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June 23, 2016 | Min Pease

A Fellowship Approach to Accelerating Social Entrepreneurs

In recent years, the number of business and impact accelerators has increased, employing a variety of services and funding models to launch emerging entrepreneurs. With this influx of accelerators, much discussion in the social innovation field today is focused on accelerator performance and what’s working (and not working) to move social enterprises to the next level. 

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In 2014, Echoing Green piloted an impact investing “inflection cohort” of 10 alumni of our Fellowship program, each leading for-profit and hybrid social enterprises. Our goal was to support them through a common, critical inflection moment:  transitioning from early-stage funding to raising more sophisticated institutional growth capital. The white paper we released today looks at the inflection cohort pilot’s performance in supporting emerging social entrepreneurs. Some of the paper’s key observations include:

  • Our Fellowship model of support for diverse social enterprises working around the world in various sectors may be characterized as “configuration” – a middle ground between fully standardized curriculum and fully customized entrepreneurial support. By providing a menu of resources and tools to Fellows, we can build on best practices from accelerators and other entrepreneur supporters in a scalable way.
  • Echoing Green and other entrepreneurial support organizations should deliberately build strong follow-on funding networks, especially in emerging markets. Many of the Fellow participants reported that accelerators added value by enhancing their understanding of the broader ecosystem, not just individual skill-building.
  • High costs and lack of funding sources challenge scalability for the inflection cohort model and other accelerator programs.
  • Of the 10 participants, 9 had gone through multiple accelerator programs to meet their leadership and business needs and get the support, training, and mentorship when they needed it. They saw distinct value in each, and potentially a combined value, pointing to the importance of transparency around value and specialization among accelerators and Fellowship programs to help entrepreneurs identify the best one to fit their needs.

Of all the things Echoing Green has learned from a quarter century of investing in bold leaders and big ideas, perhaps the most important lesson is that the world’s most intractable problems cannot be solved in isolation. By sharing our impact investing inflection cohort pilot alongside accelerator models of support, we aim to identify strategies that other programs can build on to enable early-stage entrepreneurs to grow, attract investment, and deliver greater impact.

Read A Fellowship Approach to Accelerating Social Entrepreneurs.