Nick Fitzgerald

Being the Change…. and Making a Profit: Agora Partnerships is recruiting its largest class yet

The world of impact investing, microfinance, and social entrepreneurship is at a critical stage in its evolution from altruistic undergraduate dream to practical business reality.

Demographics are changing. Priorities are shifting. And those who are now coming into their own – the so-called Millenials – are at the forefront of a massive shift in how, where, and why money is being spent.

Once dominated by the “do-gooders” who looked askance at the grisly notion of profit, the world of impact investing is beginning to protract thanks to these 20- to 35-year-olds. An article in Institutional Investor notes “[m]illennials are more likely to embrace a philosophy that financial interests and social interests ought to directly overlap, thereby ostensibly benefitting both wallet and world” (emphasis mine).

This big-tent approach is still being tinkered with, but initial feedback is promising: projects that were once at the mercy of small private donations and an arduous government grant process are now catching the eye of established venture capital firms, angel investors, and savvy private-equity managers.

Take CO2Bambu, for example. Five years ago, no one would have thought that designing, manufacturing, and assembling ecologically sound, low-cost bamboo homes would interest an established institutional investor like Deutsche Bank. Yet, here they are, along with a healthy mix of nonprofit, private-sector, and investment partners.

Financial experts see major opportunity here, and they understand the cultural shift that’s driving it. No one wants to be late to the party, but they don’t want to be the first to show up, either. It’s a process, to be sure, though one that shows incredible potential. There’s no question that the movement to create positive, sustainable impact through private enterprise is growing at a rapid rate. Visionary entrepreneurs from the Millenial generation are hungry to redefine the role of business in society.

Accelerating this redefinition has become the mission of evermore numerous global organizations. These groups look to match top entrepreneurs and ideas with the capital needed to make the dream of positive social impact a business reality.

One such organization is Agora Partnerships, based in Washington, D.C. Agora’s mission is to jump-start and then support “the success of early-stage impact entrepreneurs who share…[a] commitment to solving social and environmental challenges through business.”

(Left: The entrepreneurs representing Agora’s Class of ’12. The class consists of nine companies from throughout Central America and Mexico).

Currently, Agora is going through an ambitious recruitment effort for its 2013 Impact Accelerator. This highly selective program provides access to human, social, and financial capital for a unique community of entrepreneurs throughout Latin America. The Accelerator kicks off with an entrepreneur retreat in Central America, followed by strategy consulting and investment-readiness services, and admittance to the Impact Investing in Action conference hosted in the United States.

Agora has worked with 18 companies over the past two years, some of which operate in the most destitute regions of the Western Hemisphere. Over 70 percent of Agora’s Accelerator class of 2011 received millions in investment, propelling impact companies to an average 80-percent growth rate.

With this year’s recruitment effort, however, Agora is getting even more ambitious. Expanding from its base in Central America, the organization is seeking out a total of 30 new companies from across all of Latin America to help accelerate positive social, economic, and environmental impact throughout the region.

Entrepreneurs interested in applying to Agora’s Accelerator should contact Inga Schulte-Bahrenberg at Information on how the Accelerator program works, former entrepreneurs, a summary overview, and the results of Agora’s Accelerator can be found at the linked sites.

The final deadline for applications to the Accelerator is Oct. 22. Those applications that were received by Oct. 1 will be prioritized for scholarships. Apply here.

Organizations like Agora Partnerships are leading the way in this new world of social entrepreneurship. And the Millenial ethos, like all good ideas, is spreading quickly: effecting positive social change and making a profit are no longer mutually exclusive.

(Class of ’12 entrepreneurs Philip and Carolyn Grammas (the far side of the table) of Industrias Carphil begin preliminary negotiations with investors during Agora’s 2012 Investor Conference).