MakeSense, a French community platform dedicated to fostering social entrepreneurship, has now launched SenseCube, an accelerator for social business startups.
Nowadays there are a number of startup accelerators specialising in getting technology companies up and running. Meanwhile in France an entire ecosystem whose purpose is to support social business initiatives and help social entrepreneurship to flourish with the aid of new information and communication technologies is now taking shape. Last September l’Atelier reported on the Social Good Lab, whose aim is to harness technological innovation for social and environmental causes. The MakeSense platform has very similar goals, with a strong emphasis on community support and interaction. Now MakeSense has given birth to SenseCube, a social business accelerator which on 10 February invited would-be entrepreneurs with a socially-oriented project to audition for a place on its programme.
Digital supports social
SenseCube’s stated aim is to support business ideas and approaches which leverage digital tools to solve social or environmental issues. SenseCube co-founder Alizée Lozac'hmeur explains the new accelerator’s philosophy: “These days digital tools can create huge social impacts, and we hope to demonstrate that they can be a real driver for solutions to the challenges posed by society.” New ICTs are particularly effective when it comes to creating social links. SenseCube’s approach shows some similarities with la Ruche qui dit Oui, (‘The Hive that Can’), a socially-oriented retailing platform which puts consumers directly in touch with local food producers (in spite of its name, not only of honey) providing a comprehensive picture of supply and demand at any given moment. This initiative serves as a perfect illustration of how digital tools can help engender local communities. Perhaps surprisingly, Alizée Lozac'hmeur reveals that one of the reasons why she and her MakeSense colleagues decided to set up the new accelerator is that: “My experience of Social Innovation funds has shown me that there is a lack of good social enterprise projects rather than a lack of funds,” and moreover, “as regards existing social enterprise projects there is a real inability to replicate and scale up.” SenseCube is therefore offering startups a six-month programme which will focus on helping to shape their product and providing early stage support to ensure that it is scalable.
If all this sounds so far like a fairly standard accelerator approach, the unique features of the SenseCube approach will become clearer when we look at the prototyping stage. The MakeSense founders’ specific experience lies in establishing communities and bringing together social entrepreneurs with mentors and other people who want to help them meet their challenges. SenseCube intends to draw on this existing network to gather a group of early adopters and avid users around each project and help to develop the offer. The project teams will be quickly faced with people trying to make practical use of their concept, and this quasi collaborative development approach should help them to get the product or service into shape rapidly. “This approach should really pay off during the first investment round, as each team will be able to pitch a product that has already been tested by consumers,” argues Alizée Lozac'hmeur. At the moment the accelerator is targeting European startups, but the founders intend to take a long-term view and will be looking to communities further afield – replicating the formula with emerging social entrepreneurship communities in Asia and also Mexico within a couple of years.