As part of our Accelerating the Accelerators (AtA) program, a program we offer as a public good, helps impact accelerator program managers share best practices, gain industry-level perspectives, and discover opportunities to collaborate with peers. Through this work with accelerators, incubators, fellowships, and business plan competition organizers within the impact ecosystem, we’ve been tracking a number of trends that we expect to take flight this year. Here are five mega trends on the horizon for impact accelerators in 2017:  

  1. The Move to Issue-Specific Cohorts: If you look back five years ago, every accelerator cohort pretty much looked the samethere was usually one women’s health company, one solar lantern producer, one cookstove startup, and so forth. Accelerator programs all had disconnected startup profiles out of necessity as there were not enough startups in a given issue to have targeted cohorts. As we move into 2017, we predict that more and more impact accelerators will be moving into issue-specific cohorts. This lens of focusing on one specific issue creates rich opportunities for accelerator participants to build strong relationships, deepen learning experiences, and connect with more targeted mentors—not to mention the opportunity to cross-pollinate and sharpen startup ideas:
    • CivicX Accelerator, for example, is the first national accelerator program and investment fund in the country focused on “civic ventures”—that is, for-profit and nonprofit startups that include people as part of the solution to critical social problems.  They’ve been leading the way with issue specific cohorts including accepting applications now for organizations with innovative solutions to increasing financial health and economic mobility for underserved populations.
    • Village Capital organizes its programs by sectors and regions, such as startups focused on Agriculture in the United States, Financial Technology in India, and Health in Mexico.
    • Last year The New Mobility Lab India, powered by WRI India and Unreasonable Institute, launched a 5-day business model validation accelerator for entrepreneurs based in India who are developing mobility-as-a-service solutions. According to their site, the Lab is “designed to help new mobility entrepreneurs in rapidly identifying and validating the foundational assumptions of their business models.”
    • Social Enterprise Greenhouse is now launching a cohorts in 2017 focused on Health & Wellness, and Food.  According to Impacts and Metrics Strategist Emily Mooney, “'[SEG] has found with the health and wellness cluster that we’ve been able to recruit specific mentors which has made it easier for the entrepreneurs to get guidance on what investors are looking for.”
  2. Shift in Program Structure: Those intimately involved in the startup acceleration process have begun to realize that the traditional “Pitch Day” framework does not work—it often leads to a showcase of the best PowerPoint presentation, but not always the best organization or company. A new crop of impact accelerators are focusing more on understanding the deeper context of problems, instead of simply jumping straight to the solutions. And they’re taking more innovative approaches, such as including investors in the application process and facilitating feedback for entrepreneurs from their fellow peers (rather than simply focusing on feedback from mentors who traditionally parachute in):
    • Mentor Capital Network disrupts the power dynamic between entrepreneurs and investors by providing a way for social entrepreneurs to get advice, coaching or mentoring from potential investors. On the flip side, the program provides a chance for investors to review potential investments, as well as to use the feedback of the other mentors to help qualify their pipelines.
    • The report, “What’s Working in Startup Acceleration: Insights from 15 Village Capital Programs” released last year provides insights on the difference between high-performing and low-performing accelerators (and consequently startups) and one of the main success factors identified is program design, including the quality of networking, financial and accounting training, and mentorship each program offers.
  3. Time to Understand Problems: We’ve seen too many startup solutions fail because the core problem addressed was not fully understoodcookstove startups that failed because their products weren’t designed from the user’s perspective, or the unintended consequences of Tom Shoes 1:1 donation model (and what it did to local cobblers), come to mind. We expect a growing trend in investing in the discovery process upfront and taking the time to fully understand the market, problem, and potential solutions.
    • Business school programs, such as those at Oxford MBA Saïd Business School and the University of Michigan Center for Social Impact, where students are given a year to dig deep into a problem, are teaching budding entrepreneurs how to think this way.
  4. Trend Toward Mental Health: Entrepreneur burnout is a pernicious problem, and it’s no secret that founding teams that cannot handle interpersonal dynamics are often doomed to fail. We predict a real cultural shift in this area, where therapy is no longer viewed as a sign of weakness, but as a sign of strengthand investing in mental wellness changes the narrative of the successful business founder who runs themselves into the ground.
  5. Nations as Accelerator Ecosystem Investors: Government entities are not traditionally seen as beacons of entrepreneurship; yet, some nations have begun to recognize accelerators as a way to build an entrepreneurial ethos within their countries and regions, and are investing in accelerators to develop their regions as entrepreneurial centers:
    • Last year Australian Prime Minister made headlines when he announced a $1.1 billion investment in the country’s National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA) as an important part of his plan to create jobs and drive growth for the country’s startup ecosystem.
    • The Norwegian government is another case in point. Its Innovation Norway program provides nordic entrepreneurs at home and abroad with startup resources; the program is represented in more than 30 countries worldwide, with accelerators set up across the globe to support nordic entrepreneurs’ business innovations; the Norwegian New York Accelerator is just one of those such accelerators.   

We hope these insights help shape your accelerator program in 2017. We invite you to share your thoughts on impact accelerators trends by joining our conversation on Twitter: tweet us @theconveners and use the hashtag #2017acceleratortrends.

Image Credit: Heisenberg Media via Flickr Creative Commons