For social enterprises seeking to have a significant impact, the goal is to reach a large critical mass of customers. With that in mind, 100x Impact Accelerator, a newly announced program based at the London School of Economics, aims to help cultivate what Leslie Labruto, founding director, calls “social unicorns”—enterprises able to achieve impact on the scale of millions, while staying true to their values.
“This won’t be your traditional business accelerator,” she says. “This will be a bespoke program that can help social enterprises and charities met their objectives, but not by scaling for growth at all cost.”
Social unicorn, is, of course, a play on the “tech unicorn”, or private companies with a valuation of $1 billion or more.
Mentors and Grants
The 12-week accelerator, which is for both for-profits and nonprofits, will accept 10 social enterprises from around the world, with about 70% from emerging markets. Founders will receive a £150,000 grant, plus access to LSE experts and support from other mentors, tailored to the needs of each participant and talks with social unicorn founders. Mentors will be assigned to each startup, based on the enterprise’s needs.
In addition to that initial grant, founders who meet certain milestones over the next two years can get follow on funding through a partnership with UBS. It will include what Labruto describes as “creative forms of investment capital”, which could mean options like revenue share models.
Startups will fall into one of eight impact categories that reflect LSE’s research priorities, such as climate and environment, health and social care, and democracy. They also need to have some customers and have moved past the minimum viable product stage.
The first and last week will happen in-person at the LSE. The rest will be virtual, with frequent check ins with mentors.
A Different Kind of Accelerator
The accelerator will differ from programs for more traditional ventures in a variety of ways. For example, each founder will team up with not only a business mentor, but a policy official who is native to the participant’s country, as well. “Entrepreneurs can start to understand the challenges facing that policy maker,” says Labruto.
Another noteworthy characteristic: helping founders understand their end game. That’s not a complex task for more-traditional companies; they often opt for being acquired or going public. But, “For social enterprises and charities, people need to broaden their gaze,” says Labruto. “Their mission could even be accomplished by making the problem they’re trying to solve go away.”
One problem specific to social enterprises is the matter of trade-offs—the considerations founders face that their counterparts at other places don’t. (Think finding a satisfactory, low-coast supplier, but also one that meets certain labor or environmental requirements). “You’re not only trying not run a viable organization, but you’re trying to tackle a meaty social issue,” says Labruto. “That makes the work so much harder.” Addressing such matters will be among the issues founders are likely to discuss, she says.
There’s also the matter of being for-profit vs nonprofit: Labruto expects that some founders, during the course of the 12 weeks, may decide to switch their structure, depending on what they learn about the best form for achieving their mission.
The first cohort starts June 1 and applications are open until March 10. There will be a second cohort later in the year.