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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 Conveners.org 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.

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