On Tuesday, September 13, 2016 Conveners.org in partnership with the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship hosted the Third Annual Accelerating the Accelerators @SOCAP workshop for program managers to explore how to turn Collaboration into Action. A continuation of conversations from years past and similar workshops hosted by leaders including Ian Fisk of the Mentor Capital Network, the session served to further build the field for stronger network ties and more frequent and meaningful peer-to-peer exchanges.
The morning segment focused on gaining a better understanding of how one another’s programs work – what each program does well – and where each program could benefit from support. Stay tuned as we will be releasing an infographic detailing these answers in next month’s newsletter.
The afternoon segment was organized as an unconference with participants sourcing conversation topics that were of the most interest to them, and then creating an agenda to break into small group discussions. These conversations included:
- Sustainable business models/revenue generators for scaling accelerators
- Supporting non-selected entrepreneurs
- Getting entrepreneurs investment
- Best practices in getting comparison groups
- How do you measure the impact of your accelerator and the businesses you accelerate?
- Curriculum best practices
The workshop concluded with the group identifying opportunities to continue exploring topics throughout the year to come through three new Collective Impact Projects.
Below we’ll unpack the takeaways from the unconference with 3-4 essential key take aways from each conversation. Each of these topics will be explored in greater depth over the next year through our blog series.
Sustainable Business Models/Revenue Generators for Scaling Accelerators
- Having a “sustainable” business model is very important and “free” doesn’t work. Revenue generation options for consideration include memberships and fee-for-service.
- Corporate partnerships– not corporate sponsorships— allow for some funds to flow through that allow incubation to happen. Ishani provided an example from her experience at TDi where they have a partnership with National Australia Bank to deliver the Two Feet Program, a 6 month incubation program.
- Company legal structure is important in defining what kind of money you take and what works in the local contexts in which you operate.
- Despite these efforts, the group reiterated that it is still a challenge to get paid as an intermediary incubator/accelerator as the very enterprises you seek to help/work with may not be able to pay or afford your services.
Getting Entrepreneurs Investment
- Involve investors EARLY in the selection process. Working with investors early on and including them in go/no-go decisions helps to keep your program honest about invest-ability.
- Pitching is not enough; entrepreneurs need help closing the deal. This includes support in understanding term sheets and negotiation practices and creating 1:1 relationships with investors as advisors throughout the process. Some suggestions include running a mock boardroom where entrepreneurs are exposed to investors who offer strategic advice before facing they face the same investors again for a pitch. Another technique is to organize investor trips as ways to engage investors throughout the program and build relationships with entrepreneurs on the ground where they will connect more viscerally with the impact being generated.
- Support co-investment and share due diligence between investors in your network. This is needed to bring down the transaction costs and make it reasonable for investors coming in with low dollar amounts to support early stage entrepreneurs.
- Cultivate a network with investors. Be mindful that no one wants to feel like an ATM. Identify what the investor cares about and align with those interests with impact foci. Investors also value time with one another in pitch free zones and as an accelerator you can help cultivate those spaces through investor weekends or other activities.
Supporting Non-Selected Entrepreneurs
- Connect applicants to each other and broader network. One idea was to explore a service like Tendrel for in-person, face-to-face connection or a tool like Slack or these virtual team software tools for online community engagement.
- Have a “generous/value-added” application process. This “big win” could include the following attributes:
- Give applicants the chance to redo applications
- Provide real time feedback
- Support for fellow/applicant matching for semi-finalists in the process
- What would it look like to have pre-program support? How could applicants get trained? There is a need for many applicants to have support in how they communicate their ideas as well as refining the idea itself.
OUTCOME – COLLECTIVE IMPACT PROJECT – HOST Katharine Danton of UnLtd UK
This group will explore what it would look like for programs to provide modular content to support entrepreneurs in improving the quality of their applications.
Best Practices in Getting
Control Comparison Groups
- There is no such thing as a “control group.” When working with entrepreneurs and accelerators, it is far more important to shift the frame from “control groups” to “comparison groups.”
- “Comparison groups” include both entrepreneurs who applied and were not accepted AS WELL AS entrepreneurs who applied and turned down the program. There is value in looking at entrepreneurs who have actually gone through programs, but at the end of the day for effective research these entrepreneurs need to be benchmarked against comparison groups if we want to isolate the actual impact of a given accelerator/incubator program.
- Comparison groups are key to focusing your research around the key areas in which your program provides support. They help to assess your framework – are you focused on values/philosophy? Or quantitative metrics? What does your program specifically offer to entrepreneurs? With this information, you can tailor your metrics to evaluate that specific area of impact.
Emory University’s Global Accelerator Learning Initiative has research best practices in comparison groups for Accelerators and is working to gather more data from the field.
Defining Impact Accelerator and Measuring the Impact of Accelerators and the Businesses Accelerated
- Intentionality is key! Support companies that intentionally create positive social and environmental impact. This stems from the original “impact investing” definition from the Rockefeller Foundation and it is worth asking the question, “Is this true for all impact accelerators?”
- How would we define impact accelerator 20 years from now? This question sparked deeper conversation for the group about where we want to see the field grow and if objective measures of impact will be increasingly important in the future.
- It is critical to focus on “smart” evaluation and assess “what is enough?”
- Depending on to whom you are reporting, sometimes back of the envelope calculations are enough to move forward.
- Do groups pay or partner with an external organization having evaluation expertise to perform evaluation services?
OUTCOME – COLLECTIVE IMPACT PROJECT – HOST Sana Kapadia of Springu.is
This group will explore the current gap in impact metrics for both evaluation of program effectiveness as well as enterprise level impact, and assess if there is an opportunity to collect 1-3 metrics as an industry over 2017 for reporting at SOCAP17.
Curriculum Best Practices
- Which accelerator leaders are open to sharing curricula?
- Guns Ganapathy shared the curriculum at VillGro and is open to sharing with others who are interested. Please email Megan@conveners.org if you would like to be connected.
- How do we measure curriculum impact? Some metrics that came to mind included:
- Jobs created
- Income generated
- Shifting the mindset of the entrepreneur (A question remains on the measurability of mindset-how might this be accomplished through before and after surveys?)
- How do we spark and support engagement with the curriculum?
- Role of mentors – including mentors in the curriculum design process and integrating them throughout the program experience.
- Set expectations with entrepreneurs, mentors, and investors on what the curriculum is designed to accomplish and be wary of trying to solve everything for everyone.
- Be mindful of bandwidth. Executing a strong curriculum takes time and a lot of energy.
These were some of the insights and takeaways from the unconference at the Accelerating the Accelerators session @SOCAP16. Stay tuned for more in-depth exploration of these topics over the coming months and if you’re interested in joining a Collective Impact Project shoot an email to email@example.com.