For InterSector’s companies, with innovative solutions to social and environmental problems across the globe, social impact is just as important as profit.
Name of Accelerator: InterSector
Location: Pittsburgh, PA
Director of Social Enterprise Initiatives: Nicole Muise-Kielkucki
This article is part of our Startup Accelerator Spotlight featuring accelerators from around the world. We hope these spotlights will assist the entrepreneur should they consider attending an accelerator program.
In two sentences or less, tell us about your accelerator and its objectives.
InterSector, a program of Idea Foundry, funds and guides the creation of early stage social enterprise companies with the focus on helping them achieve a scalable business model that emphasizes a Triple Bottom Line. For InterSector’s companies, with innovative solutions to social and environmental problems across the globe, social impact is just as important as profit.
Why is your accelerator program unique? Please describe the benefits of participation in your program.
InterSector is the first and only social enterprise accelerator in the Pittsburg region. Participating in our 12-week accelerator means hands-on, 1-on-1 attention to each company and investment to build a business model from the ground up. InterSector doesn’t just offer funding, it offers advice from Idea Foundry’s 15 years of experience in the field. Our Proof of Concept lab is designed to test the strength and viability of an idea. We catch potential setbacks before they become a problem for the company. InterSector is partially funded by the return of our initial investments, so we stand confidently behind the companies we assist. InterSector and Idea Foundry are currently expanding globally through projects in China and Mexico.
What is the most difficult thing about working with startups?
The most difficult thing about working with startups is keeping teams on track! As a young company, there are a million possibilities and opportunities before you. Part of our job at Idea Foundry is helping the entrepreneur assess those opportunities and determine which ones are the best for achieving long term success. Keeping companies on track is difficult when there’s a short term payout available. You’re telling them to forgo that because ultimately, it’s a distraction that will drift the company further and further from their goals.
What do you enjoy the most; what do you find most appealing about working with entrepreneurial startups?
Because we are working with social enterprise companies, the passion that the entrepreneurs have is not just about their idea but also about providing solutions with social or environmental benefit. Seeing companies become financially successful and sustainable while making an impact in the local or global community is what makes this work worthwhile.
Tell us about your success stories; which are the most interesting companies to have participated in your program?
One of InterSector’s greatest success stories is Thread. Thread’s concept was to use recycled plastic from discarded water bottles from aid packages in Haiti to create usable thread for clothing and accessories. Though their efforts, Thread has supported over 3,800 employment opportunities in Haiti and Honduras. They have helped these nations to bolster their economies and become more self-sufficient. They have also removed 1.8 million pounds of waste from these countries since 2012. This year, Timberland also partnered with Thread to create a line of products using Thread’s fabric, which sold out shortly after release.
Another success story is Marinus Analytics, a spinout from the Auton Lab inside Carnegie Mellon University’s computer science department. Marinus is a data analytics company that uses machine learning to fight injustices and deliver positive social benefits to the world around us. Their first application, Traffic Jam, mines publicly available data to help law enforcement fight human trafficking. The tool’s algorithms allow agents to search millions of dark web records in seconds, detecting patterns in order to apprehend traffickers as they move to evade capture. Their technology is used by agencies all across the U.S. and has been instrumental in rescuing hundreds of victims.
What are the three most important factors startup entrepreneurs should consider when contemplating an accelerator?
- Being passionate about your idea. InterSector can offer advice, strategy, and funding, but the grit has to come from you. Start-ups often have initial setbacks and obstacles. Without drive and passion behind the idea, it won’t make it off the ground. It’s certainly easier to pursue a “day job”, so you need that internal motivation and belief in yourself and your idea to persevere.
Are you prepared for the Entrepreneurial Journey?
- Assessing your impact. Because InterSector focuses on social enterprise companies, knowing how your idea will benefit the community is paramount. At the same time, financial sustainability is also essential. Social enterprises must be profitable, because you cannot sustain your mission without the resources to push forward.
- Your market. With the goal of solving problems across the globe, many start-ups want to tackle a lot of things at once. Knowing when to start small and develop a track record and when to build on that success and expand your market is something InterSector can help you with.
What else would you like to share?
A lot of start-up success is not just in addressing the initial need you thought your idea would address, but being open to new avenues that could give your idea even more impact. One of the most rewarding parts of InterSector’s job is helping to make connections that bring the positive impact of ideas to new and often unimagined or unpredictable spaces.
Are you familiar with accelerators you believe should be spotlighted? If so, we would like to hear from you. Tell us about them in the comments below!