FIP 112: Tips for Social Entrepreneurs Wanting to Apply to an Accelerator

Many social entrepreneurs will consider applying to an accelerator to help grow their business, so we reached out to a range of accelerators to hear what tips they have for people putting an application together. These tips come in three buckets – one on selecting the right accelerator, next on what will need to go into your application, and third on how to deliver a great application.

On this episode, you’ll hear from the following:

  • Allie Burns – CEO of Village Capital: get clarity on the key milestones to grow your business i.e. building your team, validating your value prop, refining your product or sales process. Then ask how an accelerator will help. And then do your research to find out which accelerator will help you reach those milestones.
  • David Bartram – Director of Ventures at UnLtd: Three key things. 1- be really clear what you want to get out of the programme; 2- think about what you can give back i.e. to other cohort entrepreneurs or the accelerator organisation; 3- don’t change your idea to fit the needs of the accelerator.
  • Siobhain Dullea – CEO of MassChallenge: Be clear about what problem you’re trying to solve and why your product is the solution. Share your numbers (churn, revenue, profit), traction (interest and demand), go-to-market strategy or product development process. And your team – why they’re the winners.
  • Ben Powell – Founder and CEO of Agora Partnerships: Articulate three things. Your market opportunity or idea (sustainability), quality of your team, quality of your impact. Be sure to highlight your core values and the kind of culture you hope to build. Talk with maturity, and openness and some vulnerability on how to build culture and attract the best people.
  • Paul Miller – CEO of Bethnal Green Ventures: Tell us something about the problem we don’t know. Explain why you’re the people that understands this problem, in a way that people haven’t understood it before.
  • Luni Libes – Founder & Managing Director, Fledge: Applying to an accelerator is like an elevator pitch. Balance giving enough information in a clear and concise format. in just a few paragraphs. also convey how far along you are. where you are. how fast you want to grow. where to get to.
  • Ryan Kushner – The Accelerator Guy: put yourself in their shows. How you’ll be evaluated. Are you in scope for that program. Do you tick the boxes. If so, lay out the team, technology, promise and your social impact. Put it in their language.
  • Tom Rippin – CEO and Founder of OnPurpose: demonstrate your interest, tailor your application, and don’t just write a “me, me, me” cover letter. Say why you’re interested in doing this and why YOU.
Fhiwa Finding Impact

FIP 105: The view from inside an accelerator, with Fhiwa Ndou, formerly with MassChallenge

This week on the Finding Impact Podcast, we will be looking at the insider’s view of accelerators with Fhiwa Ndou, formerly of MassChallenge, well known venture accelerator in Boston, US. Fhiwa previously also helped setup the MassChallenge (MC) accelerator in London and is currently Growth Manager at Lambda School. This is episode #3 in the 4-part series about accelerators for early stage social enterprises. In this episode, we look at various aspects of choosing accelerators such as: the role of accelerator alumni network in attracting social enterprises, and non-profit versus the for-profit (equity-based) models.

On this podcast, you will learn:

  • About the MC accelerator and its ethos and non-profit business model. MC does not take any equity from its start-ups and rather focuses on community as one of the best levers for helping start-ups grow and succeed. MC accepts around 100-120 start-ups in every cohort across various industries that makes it very different from most start-up accelerators.
  • How MC selects and operates start-ups as franchise model in different regions and leverages the local business community while starting and operating a start-up accelerator at scale, through funding and other resources.
  • Examples of successful MC alum such as Flywire in Boston and Handy in UK, that went on to raise lots of funding for scaling and built successful businesses.
  • How the no-equity, non-profit model and wide alumni network of MC presents a very powerful proposition and is a big consideration for very early stage start-ups while choosing accelerators. MC also helps entrepreneurs unlock opportunities by helping them “ask for stuff” they need and providing support to access resources such credits for Amazon Web Services, other free tools, office space, introductions to experts such as patent lawyers, investors, etc.
  • Finally, Fhiwa shares his views on future models of accelerators, such as corporate style accelerators and other accelerator models that support entrepreneurs through their journey – from teaching entrepreneurs to code early on (coding schools) to teaching entrepreneurship and what it’s like to be an entrepreneur, through summer internships.

Links to Resources:

Connect with Fhiwa:


FIP 104: What I learnt from attending my first accelerator, with Nava Osembo of Enda

This week on the Finding Impact Podcast, we have part 2 of a new 3-part series about accelerators for early stage social enterprises. We are talking with Navalayo (Nava) Osembo-Ombati who is Co-founder and CEO of Enda Athletics, a Nairobi based running shoes manufacturer designing footwear to inspire customers to run like a Kenyan. Enda Athletics recently attended the SHONA accelerator program based in Kampala and just recently finished their second and final residential bootcamp. So we’re looking forward to digging into that with Nava.

On this podcast you will learn:

  • How Nava used her management consulting background in putting this business together even though her and the co-founder had no prior experience in making shoes.
  • Her initial impression of accelerators (she initially got a lot of feedback from entrepreneurs), and the guiding factor as to why she joined one, (primarily to get the skills).
  • Her selection process for selecting an accelerator: looking at the skill sets that they needed, which accelerator had the most positive feedback from entrepreneurs, and the cost (monetary and time).
    • Cost considerations: finders fees, and equity.
  • How she shortlisted accelerators: quality of mentors/expertise, and the cost (whether they were asking for equity and if so, how much).
  • Her experience participating in SHONA, which has a residential component: taking three weeks off / away from her company in order to participate was worth it and she came out having a birds eye view.
  • Nava’s top key things in order to get to an accelerator that is right for you: know yourself (as in what you want), really understand the costs, and read the contract! (especially if you can’t hire a lawyer).

Links to resources:

Connect with guest:

FIP 103: Do accelerators actually work? A look into the evidence, with Emily Eastman of GALI

This week on the Finding Impact Podcast, we are kicking off a new 3-part series about accelerators for early stage social enterprises. We are talking with Emily Eastman, Global Partnerships Manager at Global Accelerator Learning Initiative (GALI), who has been working on the leading edge of accelerators for social impact. In this episode, we look at the overall evidence on the effectiveness of accelerators in helping entrepreneurs grow early stage companies – what makes for a great accelerator, how entrepreneurs can choose the right accelerator and the pros and cons of accelerators.

On this podcast, you will learn:

  • How GALI was formed as a collaboration between the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE) and Emory University, to do research on the effectiveness or true impact of accelerators across the globe. GALI works with individual accelerators to track their specific programmatic impact as well as study the larger research questions on how accelerators are working and how can they be made better.
  • How accelerators help in the growth of start-up businesses by running programs for early stage ventures through a selection process and providing support in areas such as finance, marketing, raising investments, business model, etc.
  • GALI collects standardized baseline data on accelerator applicants and performs analysis on accelerator cohorts versus the un-selected applicants to figure out the progress of the each of these groups – do cohort ventures grow faster and quicker than their un-selected counterparts. GALI publishes insights and reports from such research periodically as well as the full anonymized data set from over 19000 applicants to accelerator programs across the world.
  • Why it’s important for social enterprises to choose accelerator programs aligned to their needs and goals, such as: business growth focus, or social impact focus such as creating jobs, or environmental impact, etc. Online tools such provide an accelerator selection tool for social enterprises to filter accelerator programs based on sector, geography, and focus areas.
  • GALI’s research points out that accelerators grow ventures much faster than their un-selected counterparts. The best accelerator programs have a perfect combination of 3 things – knowledge, networks, and capital and the greatest benefit that accelerators bring to ventures is their ability to challenge business models and help ventures fail or pivot faster.
  • A study conducted by GALI with Village Capital found out that high performing accelerator programs emphasized quality over quantity and had the following similar characteristics: smaller applicant pools, more targeted in recruitment, more practical and hands-on guidance than mere lectures, thus leading to stronger cohorts compared with the lower performing accelerator programs.
  • How accelerators such as Echoing Green have been able to recruit and build stronger cohorts because of a blind selection process, that removes biases in selection, such as gender, ethnicity, etc. Similarly, YGAP, a development accelerator based in Australia considers various aspects of gender biases across their applicant pools, mentor pools and actively looks out to recruit women across all program areas. Another example is that of SheEO that builds women-only cohorts as part of their accelerator programs.
  • Finally, accelerators themselves are constantly pivoting and changing their programs just like startups to address different focus areas or emerging markets, while providing pre- and post-acceleration services tailored to their markets. A healthy dose of competitiveness and collaboration is thus extremely important within accelerator programs to improve their overall effectiveness.

Links to Resources:

Connect with Emily: