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Time To Accelerate!

Whether you run a non-profit agency or a for-profit startup with a triple bottom line agenda (people, profits, planet) an accelerator program may be right for you if you want move your project ahead at light speed.

I’ve been to two Accelerator events in the same week. Here are some observations about the process.

An accelerator gives a group of vetted organizations coaching and mentoring in presentation skills and business development (a very mini-MBA) culminating in a public pitch or demo day in front of a hand full of judges.

I’ve had the privilege of working with Mission Capital (formerly Greenlights) as a consultant and coach for one of five nonprofit organizations that went through the Accelerator program this year. Their Demo Day pitches where 14 minutes total with as many PowerPoint slides. This Accelerator project is a marriage between Mission Capital and Austin’s Social Venture Partner chapter, which merged with Mission Capital last year. Working as one agency, the Social Venture Partners, who buy in to be part of the process, coach their accelerants through a 5-month program culminating in Demo Day.

The process requires a strong nonprofit to develop a fee-for-service innovation, a business model for that service, and three year projected financials for the project. After Demo Day, each chosen organization will go through a due diligence process. At the end of the process a selection committee will decide which agency will become the investee. Investees receive financial support but also legal, marketing, and/or technology help depending upon their fee-for-service innovation.

Austin+SocialGood is a startup organization that three years ago launched its first Fast Pitch event. This year 17 companies and nonprofits applied to be one of five Accelerants. The winner will receives $5,000 when the IndieGoGo campaign is completed.

One of the most interesting aspects of the evening was the keynote address given by Roy C. Lopez, the Community Development Officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. While redlining is no longer legal, banks still need to be encouraged to invest in low-income zip codes. Lopez is working to take the PeopleFund and Community Loan Center of Texas models to other areas of the state. As he said, Texas has the second lowest credit scores in the nation. He wants to motivate banks to help build the financial capabilities of low-income families because capital is the fuel that will grow our most underserved communities. His mission is to document social innovations that can scale up to help build communities.

Through these experiences I’ve changed my mind about pure philanthropic plays. If a nonprofit can create fee-for-service products that stabilize their funding, address a social need, and can actually solve the problem they were made to solve, then more power to them. And, if a startup business with a social mission can address those same issues, more power to them. There are enough issues and challenges to go around, and how we harness this energy and talent is not an issue for me. We just need to do that work.

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