Shared Values: what we look for when selecting entrepreneurs for the Agora Accelerator

Ben Powell - Impact Investing in Action 2013 (1)The Agora Accelerator is designed for entrepreneurs with real potential to make a significant positive contribution to the world. When we select our classes, we look at a number of factors including business model innovation, scalability, and social impact. But the most important factor by far is the quality of the entrepreneur.  Figuring out who are the most promising entrepreneurs for the accelerator is one of our hardest jobs, especially given the tremendous energy and innovation we are seeing among entrepreneurs working throughout Latin America.  We don’t pretend to have all the answers, but we have found that using core values as a framework can be incredibly helpful in understanding the power an entrepreneur will eventually wield to propel his/her company to success.

For Agora, we look for entrepreneurs with unambiguous clarity of intention to create great businesses that address key community and environmental needs.  While many entrepreneurs have this intention, we’ve found it’s the ones who embody a few simple core values that are most likely to grow businesses that create change at large scale. These core values also correlate to entrepreneurs who, by their very orientation to the world, are most likely to add real value to other entrepreneurs in the Agora community.

These are the four core values that we hold as an organization and that we look for in our own hiring as well as in selecting entrepreneurs for the Agora Accelerator.

  1. Agency – Agency means believing we can actively influence our destiny, and then having the courage to act on that belief. It is the conviction that you can make a difference, that you have some control over your own destiny; that you are a player, not just a spectator. Entrepreneurs with agency believe the following:  I have a stake in the system and I have the power to change it for the better; therefore, I will. Agency is the fundamental value all entrepreneurs must possess to make any difference in the world.
  2. Empathy –  Empathy means understanding at a fundamental level that we are interconnected, with a shared humanity and a shared destiny. It’s the root of kindness and compassion and the foundation of trust and community. It is basic respect for the dignity of the human race, and for the planet on which we live, and humility in knowing that we may not always be right. It’s a key component of creativity and social problem solving, team dynamics, and effective collaboration and co-creation. It’s an indispensable ingredient for successful business leadership in the 21st century.
  3. Curiosity  –  Human curiosity is the foundation for human ingenuity, invention, and progress. It’s a mindset relentlessly focused on the need to understand ourselves and our environment more fully so that we can more effectively allocate time and resources to our own, and everyone else’s benefit.  A curiosity mindset questions the status quo, recognizes flaws in systems and patterns, and constantly looks for ways to improve the way things are done.  It is the root of our desire to learn and evolve and to question authority.
  4. Perseverance –  Perseverance means not giving up while there is still hope. Entrepreneurship is almost always a slog, requiring day to day blocking and tackling punctuated by frequent crisis and failure. How we adjust to challenge, how we deal with disappointment and stress, how we show up every day is probably the single most important factor to any entrepreneur’s success.  Grand strokes of genius or creativity can launch a company but attention to detail, diligence, discipline, and grit are what grow a business, and a person.

In a world of accelerating complexity, uncertainty and competition, core values remaining unflinchingly constant is key to successfully taking an idea and turning it into an organization.  I’ve found that it pays to work with entrepreneurs who live with strong core values, whether they are conscious of it or not.

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