Chicago’s Impact Engine Accelerator Is Looking For Environmentally & Socially Minded Startups

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Impact Engine is a newly launched venture accelerator in Chicago designed to attract both environmentally and socially-minded businesses that want to – well, you know — make an impact on today’s world. The belief is that you don’t have to be a non-profit business to make this happen, but that it’s possible to create self-sustaining businesses that are working to improve the human condition.

The program is being run by OpenTable founder Chuck Templeton, who will work with the participating startups out of Chicago’s 1871 entrepreneurial hub – that’s the same place where Chicago-based Excelerate Labs has its class of ’12 startups working, in fact.

Impact Engine’s founding was thanks to the efforts of professors Jamie Jones, assistant director of social enterprise at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, and Linda Darragh, director of entrepreneurship and clinical associate professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. Templeton, meanwhile, said his interest in the space stretches back seven years to when his first child was born. “I started to wonder what the world would look like when she grew up,” he says, “and I got concerned about the trajectory of the planet.” He feels that the massive challenges we’re facing won’t be able to be solved by government or NGO’s alone.

Startups accepted into Impact Engine will participate in a 12-week program, and receive $20,000 in seed funding, as well as mentorship, training, customer introductions, legal advice, tax consulting, feedback on pro-forma models, marketing, sales strategies, and, as noted above, workspace at 1871. Templeton, who’s also a mentor at Excelerate, says that working right next to the other, three year-old incubator offers the potential for knowledge-sharing as Impact Engine gets off the ground.

In addition to Templeton, Arun Sivashankaran, co-founder of OhSoWe, and co-founder and director of Technology and Solutions for Entessa Inc., will also work with companies on a day-to-day basis.

Impact Engine’s mentorship network currently includes:

  • Dennis Barsema (Instructor, Social Entrepreneurship and Microfinance at Northern Illinois University)
  • Linda Darragh (Executive Director of the Levy Institute for Entrepreneurial Practice and the Heizer Center for Private Equity and Venture Capital)
  • Jamie Jones (Assistant Director of the Social Enterprise at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management)
  • Tasha Seitz (Partner at JK&B Capital), Bruce Boyd (Principal and Managing Director at Arabella Advisors)
  • Patty Huber (Manager at Groupon Grassroots), Colleen Mitchell (President at VENTURE3PHILANTHROPY, Ltd.)
  • Thania Panopoulos (Principal of The Perissos Group)
  • Mark Roth (co-founder of Centerstage Media)
  • Sharon Schneider (CEO of Good Karma Clothing for Kids)

However, the program will also be bringing on what it’s calling “super mentors,” who will be with each company throughout the 12-week program. Details of who these will be are yet to be finalized because each company will have their own areas they’ll need to improve. This is a different philosophy from some accelerators, Templeton explains. Instead of having startups meet with dozens of potential advisors in their first month, the idea is to find two to three who will be willing to work with the founders throughout the program and beyond.

Impact Engine will conclude with a Demo Day on December 5th at Chase Auditorium in downtown Chicago where they’re promising an audience of roughly 200 investors.

Currently, Impact Engine has raised approximately $500,000 from investors Templeton, Cary Chessick (former CEO of Restaurant.com), Nick Rosa (co-founder/managing director of Sandbox Industries), J.B. Pritzker (co-founder and managing partner of The Pritzker Group), Matt McCall (partner at New World Ventures), Scott Kluth (founder of Coupon Cabin), among others.

In return for their investment in the new startups, the accelerator is taking a 7% stake in the companies they fund. As for the type of companies they’re interested in, Templeton says that the number one key component involved in whether or not a startup is selected is a belief that Impact Engine can help them. The second thing they’re looking for are companies where the societal or environmental benefit they’re addressing is intertwined with the business model. But as for the size and scope, that’s of less concern. Templeton says they’re reviewing apps from companies where it’s just one guy with an idea all the way up to a six-person team doing almost a million in revenue. Citing one example of the ideal type of business they would like to find, he mentions Sanergy, the makers of a new kind of sustainable sanitation system (yes, they reinvented the toilet). But the toilet not only allows people to produce energy, live healthier and grow food via the fertilizer it produces, it can also be sold through various business models, bringing the company to profitability.

Impact Engine is about to hit its application deadline, which closes on June 30th. Applications are here for those interested.