Impact Engine – A New Chicago Accelerator for Social Startups


Last week I found out about a really cool program that excited me, as someone interested in social entrepreneurship and social enterprise in general, Impact Engine. Impact Engine is a new Chicago-based accelerator program for “social” for-profit enterprises.

On Wednesday, I spoke with one of Impact Engine’s creators, Linda Darragh, Director of Entrepreneurship Programs and clinical associate professor of entrepreneurship at Chicago Booth. The project was conceived by Darragh and Jamie Jones, Assistant Director of Social Enterprise Program at Kellogg. They further developed the idea over the last year after proving out the concept during three social venture forums. Per Darragh, “Impact engine will be like TechStars for social for profit ventures”.

Impact Engine will be helping new ventures that want to be socially impactful get off the ground, refine their business model and prepare to pitch investors. The idea is to provide social entrepreneurs with a 12 week accelerator program that provides:

  • Seed capital
  • An expert network
  • Master classes including business strategy and development workshops
  • Collaborative workspace
  • A launch day to pitch to a large group of angel and venture investors

Impact Engine is filling a hole in the Chicago start-up scene when it comes to social entrepreneurship. While there is increased interest by both entrepreneurs and investors in creating and investing in businesses that will make a social impact, matching those two groups is difficult. Darragh pointed out that while it is possible that a for-profit social venture provides a 10x return in a couple of years, more likely the payback period will be longer because of the nature of these types of enterprises. She pointed out that given this reality, “more patient capital” is needed to fund these types of start-ups.

Impact Engine’s founding investment team includes a who’s who of Chicago entrepreneurs and community leaders including: Leslie Bluhm and David Helfand, Dennis Barsema, Nick Rosa, Cary Chessick, Carol and Larry Levy and Wendy Abrams.

Impact Engine is also partnering with Bay Area Hub Ventures to connect with west coast social investors. They continue to identify Chicago area social investors, program participants, mentors and their inaugural cohort of companies for Fall 2012.

Impact Engine will be holding monthly events called “Start Your Engines”. These will be meet-ups and workshops are open to the community and the first event is on December 6 at 6:00 PM. You can register here and there are a few spaces still open. Applications for the first cohort will be due in June 2012 so if you are a social entrepreneur this is a great opportunity to take your ideas to the next level and really make an impact! Check back in December when I provide an update on the first Start Your Engines event.

Randy Anderson

Randy is a (mid life) MBA student at Chicago Booth in the process of changing careers. Randy grew up a Cubs fan in the heart of Cardinal country – Springfield, IL. After four awesome years in the US Navy, Randy got his undergrad in Accounting from Northern Illinois. He is leveraging his MBA to move into a Marketing and Business development role at a smaller company (can you say start-up) after spending the last several years auditing (yuck!). Randy is interning at 5Degrees helping them launch their new mobile contact management system. Randy also wants to give back to his community – most recently he was co-president of the Associates Board at a Chicago not-for profit. When he isn’t interning, volunteering or going to class, Randy likes to hang out with his wife and three kids (and 4 dogs and 3 cats!) and cook the edible stuff he grows in his Hyde Park back yard. He really wants to get rid of his cable but Bears, Cubs, Blackhawks and to a lesser degree Bulls games have made that nearly impossible!

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