2 would be the program specific applications. This would give the accelerator community the ability to share “stub profiles” and quickly assess if they wanted to invite an entrepreneur to complete the longer Phase 2 application for full consideration to their program. Successfully reducing time for program managers to evaluate candidates and for entrepreneurs to complete accelerator applications.
All that was required was a shared application management platform that would enable the creation of a shared candidate pool. Unfortunately this would prove to be the most challenging aspect and would hold back the launch of the common app.
From 2012-2013, individual programs like Impact Engine adopted the full application to save their program managers from having to invent a new application from scratch. By 2013, a new platform, F6S, was on the scene and had taken over the accelerato.rs community that was originally funded by the Knight Foundation and supported TechStars and other technical accelerators. The effort that had begun informally under SOCAP, WJF, GSBI, and ImpactIQ (now ImpactAlpha) became the Impact Accelerator Network and started to recruit programs to the F6S platform. Since 2012, nineteen programs joined the F6S platform sharing their program application dates, open jobs, and engaging applicants on the discussion board.
While the intention was simple, the devil was in the details. F6S provided a simple platform for program managers, and most importantly was free, making the conversion for programs easier. The F6S.com platform continued to serve the impact accelerators in the network and is stil in use as an application platform by 19 different programs. Unfortunately, the shared applicant pool services were never implemented and the focus of the team at ImpactIQ/ImpactAlpha, which was in the process of acquiring ImpactSpace, turned back to their core businesses of editorial content and impact investment data.
From 2013-2014, no one was explicitly responsible for managing the community or the Common Application. This caused an evolution in the application, as year after year, programs would adjust small elements of the common questions. This was inevitable without the positive incentive of staying in alignment to recruit candidates from the Shared Candidate Pool, which was still only an idea.
SOCAP, Halloran Philanthropies, Unreasonable Institute, Echoing Green and others joined together at SOCAP13 for an Accelerating the Accelerators weekend-long program designed to encourage collaboration and dialog between program managers, entrepreneurs, and investors. Despite the long road from 2011, it was evident that program managers still wanted to collaborate – especially as by 2013 the field had exploded with new programs popping up all over the world.
In mid 2014, Conveners.org was establishing itself as an ecosystem builder with the Convening the Conveners program and Avary Kent joined the team rekindling the Impact Accelerator Network as a new program Accelerating the Accelerators. Through further collaboration with GSBI and SOCAP, in 2014 the Accelerating the Accelerators workshop evolved at SOCAP14, to bring together program managers in a peer only environment to explore ways to collaborate. From this initiative working groups called Collective Impact Projects came together to develop the Accelerator Cross Promotion Bulletin as well as collaboration with Enable Impact to make it easier for entrepreneurs to find the right programs. Also by 2014, StartGrid was gaining traction and promised to be a compelling platform for the common application and shared candidate pool. Unfortunately, once again, economics got in the way. None of the promising application platforms has been able to offer custom development and provide the high-touch support program managers require for free (or at a low cost).
2015-2016: SOCAP15 ACCELERATING THE ACCELERATORS
The idea of a common application for accelerator programs has been circulating for some time. While it provides the opportunity to develop a shared applicant pool and streamline referrals, the diversity of programs and their needs makes the development of a full common application a challenge. In addition, a lack of support for the accelerator ecosystem results in a missed opportunity for developing a tool that meets the needs of program managers and entrepreneurs.
Everyone recognizes the opportunity and potential benefit to increasing collaboration in the impact accelerator ecosystem – especially as the number of programs has skyrocketed from around 30 to 275 from 2008-2015. However, there are fundamental weaknesses in the funding provided to support the accelerator ecosystem. While there are significant grants to start up new platforms, there is little to no funding for the continued upkeep and management of these platforms.
At the Accelerating the Accelerators Co-Hosted Session at SOCAP15, with the participation of over 40 programs from 17 different countries, some key insights emerged regarding the need and development of a common application.
“A completely Common Application is a solution to something that isn’t a problem because every program has different needs” – AtA @SOCAP15 participant.
Yet, the ecosystem still faces a threefold problem.
- Entrepreneurs are spending hundreds of hours completing unique applications despite not having enough information available to discern whether there is a good match between their needs and program offerings.
- Program managers do not have an easy way to refer candidates to other programs.
- Reliance on referrals from within the program network leads to a lack of diversity.
To address these challenges, we must first have consensus on a free platform for application management. Given that there is little to no interest in a full common application, one potential solution is a two phase application process.
- Phase 1: A 16 question common application to be used for referrals.
- Phase 2: A program specific application.
Recommended questions and suggested language for the program specific applications may well enable entrepreneurs to reuse answers from previous applications saving even more time.
There will never be a 100% common application, but there is interest in a two phase process so long as the underlying platform is designed to meet the needs of program managers.
2016: WHAT COMES NEXT?
This brings us back to 2016, and there are a couple of initiatives that are still exploring this concept, but the community will have to wait and see if something emerges that can serve their needs. There is a fundamental disconnect regarding the pain points and challenges that are addressed by a common application process. Social Entrepreneurs are the ones who experience the greatest imposition as they spend an inordinate amount of time identifying support programs, comparing them, and then completing applications. For entrepreneurs time is the scarcest commodity, and there is significant risk in completing applications without knowing if their venture will be selected.
The program managers appreciate this challenge for entrepreneurs, but currently have strong pipeline for candidates and while it would be nice to more easily refer candidates between programs, it is not urgent or vital. The introduction of a two phase application process would fundamentally shift the staff time required by program managers to review and applications, and theoretically will increase the quality of applicants while reducing the quantity through which to sort.
Accelerating the Accelerators is dedicated to supporting the global impact accelerator community and will continue conversations with platform providers and others who are interested in bringing the Common Application and Shared Candidate Pool to life in a cost-effective manner. F6S.com has grown significantly and has recently expressed interest in providing additional services to impact accelerators. Village Capital has also recently engaged CauseLabs to support them in the development of a long term solution to support the expansion of the VilCap Communities (which could field 30 programs this year alone). The team at CauseLabs sees “this could be a prototype for a larger effort to make the ecosystem supporting startups accessible, diverse, and top notch— recognizing that when people are pursuing both financial returns and impact, they are more collaborative— and ultimately, drive better returns for both entrepreneurs and investors!”
If you are interested in the Common Application or Shared Candidate Pool – please contact Avary Kent at firstname.lastname@example.org.