Practicing entrepreneurs must develop knowledge and skills to grow their businesses, but seldom participate in formal academic education. Social entrepreneurs face the added challenge of creating not only economic, but also social or environmental value. Seed accelerators are a recent innovation in start-up support: intensive, non-formal education that provides cohorts of entrepreneurs with advice and networks. The goal of this study is to explore the experiences of social entrepreneurs who participate in accelerators.
Comparatively few scholars have studied accelerators and most describe programme characteristics and assess performance. Cohen (2013) notes that in contrast to incubators, accelerators expose entrepreneurs to market forces. She emphasises accelerators’ intense process of mentoring and education, and their role in expanding entrepreneurs’ networks. Hoffman and Radojevich (2012) suggest that these networks have a lasting impact on participants. Miller and Bound (2011) suggest that accelerators help VCs become familiar with firms considered for investment. Scholars agree that little is known about the micro processes by which accelerators create value for entrepreneurs. Lall, Bowles and Ross (2013) suggest that this is particularly true of accelerators for social entrepreneurs.
Using a phenomenological approach and case-studies, two accelerators run by a third sector organisation are studied. Participants and managers were interviewed during the accelerator, immediately afterwards and six months later. A questionnaire was also sent to entrepreneurs one year after graduation. During the accelerators several days were devoted to direct observation.
The accelerators studied differed greatly from one another in terms of process and results. Several ventures in accelerator 1 were at the idea stage and were later discontinued. All of the ventures, including those with highly competent founders, had difficulty in attracting investment. In contrast, most of the ventures in accelerator 2 survived, despite the programme being fraught with conflict. Participants noted that a key contribution of the accelerator was the strengthening of the ‘business case’ for their social ventures.
The study suggests that accelerators for social enterprises play an important role in developing ventures’ hybrid identity. Accelerators can contribute to the development of new ventures at several different stages and accelerate the abandonment by entrepreneurs of weak start-ups. Importantly, each process of acceleration is unique, as the accelerator is co-created by managers and entrepreneurs.
The study describes how accelerators create value for practicing social entrepreneurs and identifies key design parameters. The contributions of accelerators to social ventures is also clarified.
accelerators, seed accelerators, entrepreneurship training, entrepreneurship education, social entrepreneurship, incubators, business incubation, entrepreneurial learning
Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship: The Future of Enterprise: The Innovation Revolution; Manchester, U.K. November 5-6, 2014