Accelerate the Social Impact

by Tao Li, Leuphana University of Lüneburg, Germany

Accelerators are a type of organizational sponsor, who support startups through training, mentoring and other means via fixed-term and cohort-based programs. Their major targets are for-profit and high-growth startups in the technology sector. The most prominent startup accelerators are for example Y combinator, Techstars, Plug and Play or 500 Startups.

Yet, another variant of accelerators entered our view, to name a few: Echoing Green, SheEO, Concious Venture Labs or Village Capital. tThis type of accelerator focuses on supporting startups where a social mission is the end goal. 

Although the earliest emergence of an organizational sponsor for the nonprofit sector took place in 1987, they only started to proliferate after 2000. Even the traditional accelerators have also entered the social sector, which shows a growing popularity of impact investing. E. g. Y combinator, has opened its door for non-profit startups for the first time in the Winter 2013. Similarly, Techstars launched its first social impact accelerator in 2017.

While we know that non-profits operate differently to commercial organizations, you might wonder if social accelerators are just mere duplications of the traditional form, or if they are actually suitable for any social startups? 

If you want to ground your own social startup, or have already anticipated a good nonprofit project, passion and a good heart are necessary, but definitely insufficient conditions for achieving your social missions. Resources have to be mobilized, impact needs to be scaled up. Yet, these two things are even harder to achieve than the initial problems that social entrepreneurs set out to solve, because after all sustaining earnings and doing social good are dominated by two very distinct mindsets.

Social accelerators also have to balance these two mindsets. Impact investments would always prefer startups that offer products or services to paying users. Therefore, there’s a lot of advice given to commercial startups is also applicable to social ventures, much part of the curriculum would be helpful for social ventures as well. On the other hand, social accelerators also have to encourage cooperation, conversations and altruism in order to keep their community robust. It is an ideal place for social ventures to exercise both mindsets and learn how to combine them to make greater impact.

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