Sustainability leaders from the world’s largest companies gather each year at the GreenBiz forum to explore pressing challenges and emerging opportunities in sustainable business. The event offers a rich blend of presentations, workshops and networking opportunities framed by the State of Green Business report, GreenBiz Group’s award-winning annual research and analysis of key sustainability metrics and trends. Attendees return from GreenBiz both inspired by what’s possible and ready to tackle their organization’s greatest sustainability challenges. GreenBiz is produced in collaboration with the Global Institute of Sustainability at Arizona State University.

Impact Accelerator Trends for 2017

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

Impact Convening Trends for 2017

As an organization that facilitates connection, learning, and collaboration among impact-driven conveners from around the world, recognizes the transformative power that convening, when done right, has to positively change the world. Through our engagement with our powerful conveners community and our own advisory service work designing and facilitating all types of impact-focused convenings, we are in a unique position to see what works (and what has not) in the art of bringing people together.  

Based on our broad exposure and knowledge of the impact convening space, here are seven trends we foresee for 2017:  

  1. Paradigm Shift Towards Experiential Models of Convening: Over the past few years, we’ve been hearing from conference participants that their limited budgets, combined with the increasing pool of impact conferences to choose from, has forced them to reconsider where to invest their conference dollars. As a result, conference goers are choosing convenings that focus on the experience and aid them in building relationships that advance their work and lead to partnershipsand this trend will continue into 2017. Those conferences where the caliber of the people in the room create such a valuable experience are the ones that have seen a growth in attendance. Here are a few examples of what some of these conferences are doing differently:
    • This year Skoll World Forum is inviting other organizations to host experiential content during their conference, creating an opportunity for more connection
    • Opportunity Collaboration offers “office hours” for entrepreneurs to connect with investors during their the week-long gathering and has fully embraced the unconference format
    • Catering to its Millennial crowd, Thought for Food Global Summit opens its second conference day with a morning Rave to energize the crowd and show that it’s ok to let loose and have fun while tackling critical issues
  2. Non-traditional Venues: The tradition of hosting conferences at a hotel (with corresponding hotel room blocks) has shiftedsoulless hotel conference rooms no longer entice participants to want to come back. Hotel conference rooms do little more than make people fall asleep. Participants are looking for venues that are engaging and memorable with plenty of space to connect with others. We have been seeing very different environments in which conferences are being hosted:
    • Legoland theme parks are no longer just for kids; they host conveners looking for a place to spark creative and innovative thinking
    • With its minimalist and modern architecture, the House of Sweden, home to the Embassy of Sweden in Washington, D.C., provides a unique event setting integrating water and lots of natural light
    • Locales surrounded by nature, such as Play Big at Cavallo Point and Opportunity Collaboration at Club Med in Mexico, are also increasing in popularity 
  3. Fight for Relevance: Longevity is no longer enough to guarantee you a seat at the table. There’s an increasing number of impact-focused conferences, making the competition to be heard more challenging than ever. Participants are looking for something new—beyond the innovations brought about a few years ago, such as TED’s specific presentation format, the World Economic Forum’s ability to attract a certain caliber of leaders, and the Clinton Global Initiative’s advancement of commitments. More and more, Conveners are staying relevant by focusing on who they bring to the table:
  4. Shift in Sponsor Engagement: As many conference organizers can share, you can no longer take for granted that sponsors will pay again simply because they’ve sponsored your convening in the past; just like participants, sponsors are looking for a deeper level of engagement. We at are exploring and speaking with sponsors to see what they’re looking for, and we look forward to exploring this topic at greater depth in another post. For now, we see these trends on the horizon:
    • Sponsors are looking for increased brand value and awareness. They are concerned that sponsorship packages don’t always address how their sponsorship will achieve these two things for their organization. Conferences that can figure this out will reap the rewards.
    • There will be an inevitable shift from “pay to play,” where it’s assumed that you pay for stage presence time, to more effective ways to provide value to sponsors
  5. Growing Interest in Engaging in Impact: Another mega-trend we’re seeing is the rising interest in impact-focused convenings. SOCAP, for example, has witnessed a 50 percent growth in new participants year over year, and the Global Philanthropy Forum received enough interest and support about a specific region to spur the creation of the African Philanthropy Forum. This type of expansion indicates a new stream of investment, policy, and corporate professionals who are getting on the impact bandwagon. With this growth, the impact convening ecosystem has an important increasingly important role to play in helping new members of our community understand the historical narrative of impact convenings, as well as help shape the efficacy of their convenings.
  6. Desire (and Need) for Increased Diversity: During our Convening the Conveners co-hosted session at SOCAP16, we heard from a number of convening organizations about their desire to attract more diverse voices to their conference. This remains an issue that all conveners are trying to solve, and will certainly be evermore important this year.
  7. Localization: Another trend we’re tracking is the shift to super local events. SOCAP now offers SOCAP365 to engage its community 365 days a year, and now the Neighborhood Economics Conference, in partnership with SOCAP and BALLE, and SVN are organizing local gatherings to create more personal ways for their communities to stay connected throughout the year.

We hope these ideas and trends shape your convenings in 2017. We invite you to share your thoughts on convening trends by joining our conversation on Twitter: tweet us @theconveners and use the hashtag #2017conveningtrends.

Image Credit: Benjamin Horn via Flickr Creative Commons