Central Florida’s economy depends a lot on tourism—think Mickey Mouse and performing dolphins. But a growing number of movers and shakers in the region are trying to diversify by turning the area into a social entrepreneur-ship hub. The latest step in that direction: a new Orlando-based accelerator for social enterprises.
The Central Florida Social Enterprise Accelerator, as it’s called, is accepting applications for its first cohort through the first week of August.
One of the accelerator’s distinguishing features is that it’s agnostic about for-profit or nonprofit status. In fact, the accelerator’s founders expect some participants to spend their first days pinpointing the best structure. “Too often the structure has been determined solely by the available sources of capital, but there are many other considerations,” says Rob Panepinto, board chair of the accelerator and the Central Florida Foundation, a key force behind the program. “Part of our process is analyzing what your model should look like.”
Participants will also be at different stages of development, ranging from “a small, place-based nonprofit through scalable for-profits,” says Mark Brewer, president of the Central Florida Foundation. That’s one reason why the program, at six months, is longer than most. Everyone will take the first part of the curriculum, what Brewer calls the “core.” After that, there will be tracks designed for different types of organizations.
Creating a Culture of Social Enterprise
The longer-term plan is to use the accelerator to broaden the region’s economic base and nurture a new social enterprise hub. “We want to create a culture of social enterprise,” says Brewer.
It all started about five years ago, when the folks at the Central Florida Foundation started seeing a growing number of nonprofits looking for new revenue sources. At the same time, they were investigating ways to engage entrepreneurs and Millennials in community work and philanthropy. That led to an initiative called Entrepreneurs in Action that connected serial entrepreneurs with nonprofits to help develop sustainable revenue models. At the time, social entrepreneur Ben Hoyer, founder of a coffee shop/social enterprise called Downtown Credo, formed Rally Makers, a different initiative aimed at getting Millennials involved in community activities and helping early-stage social entrepreneurs.
That’s when Panepinto and his colleagues started to see both a market opportunity and a need for a more comprehensive program. So they reached out to Rollins College, a nearby liberal arts college with a strong social enterprise program, about developing a curriculum for them. The College also agreed to provide space near the campus. In addition, they teamed up with Clean the World, an Orlando-based social enterprise that produces hygiene kits from soap and other discarded cleanliness products that are donated by hotels.
The first cohort will include about eight organizations. They won’t receive a stipend or have to give up an equity stake. But the accelerator is putting together a seed fund for very early-stage companies, as well as money for grants, that will be awarded to at least one entity at the end of session. The goal is to attract additional investors to join the fund. Panepinto expects the pot of money to be about $500,000 to $1 million. “The hope is to get to the next level, so I can go to more traditional angel funds,” he says.
If all goes well, the magic in Central Florida will be soon happening well beyond the walls of the kingdom.
Feature photo: BALLOONS – Magic Kingdom | by lhbrizzante via Flickr
Anne Field is a New York-based journalist who writes about social enterprise and impact investing. A version of this article originally appeared on her Not Only For Profit blog on Forbes.com.