Agora believes that the best way to create a more sustainable capitalism that solves critical social problems, poverty first among them, is to identify the most promising entrepreneurs who want to use their business as a force for good, and then support them. Their success, in turn, will inspire more capital to deploy, more entrepreneurs to step up, more media to celebrate private sector solutions, more governments to enact policies that support entrepreneurship, and catalyze a change of attitudes around the urgency of supporting entrepreneurial solutions to our common challenges.
Agora supports early-stage impact entrepreneurs, primarily through its Accelerator – a highly selective program punctuated by the Entrepreneur Retreat and the Investor Conference that offers targeted consulting and investment readiness services to accepted companies. In addition to the Accelerator, Agora also supports a range of other field-building initiatives that provide support to Latin American entrepreneurs: access to technical support, professional seminars, mentoring, training, and loans.
Our mission is to contribute to a more sustainable and prosperous world by accelerating high-potential, early-stage impact entrepreneurs throughout Latin America.
An “Impact Entrepreneur” is an person who is intentionally using his/her business to solve a social, economic, or environmental problem in his/her community. Impact entrepreneurs run companies that are managed with the intent of creating shared value and consider the long-term effects of daily business decisions. We think impact entrepreneurs are the most important kind of entrepreneur to move society forward. Being an impact entrepreneur is the criteria to join Agora’s Accelerator.
In certain cases they are the same, and the words are often used interchangeably. Still, there is one key distinction. A social entrepreneur is focused on creating social impact, ideally system change. Most social entrepreneurs run non-profit organizations where their key customers are donors or governments that are paying for social outcomes (i.e. Teach for America).
Impact entrepreneurs run for-profit, private companies. They are focused on growing their company and creating impact through their company, whether it be social, economic, and/or environmental in nature. As a result, social entrepreneurs typically raise capital from the philanthropic marketplace while impact entrepreneurs raise it from the private capital markets.
This is another term where there is no consensus definition but all agree that an impact economy is one where capital can be more massively deployed in ways that are specifically designed to create shared value in the most efficient and effective way possible. An impact economy is one that transforms the bifurcation of the business and social sectors, recognizing that each must learn from the other and work in partnership with the other. It’s an economy where crony capitalism, incumbent advantage, negative externalities passed on to the public, short term thinking, and mismanaged or corrupt government give way to a more sustainable capitalism that creates value for all. There are currently a number of global initiatives to support the transitions to an impact, including a very important one at the Aspen Institute, which defines the term as “the supply of capital and firms demanding capital in pursuit of both profit and social impact.”
An “impact company” is a business that at its core wants to make the world a better place. Impact companies don’t simply tack “impact” on the end of their business plans, it’s in their DNA, and in the values and aspirations of their founders.
The key differences are around the intentionality of the founders, the definition of what value creation means, and the desire and ability to measure impact. Some companies – such as those that deliver clear services to the poor at affordable rates (think solar lighting or cook stoves) have a strong social or environmental mission, others may operate in extremely poor communities desperate for quality employment. While there are tools and frameworks to tell impact companies from regular companies, there are no set rules, which is why we put so much stock in the intentionality of the founders. What is their vision for the business? What are they trying to achieve? Impact companies are trying to move from mere success to significance.
Shared value, or “blended value,” is the total impact a business creates. It’s a vision of value creation that moves beyond a narrow goal of managing a company in order to direct all surplus to owners and managers as quickly as possible, to creating long term value for every key group the business touches. The best managed businesses, we believe, will align their core strategy around the interests of key stakeholders – employees, customers, their community, investors, and future generations (by stewarding the environment.) As the business grows, it adds value to all of these groups. A shared-value approach to business is another way of saying a well-run business that is built for long term sustainability. Business that can consistently create shared value will also be more profitable and successful than businesses that do not. All participating Accelerator companies assume this shared-value approach.
In ancient Greece, citizens gathered in the agora – marketplace or public square – to discuss ideas and exchange goods and services. Agora Partnerships is building a modern-day agora where volunteer consultants, impact investors, local experts and business leaders, and talented impact entrepreneurs from all walks of life can join together with one purpose – to create and grow the businesses that will put the world on a more sustainable path and move it forward.