New 100x Accelerator aims to nurture ‘social unicorns’

by Ana Lopez

For social enterprises that want to make a significant impact, the goal is to reach a large critical mass of customers. With that in mind, 100x impact acceleratora newly announced program based on the London School of Economicsaims to help cultivate what Leslie Labruto, founder and CEO, calls “social unicorns”: companies capable of impact on the scale of millions while staying true to their values.

“This won’t be your traditional business accelerator,” she says. “This will be a tailor-made program that can help social enterprises and charities achieve their goals, but not by growing at all costs.”

Social unicorn is, of course, a game with the “tech unicorn”, or private companies with a valuation of $1 billion or more.

Mentors and grants

The 12-week accelerator, which is for both profit and non-profit organizations, will accept 10 social enterprises from around the world, approximately 70% of which are from emerging markets. Founders receive a grant of £150,000, plus access to LSE experts and support from other mentors, tailored to each participant’s needs and conversations with social unicorn founders. Mentors are assigned to each startup based on the needs of the business.

In addition to that initial grant, founders who reach certain milestones in the next two years can receive follow-up funding through a partnership with UBS. It includes what Labruto describes as “creative forms of investment capital,” which could mean options such as revenue-sharing models.

Startups fall into one of eight impact categories that reflect LSE’s research priorities, such as climate and environment, health and social care, and democracy. They must also have a number of customers and be past the minimum viable product stage.

The first and last week will happen in person at the LSE. The rest will be virtual, with frequent check-ins with mentors.

A different kind of accelerator

The accelerator will differ from more traditional enterprise programs in several ways. For example, each founder not only works with a business mentor, but also with a policy officer from the participant’s country. “Entrepreneurs can begin to understand the challenges of that policy maker,” says Labruto.

Another noteworthy feature: helping founders understand their endgame. That’s not a complex task for more traditional companies; they often choose to be acquired or go public. But, “Social enterprises and charities require people to broaden their horizons,” says Labruto. “Their mission could even be accomplished by making the problem they’re trying to solve disappear.”

One issue specific to social enterprises is the issue of compromise: the considerations that founders face that their counterparts elsewhere don’t. (Think about finding a satisfactory low-coast supplier, but also one that meets certain labor or environmental requirements). “Not only are you trying to run a viable organization, but you’re also trying to tackle a meaty social problem,” says Labruto. “That makes the work so much harder.” Addressing such matters will be one of the issues founders are likely to discuss, she says.

There’s also the issue of profit versus non-profit: Lagroto expects some founders may decide to switch structures over the course of the 12 weeks, depending on what they learn about the best form to achieve their mission.

The first cohort will start on June 1 and you can register until March 10. A second cohort will be added later in the year.

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