Accelerating Social Entrepreneurs in Austin, Texas

by tuftsigl
Aug 14
Tom Chalmers is in the class of 2015 and is a member of the combined degree program between Tufts and New England Conservatory. At Tufts he is an empower fellow and is pursuing a BA in economics and international relations. At NEC he is pursuing a BM in jazz performance.
It is a confusing time to be an entrepreneur in the United States. Alongside a purported decline in entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial activity across the country as a whole, there exists a well-publicized boom of entrepreneurial communities within specific urban centers. Throughout this summer, I have seen this localized growth firsthand while working with UnLtd USA, a new incubator and accelerator for social entrepreneurs in Austin, Texas. Doing so has given me a valuable perspective on how social entrepreneurs in the United States view themselves, their work, and the environment in which they operate. 
UnLtd USA is an organization that serves to fund and accelerate Austin-based entrepreneurs who are solving pressing social and environmental problems. Its model for support is based off that of UnLtd, an accelerator founded in the United Kingdom in 2000 that has supported over 20,000 entrepreneurs to date. As the first branch of the UnLtd network to open up in America, UnLtd USA has adapted the original model to create a year-long system of funding, mentorship, and guidance for entrepreneurs who fit into one of two categories: first, those who have developed an entrepreneurial idea and are now working to demonstrate tangible impact, and second, later stage organizations who have demonstrated a clear system of impact but who are now looking to improve their business models. Upon entering the program, entrepreneurs work with mentors to identify what goals they hope to accomplish within 12 months and  then develop plans by which they will use funding and other resources to accomplish them.
From June 4 to August 2, we managed an application process that included many written reports, lengthy interviews, and a final pitching and review session alongside some of Austin’s foremost impact investors. After receiving 80 applications and statements of interest, we have narrowed the selection down to six finalists, and will be reporting the final selection by the middle of August. On the broadest scale, we evaluated entrepreneurs and their ventures with the following questions in mind:
1) Entrepreneur: has this person proven themselves capable of building a business, interacting with their customer base, and identifying the impact they hope to generate?
2) Impact: does their solution fit the problem that they have identified? Is there a clear link between the activities they propose and the impact they hope to create?
3) Venture: Have they identified a legitimate market or customer base for the solution that they propose? Is the revenue stream of the venture aligned with its impact?
4) Traction: does the entrepreneur have a clear vision beyond their current operations? Are they at a stage where we can accelerate their progress?
As a search and selection intern with UnLtd USA, I designed the framework into which the organization would collect information on entrepreneurs, organized this information, and then analyzed it to determine what kinds of entrepreneurs applied to the program, what kinds of support they were looking for, and what attitudes they held towards social entrepreneurship. This process was both challenging and rewarding, and it resulted in one of the first comprehensive surveys of social entrepreneurs to have ever been conducted in Austin. Currently I am preparing to share our conclusions and findings from this survey outside UnLtd USA itself, and I am very grateful to be able to provide one small window into Austin’s rapidly changing community of social entrepreneurs. 

Add new comment