If you have a good idea but aren’t sure how to put it in practice, join incubators, labs, launchpads & accelerators for social and environmental innovations!
Some of the features of the innovation process make entrepreneurs get lost on the way and lose momentum for bringing their ideas to life. Common challenges that innovators face are:
- lack of resources (infrastructure or financial assets) to invest in developing their ideas
- high risk of failure
- need for tools to refine their ideas and manage their business
- need for guidance and mentors to feel inspired by and pat them on the back
- access to knowledge networks
- contact with potential markets & customers, etc.
Labs, incubators, and accelerators are some of the tools that could tackle challenges that start-ups face. Incubators are especially useful in the first phases of the innovation process, when ideas need to be filtered and the business model refined. Especially in the development of technology-intense products, this is the phase called “valley of death”, where the risk of failure is quite high, making it hard for start-ups to raise funding and continue to improve their ideas.
There has been an increase in the numbers of such spaces around the world. Some programmes are running globally, also focused on technology innovations, environmental or social innovations and accept applications from enthusiastic entrepreneurs with a vision for social & environmental impact.
A selection of incubators and launchpads for social & environmental impact that accept applications from global entrepreneurs include:
- The Unreasonable Institute – Here’s their selection of fellows for 2014, watch out for the 2015 round! http://unreasonableinstitute.org/2014-unreasonables/
- MakeSene virtual idea incubator and peer-to-peer social business development website https://beta.makesense.org/
- EchoingGreen Climate & Global fellowships: http://www.echoinggreen.org/fellowship/climate-fellowship
Of course, organizations such as Ashoka and Acumen Fund are further sources of ideas for social enterprises and important lessons on how to get going and achieve impact. And the list is open.
We can also take action and create the friendly environment for social and environmental enterprises at home, through supporting incubators and such launch platforms ourselves. Here are some models that would be interesting to replicate / study:
- Solve – a UK based “foundry” development site for social & civic engagement http://solvetogether.org/2014/05/why-should-i-join-the-civic-foundry/ and for public sector innovators: http://solvetogether.org/programme/public-service-launchpad/. Solve works with impact investment funds and local community leaders to incubate and launch socially innovative ideas.
- Delft University of Technology’s Yes Delft! incubator and their pre-incubation lab LaunchLab. The incubator helps technology start-ups grow and commercialise their products. It will soon open a specialised track for clean technology incubation also. LaunchLab is preparing scientists and young professional test their ideas in the market based on the Lean Start-up methodology
TU Delft together with a consortium of partners recently published a handbook on how to set up clean technology incubators and what’s important to know when getting this off the ground. The handbook offers quite a reader friendly way to understand the technology innovation process and what tools we could use to accelerate it, highly recommended!
Clearly, these incubators and launch platforms cannot operate as islands. They need to be part of a wider ecosystem of investors, established businesses and universities (not to mention wider framework conditions of the regulatory and institutional environment), which encourage the creation of new initiatives. These are all aspects we can all work towards improving bit by bit.