8 Leading Accelerators

A decade ago, programs to assist startups and budding entrepreneurs, often referred to as accelerators or incubators, were few and far between. Recently, however, such programs have proliferated, with hundreds springing up all over the world — think Techstars, Y Combinator, and AngelPad. These programs typically provide mentorship, education, access to substantial networks, introductions to potential investors, and, in some cases, direct investment in companies in exchange for a small piece of equity. But what about programs for mission-driven companies? Fortunately, accelerators, incubators, and leadership programs have emerged to meet the ever-growing demand from this sector as well. We’ve identified eight leading programs worldwide that cater specifically to conscious companies.


Location: New York, NY 
Founded: 1987 
Employees: 32
Program Graduates: 700+
Program at a Glance: Echoing Green offers three fellowships: the Global Fellowship, for innovators working to improve communities around the world; the Climate Fellowship, for social entrepreneurs revolutionizing mitigation of and adaptation to climate change; and the Black Male Achievement Fellowship, for visionaries pioneering solutions to the barriers facing black men and boys in the United States. Fellowships are awarded on an annual basis. Fellows are invited into programs that offer seed- stage funding, ongoing technical support, strategic assistance from industry experts, and leadership development programs for social entrepreneurs working in more than 70 countries.

What inspired you to launch this program?

Cheryl Dorsey: When I was growing up as an African- American kid in the late ’60s in Baltimore and witnessing countless inequities, my mother would tell me, “Life’s not fair, but it’s up to you to figure out a way to change it.” My various experiences along my path to becoming Echoing Green’s president were part of me learning how I could help make the world a fairer place. What’s inspiring about the Echoing Green community is that each of us seeks to determine what impact we want to have on the world. We call this finding what’s “right for you and good for the world,” and for Echoing Green, that is enabling the committed, passionate leaders we support to do the important work they do across the globe to achieve systemic improvements.

What do you believe is the largest predictor of future success for the companies that you have worked with?

CD: Particularly for companies with a social mission, leadership potential is a strong indicator of future success. It’s often leaders who are closely linked to the problem they’re seeking to solve who bring the most innovative solutions. When we select fellows, a key part of our vetting process is learning about each leader’s passion for having a transformative impact upon the important social challenge they’ve identified. Commitment and resilience, along with a supportive network and tools, are key to the success of the extraordinary enterprises our fellows launch in communities across the globe.

What do you believe is the greatest barrier for young companies in terms of scaling their ideas and businesses?

CD: The entrepreneurs who seek Echoing Green funding are presenting new business models to address systemic social challenges and generally need a longer and subsidized financial runway to innovate, learn, and become investment- ready. The longer timeline for a return on investment can make these companies a challenging sell to venture capitalists, angel networks, and other traditional early investment sources. We’re seeing a lot of potential in the burgeoning field of impact investing, but there is a need for investors and entrepreneurs to co-create the terms for more risk-tolerant funding. It’s critical that we build the investment and support system to help them go further, faster.


The Do School

Location: Berlin, Germany, and New York, NY
Founded: 2008
Employees: 25
Program Graduates: 240 through its Entrepreneurship for Good Program and 2,000 in other DO School programs
Program at a Glance: The DO School combines the traditional accelerator approach with a unique learning-by-DOing, challenge-oriented method. Twenty fellows are selected for each program and come together for 10 weeks to develop their own ventures and also learn by working on a sustainability challenge given by a leading organization (such as H&M, Covestro, or the City of New York) that is of material value to the organization’s strategic goals. During this time, the fellows collaborate with team members from the challenge organization and with external practitioners brought in to provide guidance on special issues or topics. At the end of the 10 weeks, the fellows present social innovations from the challenge to the sponsor organization and then return home to launch their own ventures. Once home, fellows receive 10 months of support from The DO School’s network of experts and mentors in more than 70 countries.

What inspired you to launch this program?

Florian Hoffmann: We are living in an era of unprecedented change. In 1960, the average Fortune 500 company had been on the index for an average of 60 years, whereas today the average company has only maintained that status for 15 years. Massive disruptions are so widespread that everyone is affected and everyone feels that change is something that happens to us. The knowledge and skills necessary to succeed are constantly changing. In the face of such disruption, how can we truly empower people around the world? That is why we founded The DO School — to empower talented young entrepreneurs and leaders within organizations to turn their ideas into action.

What do you believe is the largest predictor of future success for the companies that you have worked with?
FH: The companies that will succeed in our modern era of disruption are those that are talented in three areas. First is the ability to select an idea that they are passionate about delivering and to find purpose in its implementation. Second is the ability to effectively and efficiently engage outside stakeholders in the planning and implementation of the idea. And third, and most important, is the ability to engage and respond to mistakes. Failure and crisis are where we find the true meaning and purpose in our ideas. Organizations that can iterate their way through those times are best suited for the 21st century.

What do you believe is the greatest barrier for young companies in terms of scaling their ideas and businesses?

FH: The biggest and most vital barrier to overcome is to simply get DOing. Of course, coming up with world- changing ideas and strategies is vital, but ultimately, the value assigned to ideas and planning is totally overstated. Ideas and plans are not what will create a better world. Only through implementing, learning, and iterating can true success and impact be achieved.


Village Capital

Location: Washington, D.C.
Founded: 2009
Employees: 28
Program Graduates: 500+
Program at a Glance: For each program, Village Capital recruits a group of 10 to 12 entrepreneurs who have unique solutions to a major problem (e.g., lack of access to financial services for low-income Americans). Through three four-day workshops, enterprises refine their business models through customer interaction, hypothesis testing, receipt of mentoring, and investor engagement. At the end of the program, entrepreneurs assess one another against 20 investment criteria. The top two ventures, as ranked by their peers, receive seed capital from VilCap Investments, Village Capital’s affiliated venture fund.  “The traditional investment process rewards entrepreneurs who are well-connected and good at pitching, but are not necessarily good at building great businesses.”

What inspired you to launch this program?

Ross Baird: We believe that if entrepreneurship is going to change the world, it has to include everyone. We launched Village Capital to democratize entrepreneurship by empowering anyone, anywhere in the world, to start a company regardless of their background. The traditional investment process rewards entrepreneurs who are well- connected and good at pitching, but are not necessarily good at building great businesses. Village Capital puts entrepreneurs in the driver’s seat of the due diligence process, creating more equitable investments.

What do you believe is the largest predictor of future success for the companies that you have worked with?

RB: The largest predictor of future success is whether or not companies are effectively hypothesis-testing to de-risk the assumptions inherent in any early-stage business. Companies that are willing to go out and build evidence to support all the different facets of their business are almost always more successful in the long run.

What do you believe is the greatest barrier for young companies in terms of scaling their ideas and businesses?

RB: In the areas where we work, the biggest barrier for young companies is access to opportunity. Talent is universal, but 75 percent of US venture investments are made in Silicon Valley, New York, and Boston, and we believe great ideas everywhere deserve the funding and support required to solve global problems. For companies solving major global problems, it’s even more difficult to raise money to scale because investors tend to avoid highly regulated industries — the same sectors that affect the lives of people every day.



Good Company Ventures

Location: Philadelphia, PA
Founded: 2009
Employees: 3
Program Graduates: 75
Program at a Glance: GoodCompany Ventures chooses early-stage entrepreneurs to participate in an intensive 12-week program where they are guided through a series of expert and investor panels, tactical workshops, peer-to-peer critiques, and one-on-one coaching sessions cumulating in an investor pitch event. 

What inspired you to launch this program?

Catherine Griffin: We launched the program because we believe in the power of business to transcend the limitations of the public sector, deliver innovation sustainably, and unlock tremendous value by solving the world’s greatest challenges. Hackathons and similar challenges fall short by overlooking the business model development work required to take new innovations to market at scale, and traditional tech venture programs fail to address the unique challenges that entrepreneurs in the social space often face.

What do you believe is the largest predictor of future success for the companies that you have worked with?

CG: A great entrepreneur. Other than that, a mix of broad market demand with a specific innovation insight are key. We identify demand drivers, and work with entrepreneurs to tighten and refine their proof of concept and pilot-stage execution.

What do you believe is the greatest barrier for young companies in terms of scaling their ideas and businesses?

CG: We’ve found the greatest barrier to be steadfast loyalty to a mission and delivery mechanism, rather than fitting an innovation to an expressed market demand.


Location: Boulder, CO
Founded: 2009
Employees: 10
Program Graduates: 120
Program at a Glance: The Unreasonable Institute identifies between 10 and 20 ventures that have the potential to address problems like poverty, lack of education, and social injustice at scale. Fellows are invited to participate in a five- week program where they are provided with hand-picked mentors out of a pool of more than 50, plus access to more than 100 potential funders, partners, and workshops to help grow their impact. Once entrepreneurs leave the program, they have access to a global network of entrepreneurs, mentors, and funders in 50 countries. 

What inspired you to launch this program?

Will Butler: We launched the Unreasonable Institute because we envision a world in which no one is limited by their circumstances.

What do you believe is the largest predictor of future success for the companies that you have worked with?

WB: Support from mentors who have been through the process before, along with clear goals for where the venture is headed and what the venture aims to achieve, are the largest predictors of success.

What do you believe is the greatest barrier for young companies in terms of scaling their ideas and businesses?

WB: Support. Entrepreneurs often lack the clarity, people, and capital they need to scale their impact, and it becomes their largest barrier to success.


Location: Tempe, AZ
Founded: 2011
Employees: 7
Program Graduates: 12 companies
Program at a Glance: Prior to this year, MAC6 operated as an accelerator. In 2015, the organization changed its model to become a leadership academy that provides intellectual capital alongside direct investment to participating companies. After assessing each member of a participating company’s team and any current gaps in roles, MAC6 works with the business teams to implement a “people-centric operating system.” The organization uses two tools, Target Training International Success Insights and the Entrepreneurial Operating System, to accelerate team performance through understanding key behavior, motivation, and professional soft-skill differences throughout each organization. 

What inspired you to launch this program?

Kyle McIntosh: In 2011, my father Scott and I decided that we wanted to be active investors and develop a hands-on program to provide intellectual capital to each business we invested in to help them grow. We use Conscious Capitalism as our lens to assess a business’ long-term potential. We do all of this because it works toward what truly gets us out of bed in the morning, which includes furthering the MAC6 purpose of building better communities to eliminate extreme poverty.

What do you believe is the largest predictor of future success for the companies that you have worked with?

KM: It is always the team that makes a business successful, which is why MAC6 changed from an accelerator to a leadership academy. Ideas are a dime a dozen, but a strong leadership team that is able to create traction toward a common vision is what will truly give a business the ability to scale toward financial success and the commensurate good that they intend to create in the world.

What do you believe is the greatest barrier for young companies in terms of scaling their ideas and businesses?

KM: The greatest barrier for young companies is not getting scrappy or being tenacious enough. Great entrepreneurs are insane and fanatical about making something happen and achieving success in tackling a problem that they see in the world. It is never easy, and it is never a straight line. To the extent that entrepreneurs can get scrappy when it gets tough and surround themselves with people who are able to do the same, they will leap over, go around, or bust right through any barrier that comes their way.


Fledge

Location: Seattle, WA
Founded: 2012
Employees: 1 full-time plus more than 300 volunteer mentors
Program Graduates: 39
Program at a Glance: Anyone, from anywhere, can apply to the Fledge program. Seven teams are chosen to participate and each of those teams is given $20,000 in cash and invited to Seattle for 10 weeks of intense education, guidance, and mentorship. 

What inspired you to launch this program?

Michael “Luni” Libes: Few of the thousands of entrepreneurship programs focus on companies that solve the important problems of the world, and less than a handful of those are for-profit organizations helping other for-profit organizations. There is a market need for what we do. That, and I just love to help start startups.

What do you believe is the largest predictor of future success for the companies that you have worked with?

MLL: Beyond looking for entrepreneurs with that magic “spark,” the key to fledglings’ success lies in the fact that they are trying to solve problems that, if solved, make the world truly better off.

What do you believe is the greatest barrier for young companies in terms of scaling their ideas and businesses?

MLL: Starting and scaling companies is an incredibly difficult process. It requires a broad set of skills, not all of which are taught in school, much less as a single discipline. That lack of schooling in entrepreneurship leads first-time entrepreneurs to repeat the same mistakes as others, which only increases the failure rate. Fledge fills in those gaps to help our entrepreneurs focus on making new mistakes.


Location: Columbia, MD
Founded: 2013
Employees: 6
Program Graduates: 10 companies
Program at a Glance: Conscious Venture Lab (CVLab) invests between $25,000 and $50,000 for 5 to 10 percent equity in participating companies. Each cohort includes five to ten businesses that participate in a mentor- and curriculum- based program that strives to accelerate impact and financial performance as quickly as possible. The curriculum, which was created in partnership with R. Edward Freeman from the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, is 30 percent Lean Startup, 50 percent Conscious Capitalism, and 20 percent pitch preparation. The process focuses on purpose-based entrepreneurs who have an idea that can scale and impact the lives of a large number of customers within five years. 

What inspired you to launch this program?

Jeff Cherry: Improving the state of entrepreneurship — the manner in which we start new businesses and the manner in which those businesses engage society — is one of the most important missions of our time. Our goal is to change the way capitalism is practiced in America. We believe a more human and humane form of capitalism is required if we as a society are going to reach our true potential. In a simple statement, we attempt to answer the question, “What kind of world could we create if entrepreneurs, executives, and investors cared as much about people as they do about profit?”

What do you believe is the largest predictor of future success for the companies that you have worked with?

JC: Without question, the quality of the leadership team is the single most important predictor of success. The ability to stick to the notion of organizational purpose as the true driver of success requires a level of servant leadership that most entrepreneurs and executives do not possess. We’ve found that many companies and entrepreneurs understand the ideas of managing for stakeholders, creating a highly engaging culture, and even discovering organizational purpose. But when things get difficult, if the leaders aren’t prepared to stay the course, everything falls apart very quickly.

What do you believe is the greatest barrier for young companies in terms of scaling their ideas and businesses?

JC: First, they must embrace the notion that purpose and consciousness are going to be the main drivers of value in the future. Once this is internalized, they must quickly develop leadership capabilities to actually build a business based on culture. Finally, they need to have confidence in their convictions when it comes to raising capital so that even when it takes longer than planned, and it always does, they stay resilient and focus on philosophically aligned investors. 

This article appeared in Issue 5 | Jan/Feb 2016

To read more inspiring articles from Issue 5, including our cover story featuring Daniel Lubetzky, Founder and CEO of KINDSnacks, purchase a copy of Issue 5 online!

Buy Issue