Twice a year at the Civic Accelerator, we get to see the future. Our crystal ball appears each Spring and Fall during the recruitment and selection process for our signature venture accelerator program. During this time, our team has the opportunity to screen and review hundreds of business plans from the most innovative and impactful early stage social ventures across the country. Through this process, we get a glimpse into the new and disruptive solutions that are poised to move the needle on critical social issues.
We want to share this unique vantage point and the trends we observed from our latest application cycle. In July, we put out a call for solutions to increase financial resilience and economic mobility for individuals and families. Our team received over 100 applications with highlights below of data that points to some long-standing and emerging trends and innovations.
The Fall 2018 Civic Accelerator applicants and our own history prove that the spark of social innovation is not restricted to any one ethnicity, gender, or geography. With 31 states represented and a minority-led applicant pool, there is little doubt that social innovation is coming from everyone and everywhere. Furthermore, scalable innovative models are not limited to for-profit ventures. We saw a 60/40 split between for-profits and nonprofits in our applicant pool.
While our applicant pool is demographically diverse, we know that funding and entrepreneur support are not equally distributed across lines of race and gender. We often receive questions regarding our ability to attract such a diverse applicant pool, and thought it might be helpful to briefly outline our recruitment and selection tactics.
First, we have intentionally built a vast network of local partners (300+) across the country with universities, incubators and community-based co-working spaces, foundations and angel investor networks, peer accelerator programs, and community influencers. We rely on these partnerships to help us connect with the entrepreneurial talent in their local community. Our network of 135+ venture alumni also serve as a strong referral source among their peers.
Second, our Program Design removes roadblocks to diversity. We are a non-residential program, which means our ventures do not need to leave their homes for 3 months to participate. This particularly affects founders who are also parents or caregivers and cannot sacrifice 3 months away from their family. Additionally, we provide a stipend to cover travel costs for our ventures. This makes it possible for founders with lower incomes or personal savings to receive a high-quality accelerator experience. We also work diligently to create an inclusive culture within our programs. We provide a facilitated , open environment, coach our ventures to give and receive useful and transparent feedback, do not idolize burnout-inducing behaviors, and reap the overall benefits of having a representative cohort.
Finally, we train our pipeline development team to focus on clearly defined, objective criteria to determine fit for our program. This focus is maintained throughout our selection process, in which founder race and gender are hidden from reviewers up until the final interview round. To that end, we also recruit a diverse set of individuals and business leaders across sectors and industries, including civic accelerator alumni, to participate in our selection process. Diversity among decision-makers is a leading indicator of diversity among ventures selected.
Solutions in Financial Resilience and Economic Mobility
An interesting trend in the solutions of our applicants is the prevalence of wealth-building and economic mobility solutions compared to financial education interventions. Put another way, new innovations are focused more around increasing wealth versus helping people learn how to manage what they already have. A potential gap in the social impact market exists around accessibility to financial products and different kinds of wealth acquisition. Lastly, a trend we expected to see, but did not, was solutions around support, access, and infrastructure for gig economy workers. Given that gig economy workers make up 3.8% of the United States workforce (5.9 million people) and that they lack access to a variety of resources available to traditional employees, we expected social ventures to be attracted to this market at a larger scale.
In reflection, our team is excited by several themes within the latest applicant pool:
- Diversity: Not just in terms of people but also in terms of solutions. There is no shortage of entrepreneurial creativity to ensure the innovation economy is working for all.
- The next wave of financial literacy: Ventures are exploring how to move beyond the traditional financial literacy class. They are leveling-up their solutions with behavioral economics, art, culture and more. In some cases ventures are simply ignoring “education” altogether and are working towards increasing financially sound behavior by other means.
- Leveraging Technology: One thing that nearly all of our ventures had in common was an emphasis on a digital strategy. Whether they were using tech to speed up and reduce the expense of key activities (for them and their beneficiaries), or increasing the number of people they could serve at a time by digitizing curriculum, or facilitating previously impossible relationships through text and video, this generation of ventures is moving at digital speed.
- B2B and Social Impact: Many of our applicants are translating services traditionally offered to individuals and marketing them to businesses. This greatly increases their capacity for sustainability (businesses as customers) and scale (sale to one customer equals exponential beneficiary impact).
In sum, this group of applicants truly inspired us. Their creativity and grit were on full display for our recruitment and selection committees. We look forward to announcing the ventures selected into our Fall accelerator program next week. Subscribe to our newsletter to be the first know! If you are in Atlanta, Chicago, or Philadelphia, we hope to connect while the Civic Accelerator is in your city.
 http://fortune.com/2018/01/31/female-founders-venture-capital-2017/ & https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesnonprofitcouncil/2018/02/15/founders-and-venture-capital-racism-is-costing-us-billions/#69dd365d2e4a
 For more on building an inclusive accelerator see: https://www.inc.com/kimberly-weisul/how-to-get-more-women-people-of-color-incubators-accelerators.html