New accelerator, new niche?

Impact Engine is a new Chicago accelerator with a well-stocked bar, excellent appetizers and monitors on every wall airing live sports on half a dozen channels—oh, wait, that’s just the bar where they held their Start Your Engines mixer last Tuesday night.

In fact, Impact Engine has no official location yet, but I get the feeling they’re successfully staking out a position in the minds of Chicago’s start-up community.  They claim to be the first Chicago accelerator focusing on “social impact ventures.”

There’s nothing new about a business model differentiating a product with a socially conscious angle.

I recall Warren Beatty’s character in 1978’s Heaven Can Wait promoting dolphin-safe tuna: “Wouldn’t you pay a dollar more to save a fish that thinks?”

If it works for salad dressing and cleaning products, there’s no reason it can’t work for a start-up accelerator program.

Impact Engine isn’t taking applications for its first cohort until June, but many of the entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs I spoke with Tuesday shared ideas that seem likely to fit the “social impact” description:

  • A manufacturer and marketer of apparel created from American-grown, environmentally friendly materials.
  • A designer of pearl jewelry touting pearls’ relatively benign origins—as opposed to the horrors that can accompany diamond mining.
  • A former trader with a radical new idea for financing college education.
  • A developer seeking to create a community for independent growers and the “locally grown” food movement.

And, unlike certain entrants I encountered at a recent competition in Kansas City, no one’s claim to social consciousness depended on a promise to donate a portion of revenues to a charity which had nothing whatsoever to do with their business.

But here’s why I love events like this.  One of the above entrepreneurs shared an idea with me that’s so out-of-the-box and so ridiculous I can’t imagine anyone backing it: underwear with English phrases and verb conjugations printed on the inside of the waistband, so immigrants can study while they sit on the toilet.

Bonkers, right?  And yet … what if you had a name that captured the logic and appeal of the idea?

What if you called them UnderStudies?

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6 thoughts on “New accelerator, new niche?

  1. Jeff, great summary of the event. Your point about the lameness of “giving a %
    of profits/revenue to save the endangered investment banker, or whatever” is well
    made. Whenever I see that approach, I simply wonder what if the company CEO
    decides to support something I think is awful, next week.

  2. UnderStudies is a marvelous name! And it might START with English lessons, but the possibilities are endless – could be the next big seller for “adult content.” Ooh, the pick-up line options for wearers …

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