14 Funders Praise, and Critique, Newest Innovation Accelerator Graduates

We talk to thousands of nonprofits every year and very, very few are able innovate the way you have over the past six months.
— Graduation judge

Last week 14 executives from foundations, granting organizations, angel investor groups, venture funds, and loan funds judged the final presentations of Innovation Accelerator’s third cohort. They were joined by dozens of local business people who came to cheer on the graduates. The event was the capstone to a six-month intensive training for five teams of innovators from local nonprofits. Their objective: devise, assess, and pitch new programs that leverage their organizations’ assets to create substantial new sources of mission-aligned (and unrestricted!) revenue.

The results:

  • Every team had credible evidence supporting their ideas, each one capable of generating from $1 million to $10 million a year in unrestricted revenue.

  • Students’ confidence in their ability to come up with new ideas and assess them nearly doubled.

  • Students’ ability to identify all of the stakeholders for a project, their incentives, how they can help (or hurt) a project, distinguish between symptoms and root causes, etc… nearly tripled.

What you have described has the potential to be an exciting business. But getting it funded from foundations will be tricky. If, however, you continue to gather evidence as you have, several of my fellow angel investor friends and I would be very interested in funding it. We could earn a return and feel good doing it. Win win!
— Judge
When we started this class, one of our teammates was so shy she turned red in the face if you so much as called on her to answer a question during class. At the end she was rocking the room with her presentations.
— A graduates' manager
The pace of improvement you have shown in this class is like nothing I see in the nonprofit world. Incredible!
— Judge
This class has already impacted our culture for the better. Now when someone proposes an idea, instead of arguing, the team lays out how to test the idea by talking to potential customers / stakeholders. And then they go make the calls! I’ve wanted this for years, and now it is happening.
— A graduate's manager

Our Judges came from a wide range of experiences:

From foundations:

From for-profit investment funds, groups:

Individual investors & domain experts:

I wasn’t even a presenter and I took six pages of notes based on what I learned from the judges!
— Attendee

The five graduating teams:

  1. Connector (from Human Services Forum) - connecting the best local training providers to the region’s human service organizations.

  2. YesAbility (from Riverside Industries) - importing cutting edge pedagogy from mainstream education to help the intellectually disabled prepare for & stay in the workforce.

  3. Digital Skills Workforce Solutions (from TechFoundry) - helping medium-sized employers upskill their workforce’s digital skills.

  4. Corporate Inclusion Solutions (from Viability) - training disabled men and women to become superior team members for national employers.

  5. Move to Work (from Viability) - helping nonprofits that serve the developmentally disabled to place more of their disabled clients into meaningful careers.

Our team cannot fully express our appreciation for the feedback and support from the mentors. Each mentor I’ve met has his or her own unique approach to business and has given us so much to consider as we learn and grow.
— Graduate