The Chivas Venture Accelerator Programme: Supporting Social Entrepreneurs in a time of global crisis

Words: Florence Robson

The Chivas Venture gives away $1m in no-strings funding to start ups who blend profit and purpose. Due to the global COVID-19 outbreak, Chivas has transformed some of its Chivas Venture Accelerator Programme (which was due to be held at The Conduit earlier this year) into virtual sessions, helping to support 26 inspiring social entrepreneurs selected from 26 countries, across five continents. The finalists will now each receive $40,000 in funding, which can be put towards creating positive change at a testing time for people across the globe.

We caught up with Ary Ganeshalingam, Global Brand Communications Director at Chivas Regal, to learn more about the process of turning the Chivas Venture Accelerator Programme digital and the finalists the programme is supporting.

How did you adapt the Chivas Venture Accelerator Programme so quickly to the coronavirus crisis? What are some of the innovations you’ve put in place?

One of the main objectives of the Chivas Venture Accelerator Programme is to provide the tools and support our finalists need to help grow and scale their businesses. Therefore, despite the challenges we were facing as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, we were determined to come up with ways in which we could still support our finalists. Through collaborating with our speakers and the team at The Conduit, we quickly came up with a digital solution that would enable us to create a whole new Accelerator Programme for this year’s Chivas Venture. We reached out to various partners to discuss the best way we could deliver a digital programme and were quickly able to come up with the solution we have carried out: have the speakers pre-record their sessions at home, work with our production agency to package these sessions together and then house them on a website for our finalists.

We will also be doing live Q&A sessions with some of the speakers to give the finalists the chance to meet them and ask any burning questions they have. Where initially the content of the Accelerator Programme would have been centred both around the finalists’ businesses and the run-up to the Chivas Venture Global Final, we have been able to curate a programme focusing solely on their businesses and how they can continue to grow in the future.

What are some of the challenges and opportunities you see in turning the Chivas Venture Accelerator Programme digital?

The Chivas Venture Accelerator Programme not only gives the finalists the chance to learn and find ways to help their business, but it is also the first time they get to meet the Chivas team and each other. Of course, replacing this digitally is a challenge and is not the same as meeting everyone in person; however, we have identified this as an opportunity to create a community hub where our finalists and our alumni can connect and learn from one another.

What made you decide to split the $1 million fund evenly between the finalists, rather than taking another path (such as remote pitching)?

The finalists were due to pitch for a share of the fund at a Global Final in June, but as a result of the global COVID-19 outbreak, the partner with whom we were due to deliver the Global Final cancelled their event. As the situation around the outbreak has continued to rapidly evolve over recent weeks and months, it was decided that in order to best support our finalists during this troubling time, they will now each receive $40,000 in funding, which can be put towards creating positive change at a testing time for people across the globe.

Can you give us an insight into the profiles of this year’s finalists? What are some of the ideas that really stood out to you?

We have 26 finalists from 26 countries this year, spanning from right here in the UK, to Australia, Thailand, Poland, Spain, Canada and Colombia – and many more in between. The range of projects and UN Sustainable Development Goals that these amazing entrepreneurs are tackling are truly inspiring. This year’s finalists have found unique and creative ways to tackle a wide range of social, environmental and economic challenges, many of which have been exacerbated by the global pandemic, especially in at risk, or isolated communities.

Our UK finalists, representing both England and Scotland, are tackling two big problems that many people face around the world. Our English finalist, Thomas Fudge, is the CEO of Wase and their mission is to provide everyone with basic sanitation and wastewater treatment. 2.3 billion people live with inadequate sanitation infrastructure and Wase are looking to change that. Our Scottish finalist, Lorenzo Conti, and his team at Crover, are tackling food wastage by creating a ‘robot’ that can detect faults in cereal grain. Cereal grains are one of the world’s most basic food types, yet post-harvest losses during long-term storage are exceptionally high. Crover are reducing the risk of large supplies of grain in storage being spoilt, which also results in fewer C02 emissions that are released from wasted food.

On the other side of the globe, we have Okra Solar, a startup from Australia, that is giving access to energy and electricity to those who live off-grid. One billion people lack access to energy and Okra Solar have a mission to help one million people by 2022 to have access to a resource that many of us take for granted each day. Whereas Green Nettle Textile in Kenya are reinventing fashion for a greener future. By using nettle stalks rather than synthetic materials, not only are they creating sustainable clothing, but they are also supporting their local communities with employment opportunities. 

How has the pandemic impacted the challenges the finalists are trying to solve?

Adversity often leads to innovation and the reactivity of the finalists, and our alumni, on ways in which they can support communities during the pandemic has been inspiring. Mamotest, our 2020 finalist from Argentina, has joined forces with other medical innovation companies in Latin America and Spain to offer free, remote, and immediate medical reports on RX analysis & CT scans to assess lung damage for patients infected with COVID-19; while Recupera Tu Silla, our 2020 finalist from Colombia, has created a virtual gift shop where people can purchase bonds to support local communities. In the UK,  2017 finalist OLIO has launched #Cook4Kids with the aim to mobilise their 1 million+ OLIOers, and the nation, to cook/prepare packed lunches to help support the 1.3 million kids from low-income families who used to receive school meals and are now at risk of hunger. Last week our 2018 winner from the UK, Change Please began serving free coffee to NHS staff at the NHS Nightingale EXCEL London. Powered through donations, we have provided funding to cover the first week of operations to ensure they can continue their vital work during this unprecedented time.

How have you collaborated with The Conduit to ensure that the finalists are well supported?

Both before and after the decision was made to deliver a virtual Chivas Venture Accelerator Programme, the team at The Conduit have been hugely helpful in securing speakers, pitch coaches and mentors to support our finalists during this week. Once the decision was made to go digital, they continued to support us by finding speakers that were comfortable and confident in executing this new form of Programme. They also continued to handpick mentors from within The Conduit Connect Community for each finalist. Already we are seeing this as an invaluable asset for our finalists. They have still had the opportunity to connect with someone who can support and guide them in ways to scale their business. 

How do you see the events of this year impacting the future of the Accelerator Programme?

When we are faced with challenges, it is always important to see the opportunities that are hidden. The challenges we faced this year resulted in us coming together as a team and thoroughly exploring ways in which we could still support and empower our finalists, despite the circumstances. Working with our partners and speakers, we came up with a solution that could inspire us in the way we curate our Accelerator Programme in the future. 

To learn more about becoming an impact partner of The Conduit, get in touch with Natasha Burroughs.