Launchpad for a Clean Economy
- Feb 23, 2016
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As management guru Peter Drucker observed, “Entrepreneurship is ‘risky’ mainly because so few of the so-called entrepreneurs know what they are doing.” The little secret of the tech world is that an entire industry has evolved to supply that knowledge to entrepreneurs, along with a complete starter kit of tools, advice, and financing — in the process, vastly increasing their odds of success.
An important link in this ecosystem is the accelerator — an organization that provides entrepreneurs with all of these goodies in exchange for a small stake in the startup company.
Unfortunately, accelerators for sustainable businesses are few and far between, and the established technology accelerators are not branching out to new industries. A recent study of Y Combinator, a prominent Silicon Valley accelerator, found that of the 255 total graduates in the years 2012 to 2014, only 19 (or 7 percent) were developing sustainable technologies and services.
Enter Shannon Whitehead, founder of Factory45, a new accelerator program for sustainable fashion businesses. She explains, “I started by asking, ‘Why isn’t it easier for entrepreneurs to get a sustainable fashion product designed, manufactured, and sold? Why isn’t it easier to manufacture in the United States? How can we make sewn-apparel production a more approachable process, so people don’t feel the need to outsource overseas?’”
Factory45 offers a six-month program built around a custom online classroom. The curriculum, resources, and industry contacts are accessible to each student to work at his or her own pace. Each incoming class meets biweekly, and Whitehead is available every day for one-on-one coaching.
She takes her mentor role very seriously: “I’m not in the business of just taking your money and saying, ‘Good luck, have fun, go start a company.’ I need to be invested and responsible as well. So I’m available every single day for six months, as much as the entrepreneur needs me.”
By the time they graduate, Factory45’s entrepreneurs have become knowledgeable businesspeople, with sustainable fabrics and materials available to source, sew shops in the US ready to partner, and a viable plan for going to market. They have navigated all the challenges involved in planning a product launch and negotiating and working with suppliers, and are ready to market and distribute a product.
“People see the industry changing,” Whitehead said. “We’re no longer saying that it’s going to change one day, because it’s changing right now. It’s happening.” Factory45 is enabling and accelerating that change. On a higher level, it’s a catalyst driving the growth of a more robust launch infrastructure that will support sustainable business entrepreneurs not just in fashion, but across industries. It’s a launchpad for a new economy.
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A business is simply an idea to make other people’s lives better.
It is useless to be a creative, original thinker unless you can also sell what you create.
There is no business to be done on a dead planet.
Sustainability is one of the most certain paths to innovation for companies seeking a competitive edge.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.
We believe that customers are smart, and want objects which are well thought through.
If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.