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What Echoing Green Looks for in Startups


A version of this article originally appeared on Unreasonable.

At Echoing Green, we know that selecting great Fellows is not just about finding the best organization or the best idea—it’s about finding the stellar individual who can carry that idea forward.  Successful entrepreneurs not only present an innovative way of addressing social issues, but also explain why they, as individuals, have what it takes to succeed. We like to say that we bet on the jockey, not the horse.

While we have had occasion to evaluate thousands of social-enterprise “jockeys” since 1987, we have invested in proportionately few (nearly 700 Fellows in total). And while the enterprises they mount comprise of a wide array of program and geographic areas, their leadership profiles look remarkably similar. Over the years, we’ve begun to codify the winning leadership qualities and traits into a selection filter that we believe the world’s most successful social entrepreneurs exhibit in abundance.

With the 2016 Fellowship application now open, we wanted to share exactly what we look for in an applicant. Keep reading then get a head start on your application!

What we look for in an individual

Purpose and passion: The problems our entrepreneurs work on found them, and they can’t ignore it. They come from a sense of purpose—there’s a conviction and passion for their issue or community that is clear and compelling.

Resilience: Social entrepreneurship is tough, and we know that our Fellows will inevitably face obstacles along the way. We are looking for applicants who exhibit “distance traveled”—meaning that they have shown the ability to overcome hardship and to bounce back, as well as the ability to foresee any challenges.

Leadership: When we select applicants, we know they are about to become the CEO of something big and important. In their applications, they need to show us that they can lead their organization toward its goals, and showcase unique skills and experiences they have that will help them succeed. We ask applicants to show us how they are constantly learning, reinventing, and exploring new things to be effective leaders.

Ability to attract resources: Successful social entrepreneurs attract money, people, and other resources to their cause. They are “resource magnets.” This does not mean that Fellows need to be the person on stage at a 10,000 person rally. Some leaders are more unassuming and still able to get others to care about their cause and take action.

What we look for in an organization

Innovation: We are looking for ideas that have never been tried before or are adapting a model in a new way. An innovative idea is novel, it challenges the assumptions made by previous organizations working in the field, it builds upon or makes improvements to an existing model, or it creates unique solutions that have never been tried before. Innovative ideas bring about dramatic change, not just incremental change.

Importance: To be interested in a solution, we must first understand why the issue the project will tackle is imperative. Basically, what’s the problem our applicants want to solve and why does it matter?

Potential for big, bold impact: We’re looking for dramatic change, not incremental change. So, we ask entrepreneurs to show us how their project will directly impact many lives or change a big system. Or, how their solution will set an important example that can change big systems by being replicated by others.

A good business model:  Great ideas fall flat without a solid plan.  Applicants’ start-up plan—budget, timeline, staffing—should be well thought-out. However, we know that at the earliest-stage, applicants may not have solved everything. What’s important is that they are considering these questions thoughtfully and realistically.

From selection to support

When we find an applicant that checks both these boxes—the individual and the organizational criteria – then we know we have a Fellow in whom we want to invest. We also know that our work doesn’t stop there. While identifying and unleashing next-generation talent is essential to solve the world’s biggest problems, we know that our unique philosophy of support can lead to greater success for the long-term. The two years of the Echoing Green Fellowship, where we guide Fellows through an Individualized Fellow Plan in the hands of a dedicated portfolio manager, is where the hard work begins.

Fellows benefit from the guidance of our portfolio managers, but they also benefit from each other, through conferences and gatherings that connect them across and between cohorts, and from our larger community and network of experts. We don’t make bets and then walk away from the table. We watch and help our Fellows grow and evolve to become the leaders we know they can be.

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