Doing good while making profits ...

An interview with Chuck Templeton of The Impact Engine at Techweek Chicago, 06/27/2013.We had an opportunity to attend Techweek Chicago a week or so back, and ended up “wearing multiple hats” there: on Thursday and Saturday we were there as press, covering it for Green Tech Chicago, while on Friday we were there representing the Nature’s Little Recyclers “urban vermiculture” biz in the Techweek LAUNCH competition. The worms were pretty much the only “green tech” entry out of 70 start-ups competing (despite the Techweek folks being open to having “green” companies involved, as noted in a previous post), but it would be a bit unseemly to do a feature on our own thing from the conference.

One of the most interesting presentations we saw was that by Chuck Templeton of The Impact Engine, which is “a 16-week accelerator program that supports for-profit businesses addressing today’s societal and environmental challenges … empower(ing) entrepreneurs, mentors, and investors to make a collective impact on society by applying smart business principles to the world’s greatest problems.” (in the spirit of full disclosure, we also have an application submitted to participate in their program).

Among the things that set The Impact Engine apart from similar programs in what’s generally considered the non-profit sphere is that they work specifically with for-profit companies. When Ed asked Templeton about this, his response was “there’s about 300 billion dollars a year out there that’s donated to non-profits, but there’s multi-trillions of dollars out there that get invested in the for-profit companies, and we want to tap into that …” with the idea that if those resources could be focused on “making the world a better place” it would go a lot farther than the traditional non-profit approaches. Here’s what he said when we caught up with him after his talk:

The Impact Engine has quite an impressive roster of folks involved with it, ranging from entrepreneurs to representatives from established corporations, an array of academics, and a roster of investors, from start-up “angels” to major institutional players … all brought together to provide experienced advice, coaching, a ready-made network, and, of course, funding. Here’s a bit from their site about what the program’s about:

For centuries, inventors and thinkers have developed tools and solutions to meet the needs of everyday life. This concept is nothing new. However, with today’s technological advances, and a growing desire among global citizens to leave the world a better place, the makers of our time are in a unique position. The democratization of manufacturing through 3D printing, the open-source movement, and rapid advances in nanotechnology, robotics, energy, and the like, are disrupting the business world. We see an emerging group of impact entrepreneurs leading this disruption.

Impact entrepreneurs all across the globe are harnessing these emerging technologies to create profitable businesses that solve critical societal or environmental issues, from climate change to education to poverty and beyond. The impact entrepreneur doesn’t view global challenges as hopeless; they view them as opportunities. Opportunities to improve the human condition. Opportunities to do good and do well at the same time.

Looking through their site, their program’s not for the “faint of heart”, as it’s almost like a crash course in developing one’s business, run over an intense 16-week span. It will be interesting to see how the companies they “graduate” develop … there’s only a handful currently listed, but I’m assume that’s because they’ve only been running the program a short time. Definitely something to keep an eye on!

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