There are a ton of accelerators out there – there are 232 in Seed-db alone. Most, if not all, subscribe to a similar model: invest x amount of money and resources for x amount of equity. Ultimately, 99% of these accelerators are wholly economically driven. There is not a single thing wrong with this model. That said, when you get into that 1% that fall outside of the standard model, things get really interesting. Take the case of the new SPRING Accelerator for example.
SPRING departs from the normal accelerator model in a number of ways. First, it is wholly focused on products for one segment. This alone is nothing extraordinary, there are many different niche-based accelerators. SPRING, “supports ventures whose products and services improve the lives of adolescent girls.”1 The focus on adolescent girls is driven by what they dub the ‘Girl Effect’:
When you empower an adolescent girl’s life with economic assets, it has a positive ripple effect for everyone. Families get stronger, more children go to school, and agricultural productivity goes up while rates of child marriage, teen pregnancy, and HIV/AIDS go down. This is what’s known as the “Girl Effect”.2
SPRING is also unique in that it has given itself a finite lifespan. From the outset, the accelerator will last 5 years. Though there seems to be a bit of flexibility concerning the last two cohorts, but there are strict guidelines as far as the location of the company. Cohort one companies must “demonstrate current operations or plans to secure representation in Kenya, Uganda and/or Rwanda.”3 Cohort 2 companies must be located in Tanzania and/or Ethiopia; cohort 3 companies must be located in Pakistan and/or Nepal.
The structure of the accelerator is also a but different. The process begins with a selection camp, in which 50 finalists pitch a selection committee. This group of 50 is then whittled down to 18. This final 18 then heads to Nairobi, Kenya for an intensive two week boot camp. This boot camp is where all of the traditional aspects of an accelerator take place: business model tweaks, design tweaks, mentor sessions, investor meeting among other things. After boot camp, the teams are then sent home for 8 weeks to prototype and build out their products.
During the prototyping phase, all of the companies will have access to the world renowned fuseproject design team, headed by Yves Béhar. fuseproject is the team behind the design of a wide variety of products, brands, as well as digital assets. fuseproject has designed nearly every Jawbone product, nearly every SodaStream product, the OLPC XO laptop -One Laptop Per Child; they are also behind the latest PayPal re-branding, NIVEA’s branding, and the OUYA console.4 In a nutshell, fuseproject is one of the best industrial design firms in the world.
After the prototyping phase, the companies converge on the capital city of their country for an investor pitch session, as well as a general check-in with the SPRING advisory board. The teams then head back home for 8 months to implement and refine their products. The program culminates in Nairobi, with the SPRING Forum.
SPRING also departs from the norm with its funding and investment structure. Rather than making traditional investments, SPRING provides the companies with grants. Though they point out that not all teams will receive a grant, SPRING has the ” capacity to provide each entrepreneur in our accelerator up to $80,000.”5 In what is really the one characteristic that sets SPRING drastically apart from other accelerators, they take “no direct equity stake,” in exchange for grants. Yes, you read that right, SPRING takes NO equity stake in accelerator companies.
SPRING was formed out of a joint partnership between the Nike Foundation, The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the UK’s equivalent Department for International Development (DFID). SPRING will be accepting applications for the program until March 16, 2015. To apply, head over to their application page to begin the process.
Perhaps owing to the philanthropic nature of the main sponsors, SPRING is one of the most unique approaches to an accelerator. The characteristics of the sponsors are reflected in the structure and make up of the accelerator. For more information, head to SPRINGAccelerator.org.