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Spring Activator: Growing Impact with Values-Aligned Capital

Spring Activator is on a mission to make impact entrepreneurship mainstream through values-aligned capital. Learn more in this exclusive interview with Keith Ippel, Co-Founder & Co-CEO, and Caroline von Hirschberg, Co-CEO.

/ 5 mins / SparxTeam

Money and impact can be the best of friends. Recognizing that generating a profit and doing good can actually live in harmony is an important step towards creating a better world where businesses are profitable, regenerative, and equitable.

Spring Activator launched in order to provide impact-driven founders with the guidance, tools, and community they need to build and grow their businesses. We spoke with Keith Ippel, Co-Founder & Co-CEO, and Caroline von Hirschberg, Co-CEO, about how this values-driven organization has evolved and grown to support entrepreneurs, investors, and ecosystems around the world to make impact entrepreneurship mainstream.

Tell us about Spring Activator’s mission.

Spring Activator was founded in 2014 with a simple but bold mission: to accelerate and amplify the activities of purpose-driven leaders to create an equitable and resilient world that is regenerative by design. 

We envision a world in which every business is an impact business, every investor is an impact investor, and where entrepreneurship and investment ecosystems drive regenerative innovation. 

We act globally, leveraging our know-how to provide the tools, knowledge, network, and mentorship needed to change the world.

What inspired you/your founders to start Spring Activator?

Spring Activator was launched to give impact founders and companies access to the tools, training, resources, and capital that was previously only available to tech companies. In parallel, Spring wanted to give tech entrepreneurs and angel investors a way to share their voice in impact. 

Spring Activator team members at Vancouver Investor Social

What were some of the challenges you/your founders encountered?

Early on it was apparent that convincing entrepreneurs, investors, and partners that companies could launch, grow, and create lasting positive impact and make money was actually possible.

We needed to work hard to convince people that impact entrepreneurs were out there, that they had great ideas to solve big problems, and that they could create momentum, success, and impact. 

What do you consider your organization’s biggest success?

In almost 9 years, Spring Activator has worked in over 50 communities worldwide, supporting 2,100+ founders and 200+ investors, who have raised more than $30 million. We are helping entrepreneurs and investors create impact at scale.

What makes Spring Activator unique?

Our holistic and collaborative approach to creating change. Spring Activator partners with foundations, incubators, accelerators, governments, and donors to create, launch, and grow thriving innovation and entrepreneurial communities.

Authentic change within a system is complex, involving numerous stakeholders and interest groups. We see ourselves as a conduit between governmental institutions, who are primarily responsible for implementing top-down approaches to change, and the impact business and investment community, who are attempting to create positive change from the bottom-up through their products, services, processes, and capital.

Our mission of making impact entrepreneurship mainstream is in line with the B Corporation mandate of redefining successful businesses and inspiring organizations to not only be the best in, but for the world. 

In September 2017, we became a Certified B Corporation. There are over 4,000 Certified B Corporations from more than 150 industries in 70+ countries. Spring Activator was also certified by the non-profit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. We’ve evaluated how our practices impact our employees, our community, the environment, and our customers.

How do you feel your organization makes the world better?

We are committed to helping entrepreneurs make a positive social and environmental impact through our programs, global community, and by unlocking access to values-aligned capital. We do this through creating positive social impact by helping to enable and support immigrant entrepreneurs as they grow their businesses in Canada, increasing access to capital for impact ventures and encouraging investors of all experience levels to approach venture capital (VC) through an impact lens, and ensuring that early stage impact entrepreneurs are supported and align their growth with impact. 

Some of our initiatives include:

  • Spring’s Impact Startup Visa Accelerator Program, which supports cohorts of entrepreneurs from around the world to move to Canada, apply for Permanent Residence status, and build their venture in Canada through the Canadian Startup Visa immigration pathway. 
  • Our Impact Investor Challenge. This program is a comprehensive, 11-week program with an investor track for individuals interested in impact investing and an entrepreneur track for early-stage, fundraising startups seeking investment. The program introduces investors and impact-curious individuals to impact entrepreneurs who are seeking funding for their impact-driven initiatives. To date, over $780,000 has been awarded in impact investments to Challenge winners and more than $15 million has been catalyzed to participants as a result of the program.
  • Our Discovery Foundation Business Activate Program, which is designed to offer early stage impact entrepreneurs the tools and resources they need to gain confidence in activating growth. Through this program, participants receive access to resources and expertise around funding, talent, digital marketing, and other key interest areas. The program includes monthly webinars, video tutorials, actionable worksheets, themed monthly sprints, and 1:1 support calls. Thanks to our sponsors, this program is offered at a low cost, or for free, thus increasing access for early stage entrepreneurs looking to build out their skills. 

Additionally, as members of 1% for the Planet, we give one percent of our gross revenue and provide in-kind consultations to environmental not-for-profits. We also work towards meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), primarily through SDG 4: Quality Education, SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth, and SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities.

How can capital be used as a force for positive change?

Capital can be used to invest in companies that are focused on delivering products, services, and/or technology that make the world a better place for people and the planet. Investing capital into companies dedicated to climate solutions, healthcare, education, the circular economy, sustainable food and agriculture, and sustainable retail and supply chain initiatives will help these companies accelerate their growth, success, and impact.

We can also use capital to support thematic approaches to positive changes, such as investing in businesses that are led by or serve underrepresented communities including women, BIPOC, rural and remote communities, and persons with disabilities. As a result of this, the Spring community represents 40% women and 75% BIPOC-led businesses, with 88% of the winners of our Impact Investor Challenges being women. By investing in these businesses, capital can move the dial on equitable access to funding and finance, leadership roles, jobs, and products and services. 

In short, by using capital to invest in companies that actively make the world a better place, either in what they do or how they do it, capital becomes a massive force for positive change.

Tell us about Spring Activator‘s goals.

Spring Activator acts globally as a collaborative partner to guide and empower changemakers with high-impact knowledge, tools, and a network to help them thrive. Our services span training programs, capacity-building, mentorship, advisory services, and more. No matter where you are on your impact journey – from impact-curious to impact-committed – we invite you to become a part of the Spring Community.

Are there any upcoming initiatives or projects you’d like to share?

The Women-led Impact Investor Challenge, presented by the TELUS Pollinator Fund for Good, is our most recent Impact Investor Challenge cohort. 

This challenge focuses on stimulating impact investing in women-led impact businesses by facilitating connections between those looking for purpose-based investments with women founders working on solutions to local and global problems. The goal is to promote gender diversity in the impact investor and startup ecosystem. The competition includes a cohort of aspiring and serial impact investors and a group of 15 women founders seeking funding. After a series of pitches, the cohort of investors puts forward a $100,000+ investment to the winning women-led company.

In 2023, Spring Activator will be collaborating with Foresight Canada, Cycle Canada, and HSBC Foundation to run the inaugural Quebec Cleantech Investor Challenge.

We are also excited about the launch of the Spring Investing Collective – an organic extension of the Impact Investor Challenge. This collective will bring together impact investors and high-growth entrepreneurs seeking funding to facilitate deal flow, connections, and foster impact-driven innovation. This community-centric approach to capital is something we see as missing in the world of VC.

On the entrepreneur side, the Impact Startup Visa Program (ISV) remains one of our largest programs. ISV combines a traditional startup program with processes and support to help entrepreneurs solidify their business in Canada. The ISV Program operates under the banner of Canada’s Start-Up Visa – a Canadian immigration channel.

What do you most want people to know about Spring Activator?

Spring exists to change the world through innovation, and we love to roll up our sleeves and get to work with investors and entrepreneurs to make that happen.

How can people help or contribute to your organization’s mission?

Become an impact investor! Become a partner!

We run programs like the Impact Investor Challenge to grow the impact investor community and introduce investors and impact-curious individuals into impact investing by providing a learning experience that culminates in making an actual investment in a high-impact company. The program not only educates investors, but helps fund impact entrepreneurs so they can change the world through innovation.

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