impact accelerator

Ecosystem

Techstars Launches New Social Impact Accelerator

Anne Field | October 30, 2017

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When it comes to social impact entrepreneurship, it’s everyone into the pool. The idea of business as a force for good has been entering the mainstream, with Wall Street firms like Goldman Sachs and Bain Capital creating impact investment funds. Now Techstars, the Silicon Valley accelerator, is the latest high profile name to jump in.

The startup accelerator powerhouse, which runs a worldwide network of programs for high growth startups, is launching one for for-profit mission-driven companies. The moves comes after Techstars noticed the growing number of such enterprises being accepted into its programs, as well as how successful those ventures tended to be compared to other startups.

“Our core thesis is that these missions can create a competitive advantage and better business outcomes,” says Zoe Schlag (pictured above), managing director of the Techstars Impact Accelerator, as the new program is called.

Over the past three years, the number of impact companies accepted into Techstars has increased by an average of more than 50% a year, according to Schlag. And their performance has either been on par or better than other startups in the program.

Built-in Mission

The new impact accelerator will be identical to all the other three-month Techstars programs out there, including the usual $120,000 investment and access to mentors and training, and will be based out of Austin.

The Techstars Impact Accelerator is looking for companies where “the business model is in lock step with the impact,” says Schlag. “The impact cannot be divorced from the business model.” In other words, the core of the business is all about the mission: You can’t run the company without its social or environmental objective.

Schlag points to Zipline, a 2011 Techstars graduate, which builds drones to deliver crucial medical supplies in Africa, as an example.

That kind of deeply embedded mission is significantly different from, say, a one-for-one model through which a company gives away one product for every customer purchase. If the product is good enough, you conceivably can throw out the give-away part and the business will still function.

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Ultimately, it means there’s no danger of shareholders or other parties pressuring a company to take measures that could hurt its social mission—for example, choosing less-expensive, but more environmentally harmful, materials or paying a lower wage. “We limit the potential for that tension,” says Schlag.

Other impact accelerators, such Fledge, which is based in Seattle and has locations around the world, also take this organic approach to the companies they accept.

Schlag was heading up a social venture investor/accelerator she founded in Austin called UnLtd USA, which worked closely with Techstars. It’s merging with Techstars to form the new accelerator.

Applications for the first class, which is slated to start in June 2018 and will accept 10 ventures, will be available in December.

Photo credit: Aaron Eliott Photography

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.

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