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?