Changing the world, one startup business at a time: Spring Activator’s mission expands globally

Attendees of IMPACT conference by Spring Activator
Attendees receiving valuable mentorship and advice from guest speakers such as Crystal Henrickson at Spring's IMPACT conference.

In the last 20 years, technology startups have become ubiquitous in major cities around the world. Now, even remote towns from Canada to Uganda are embracing startup culture and the power of technology-based businesses. This trend, identified in Startup Compass’ 2015 startup ecosystem report and others, is growing and the resulting ecosystems are becoming a driving economic force in communities worldwide.

Vancouver’s Spring Activator recognized this trend as an opportunity to extend its reach beyond Vancouver and help purpose-driven, for-profit startups grow around the world. Unlike other accelerators, Spring champions the notion of “good growth,” which examines how the combined force of purpose, profit and technology can trigger rapid business growth and create a positive social impact.

“Having a successful, profitable business and doing good can and should go hand in hand,” says CEO Keith Ippel. “Here at Spring, we’re lucky to have Vancouver’s vibrant startup community to lean on and we hope to spark other communities with the same spirit that has allowed us to grow so quickly.”

Knowledge sharing

"What really makes us excited is creating the space for entrepreneurs to have an ‘aha’ moment,” says program director Nikki Wong. “If we can get someone to consider their business impact when they normally wouldn't have thought twice about it, then we’ve done our job."

As part of their commitment to “good growth,” Spring hosted a conference called IMPACT at the Vancouver Economic Commission’s Startup City in September. The conference hosted international keynote speakers and aimed at broadening the dialogue about what it means to create positive social change through business. 

Seth Maxwell, founder of Thirst Project, shared insights on how to work with brand partners and apply business strategies. Maxwell, who was on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list for his work in helping over 280,000 people gain access to clean drinking water, also emphasized the importance of measuring the impact of various activities.

“In improv theatre, there’s a term called Enter the Danger and this is applicable to any venture. You have to be willing to ‘enter the danger’ and look at the reality of what you’re doing. Sometimes you’ll find that, in fact, there’s a ton of positive impact; and other times, you’ll realize that it’s not serving the larger purpose,” says Maxwell.

“Taking a look at the hard numbers and being transparent with your failures and successes can help motivate your team and supporters to move your venture into where you need to go.”

Blair Palmer, lab lead at UNICEF Innovation, echoed some of Maxwell’s points and advised attendees to embrace risk and to correctly define challenges they hoping to solve. Palmer sources new projects and ideas to connect Silicon Valley with the work of UNICEF's innovation unit, including the stewardship of strategic partnerships across the globe to maximize social impact and health outcomes.

“If you don’t try things then you’re never going to know if it works. It’s also important to be okay with knowing what you don’t know,” says Palmer. “You should fail fast, fail often and start again; just make sure you have an exit strategy if something isn’t working. Whatever you do must have an essential need and the necessary support behind it or it won’t work.”

Maxwell and Palmer were among several notable business leaders and mentors who shared big ideas and valuable advice to IMPACT attendees.

From local to global

With a growing number of remote towns and villages launching entrepreneurial social ventures, Spring launched a global pre-accelerator program called Kick in partnership with Seattle-based accelerator Fledge. Spring graduated 65 entrepreneurs, launched 43 companies, and created 55 new jobs from the Yukon to Venezuela through Kick.

“From our experience running Kick, we’ve seen that entrepreneurs in smaller communities value access to an accelerator to grow and connect on a global scale and maximize their positive impact,” says Ippel.

The success of Kick has driven Spring and Fledge to continue their partnership through FledgeX, the world’s first virtual accelerator targeted solely at impactful and mission-driven startups. Through FledgeX, participating entrepreneurs in remote communities who need quality mentorship and resources can access Vancouver and Seattle’s booming tech communities.

Of the 120 applications, 15 companies from nine different countries were accepted into the inaugural cohort. While several North American companies made the cut, many African startups also secured spots in the program, such as Geoverde, a company that drills for irrigation and water in Ghana; GoSolar Africa, a pay-as-you-go solar power company for small businesses in Nigeria; ecash express, an online, mobile logistics for small and medium retailers in Ivory Coast; and Africa Chicken, a free range organic chicken farm in Tanzania.

With the rise in remote delivery, online programming, and opportunities for virtual events and networking, Spring believes the future of entrepreneurial learning is in a global classroom. Earlier this month, Spring won a Startup Canada Award for Entrepreneur Support in B.C. and The North in recognition for their contributions to the technology sector. 

"To give Canadian entrepreneurs the best opportunity for success, we collectively need to bring the best of Canada to the world, and the best of the world to Canada,” says Wong.

“Being recognized for the Entrepreneur Support award is truly a testament to our work doing exactly that. While we're located in Vancouver, our programs have nurtured entrepreneurship as far away as Kenya, and that global perspective, in turn, helps us better support our local entrepreneurs."

 

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