IVCA Profile: Impact Engine Investment Fund & Accelerator at ‘1871’ Aims to Empower Their Participants Toward a Positive Impact on Society

Comvest and CapX Acquire Karmaloop

IVCA Profile: Impact Engine Investment Fund & Accelerator at ‘1871’ Aims to Empower Their Participants Toward a Positive Impact on Society

June 24, 2015

The IVCA series on the incubators and accelerators at “1871” – the tech and business development center at Chicago’s Merchandise Mart – continues with Impact Engine, an Investment Fund and Accelerator with a lofty and positive goal...to empower entrepreneurs, mentors and investors to make a positive impact on society. Through financial and human capital, Impact Engine helps for-profit businesses address the world’s greatest social and environmental challenges.

The philosophy of Impact Engine is rooted in the current tech revolution, and a growing desire among global citizens to leave the world a better place. The democratization of manufacturing through 3D printing, the open source movement and rapid advances through dynamics like nanotechnology and robotics are disrupting and evolving the business world. Impact Engine funds and supports an emerging growth of entrepreneurs who are leading this disruption and evolution. The IVCA profiled Impact Engine through Program Coordinator Noelle Juengling, in the following interview.

IVCA: The noble purpose of Impact Engine is nothing less than an ‘impact change’ of lives affected by hot button poverty, social and environmental global problems. What is a quick history of this idea, what inspired the philosophy of the fund, and how did these ideals evolve into the launch of the fund? 

Impact Engine: Linda Darragh and Jamie Jones created Impact Engine three years ago to demonstrate the reality of bringing together financial and social returns. Since our founding in 2012, we have supported impact entrepreneurs through an ever-growing network of mentors and investors who were inspired by these entrepreneurs and committed to helping them launch their businesses successfully.

And over those past three years, these companies have shown that profit and purpose can go hand in hand, and they have in turn helped us to demonstrate the power and potential of impact investing. As we began planning for 2015, we realized that while we had accomplished a great deal working with entrepreneurs, we could do much more to support our community of investors. To that end, our next investment would be in our investors.

IVCA: “Emerging technologies” is the buzz term for Impact Engine, and these technologies can create the solutions and applications that will tackle these global problems. What is an example of a technology that defines the type of the solutions that the fund seeks?

Impact Engine: We look for technologies that disrupt the current space and/or incorporate custom built platforms with simple technologies to change the way the market operates. Some examples of these technologies in our portfolio include – a platform designed specifically for organizations in the developing world to track supplies via basic mobile phones, a learning platform for autistic students that utilizes tablets to administer interactive modules, and recycled electric car batteries to provide a rechargeable power supply.

IVCA: You have two distinct programs – Accelerator and Seed+. What characterizes the qualifications of the companies in those two programs, and what is the difference of what you offer to the companies within those two programs?

Impact Engine: Our 16-week ‘Accelerator’ program is designed for impact entrepreneurs who are still testing and refining their product and business model. This track will takes companies through all the key components of starting and building a successful impact company, from establishing product-market fit, to developing a revenue model, to building a team. We accept pre- and post-revenue companies into our accelerator, however, companies must have at least a working prototype, product, or service that is currently in testing – even in concept.

Impact Engine’s ‘Seed+’ program caters to early stage impact companies that are ready for – and are looking for support with – fundraising. This two week program is an intense, deep dive into the process of identifying, attracting, and raising capital.

In both programs companies receive $25,000 in seed funding, access to our mentor, alumni, and investor networks, and free workspace...among other benefits. And at the end of the programs, companies have the opportunity to present their business at an Impact Engine pitch event where they'll find members of our angel network and other leading Chicago investors.

IVCA: You have an impressive roster of Limited Partners. How does their participation drive Impact Engine towards the specific world-changing goals?

Impact Engine: Impact Engine's Limited Partners all support the bringing together of social and financial returns. Most are seasoned entrepreneurs or investors who are great mentors to our companies based on their areas of expertise.

IVCA: In seeking companies that fit the Impact Engine philosophy, you list some common qualities – great leadership, compelling product and a strong business model. What is another X factor or "it" factor that has been common in successful companies within the fund?

Impact Engine: Add to that mix a large opportunity so the four things we look for when selecting portfolio companies are great leadership, a compelling product, a strong business model, and large opportunity.

IVCA: You are currently in a 2015 application mode until mid-July. What would you say to encourage ideas and emerging technologies to apply to Impact Engine, based on your philosophy?

Impact Engine: We are looking for companies who are passionate about solving big challenges through technology. Our portfolio includes a variety of technology-enabled Internet and products-based companies across different sectors and countries. Our goal is to support those businesses, depending on their stage, through one of our programs. Then we maximize their access to capital through our own angel network and other investor networks.

IVCA: What would you tell the membership of the IVCA about  Impact Engine that you think makes you most desirable to investors, for the businesses within your accelerator?

Impact Engine: The Impact Engine Angel Network is a community for investors to invest collaboratively and learn from each other as they build their personal angel investment portfolios around impact. Our network includes active impact investors who want to connect with each other, angel investors who are interested in exploring impact, and individuals who are committed to impact but unfamiliar with early stage investing.

No matter how they identify, the one thing they all care about is using capital to solve big social challenges. Members of the Impact Engine Angel Network will get a first look at qualified impact businesses coming through Impact Engine’s two entrepreneur programs – its pre-seed Accelerator and Seed+ – for those companies ready to raise seed and Series A funding.

For more information about the Impact Engine Investment Fund & Accelerator, click on http://theimpactengine.com/