What is a social impact accelerator or incubator, and how can I get involved?

by | Jul 20, 2022 | Blog

Our world needs social entrepreneurs to approach its complex problems with creative and unique solutions. Oftentimes, however, entrepreneurs may not have the tools to transform their great ideas into flourishing ventures that can make a difference as well as a profit. 

Social impact incubators and accelerators offer start-ups the opportunities they need to grow their knowledge and understanding of business, connect with investors, and understand their customer base in more depth. 

Social impact incubators vs. accelerators 

The ideation or pre-seed phase of a social impact start-up business can be kindled and matured in social impact incubators. These programs are designed to help entrepreneurs get their ideas down on paper and consider vital cornerstones of a healthy business, like a suitable business model and long-term strategy. Social entrepreneurs with potential, yet limited experience can benefit greatly from having their ideas nurtured in a social impact incubator. 

Social impact accelerators open doors that may otherwise be closed to or undiscovered by social enterprise founders through networking opportunities and advanced skills training. They offer support to early or growth-stage social enterprises that have moved past the concept phase, helping them mature into an efficient, well-established business. 

Why are social impact incubators and accelerators important? 

Our society is suffering from issues like inequality, poverty, unemployment, racism, malnutrition, and violence, among others. Social entrepreneurs are key to conceiving innovative ways of addressing these and seeking change to create a better, healthier world. Many, however, lack the expertise or financial backing to turn an idea into something tangible and impactful. This is where social impact incubators and accelerators come in. 

Whether in the name of social change or not, for a business idea to prosper it requires more than passion. Social impact incubators provide social entrepreneurs with the stepping stones to build a solid foundation for their ventures, considerably raising their chances of success. 

Accelerator programs are specially curated, offering courses that teach business owners about how to create a balanced enterprise that solves the issues it sets out to address and manages to financially support itself. 

Accelerators further open up key networking channels and funding portals that may otherwise have been out of reach. This plays a pivotal role in shaping the social entrepreneurship landscape, as access to funding remains the leading challenge faced by business pioneers

What to expect from an accelerator program 

Accelerator programs are robust and thorough in their education to ensure that entrepreneurs are prepared for the challenges they may face as their business develops and grows. Programs can take place anywhere between a few weeks to up to two years and may be offered at an upfront cost, through scholarships, or following a repayment contract. 

Offerings you could expect to encounter include expert consulting, design services, networking opportunities with investors, donors, and other members important to the development of your business, individualised coaching and mentorship, a space to work in, elective courses to choose from, and even potential funding. 

Hard work, perseverance, and consistent engagement are a necessity in ensuring the best chances of an accelerator program making a difference. 

The pros and cons of a social impact accelerator

Pros 

  • As long as you have a strong idea that shows promise of delivering a positive social or environmental impact, you qualify to apply. 
  • Trained professionals will teach you about aspects of business that you may feel unsure about, including accounting, effective budgeting, and smart strategy.
  • You will gain a big-picture – as well as a detailed – understanding of the inner workings of your business and its chances of success.
  • You will have access to a more diverse pool of funding, increasing your chances of achieving adequate backing even if your business has been turned down by mainstream lenders. 
  • Programs are often localised to help address the needs of your business in its context. 
  • Those running the accelerator programs are likely to be just as passionate about social and environmental change as you are, allowing you to receive a rich training experience that prioritises helping your business make an impact rather than pure profit. 
  • Participating in an accelerator program can get your business’s name out to interested parties who could help your business not only financially, but also in other ways, through awareness and accreditation. 

Cons 

  • Courses can take up to two years to complete with consistent learning and assessment. This requires time, commitment, and endurance, which may be stressful alongside running your business. 
  • Some financing opportunities are based on a repayment contract, binding your business for that period.
  • Change most likely won’t happen instantly and will be a gradual transition.
  • It is not guaranteed that the program will result in the success you may have been hoping for. 
  • Not all programs always get it right to suit the exact needs of your business. 
  • Incubators and accelerator programs are quite competitive, making it key that you have a business that is filling a clear market need. 

How to get involved 

If you are still at the conceptual phase of your business i.e. concretising your idea, start by doing thorough research of the issue at hand. This will help you develop a strong argument for your solution and how it could make a positive impact, while eventually being self-sufficient at the same time. 

Look out for local social impact incubators and find out how you can apply. Be sure to read through the objectives of the incubator and consider whether or not these align with the direction you wish your business to take. 

If you are already running your business, but battling to take it further and widen its reach, an accelerator program may be the next step for you. Accelerator programs come in many forms, including in-person, virtual, or blended training with different completion periods, requirements, and targets. Weigh up the pros and cons of participating and decide whether or not this is what your business needs. 

Once you have established your interest in joining a social impact accelerator program, start applying! Be clear in your application about your business aims and how you believe an accelerator will help you achieve your goals. Demonstrate that you understand the work required and that you will be committed to seeing the program through. Have information about your business statistics at hand in case conveners wish to see more detail. 

Ultimately, social impact incubators and accelerators have the potential to help you take the seed in your mind and allow it to be given what it needs to germinate, grow, and flourish. If your business is in need of a push, get involved and find something that works for you. 

At Innovation Edge, we fund unique offerings in addressing early childhood development issues in South Africa. Contact us if your idea or business requires further backing and support.