Impact Academy

My first field visit in Brisbane led me to Impact Academy which had only just moved into a new space on top of Roma Street Parklands – a little oasis that gives you a tiny hint of skyscrapers while you walk under palm trees.

Peter Ball, founder of Impact Academy, rushed in from closing an investment deal for one of Impact Academy’s Alumni. The sparsely decorated board room we sat in gave away little of the hour that followed, packed with discussions about impact metrics and business feasibility of acceleration programs.

Impact Academy is a 20-week acceleration program for social entrepreneurs from early to growth stage, followed by tailored Alumni support. Applications open every six months for ventures that prove

  1. Demonstrable social impact
  2. Commercial sustainability, and
  3. Scalability.

Impact Academy provides access to potential investors as well as networks of partners and customers while focusing on developing participants’ business skills. Content is tailored around the needs related to business development and strategic planning, distribution and market access, leadership skills and business acumen. Peter elaborates: “The first three weeks we focus on design of the business – value proposition and business model – before launching into 12 weeks of workshops with industry leaders who talk to participants about anything from legal issues to HR. The last 5 weeks we drill down into market and investment readiness. I believe that any given entrepreneur doesn’t have to be an expert in all of these topics, but (s)he needs to know something about all of them, be it legal and IP issues, governance, or tech. For two hours on Monday afternoon they learn from experts, and I catch up with each team for an hour and a half afterward to see how they apply the workshop knowledge to their ventures.”

Impact Academy' model

Impact Academy’ model

At this point you should know that when I met Peter, he was running the show by himself. It was Impact Academy’s fourth program and he was looking for new members to join the team. He was running the accelerator alone spending an hour and a half with each current cohort member, and was still deeply engaged with a number of Alumni from previous programs. So… how exactly does one person run the show? “It is very time-intense but I feel that this is where Impact Academy makes a contribution – tailored support for each participant. I have developed a solid set of templates and processes which helps a lot!”

Alumni. I haven’t met many (any?) support organizations that get that part right! Alumni bring valuable insights and experiences to the table, but engagement doesn’t happen magically. Alumni need guidance. Immediately after any program, they focus on building their businesses and are dispersed into whatever direction that takes them. It is difficult to stay engaged and few organizations devote the resources necessary to do well. But if you think about it, just because participants graduate from a program doesn’t mean they don’t need ongoing support to survive these first years. Most importantly – in my experience – they are crucial to building a community around a program. I know we all run programs on stretched budgets but engaging Alumni is a long-term investment in the entrepreneurial community you are trying to build.

Peter’s take on Alumni: “A lot of of our Alumni engagement depends on how we close the accelerator. At the end of 20 weeks, we assess their support needs over the next 12 weeks. It’s irresponsible not to know what they need in the next year, so we identify that before they leave.  It may be unstructured but at the same time it’s very specific. Every startup is different so we develop a plan according to their individual requirements. They know they can ring at any time. With some of them I check in once a week, with others I catch up every few weeks. It really depends on where they are in their development.”

Impact Academy's showcase 2015: Jenna from Care Passport (, a digital platform providing on-demand support and education to target improvements in the personal wellbeing and resilience of unpaid, family carers,

Impact Academy’s showcase 2015: Jenna from Care Passport, a digital platform providing on-demand support and education to target improvements in the personal wellbeing and resilience of unpaid family carers.

Impact Academy is not a nonprofit – another rarity in the social enterprise support space. Peter’s dedication to metrics and take on investment speaks volumes for this entrepreneurial approach: “In week 2, participants define their MVO – Minimum Viable Outcome – that they want to achieve with their venture. When you’re a social entrepreneur, you want to make sure that your outcomes are being achieved, otherwise your business misses the point! Their MVO is crucial in defining the impact they are trying to make, it guides their decision-making. At the same time, Impact Academy has metrics in place to assess our outcomes. If our companies aren’t successful, that means we are not. We only teach what we can translate into metrics and measure. It’s costly right now, it’s a high investment but as an accelerator need to know that what we do is relevant. A  group of economists is helping us measure Impact Academy’s outcomes and how the participants are performing.”

Another unique element of Impact Academy’s approach is their take on investing in accelerated companies. “I struggle with the view that you can demand equity from day 1, before you have demonstrated capability and benefits as an accelerator. If you go to YCombinator, for example, you hand over 5-7% and the expectation is that everyone is valued at the same amount of money. I don’t understand why an entrepreneur would accept these conditions! Secondly, I don’t want to invest in all the entrepreneurs that come through. The lore of history tells us that not all of them are going to succeed, and that costs money. I don’t want to hold 5% equity, I want to know that what we  provide is more than 5% worth. At the end of 16 weeks, I sit down with each founder; we look at what they have achieved, and what is is that they need. We offer and only take equity if the both sides – the founder and I – think that it adds value. It must work for both sides. We have had deals from 2.5% to 50% (only one). We don’t invest ourselves, we help them fundraise. Investors bring a lot more than money, it’s understanding, it’s networks. We haven’t exited and have had no profit share from an income perspective.”


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