Habitat for Humanity calls for ShelterTech accelerators applicants in SEA to disrupt the affordable housing space

  • Provides startups, scaleups with access to key industry players
  • Selected ventures will go through a virtual acceleration program

NGO Habitat for Humanity recently announced that its Terwilliger Centre for Innovation in Shelter is taking applications for ShelterTech accelerators in Southeast Asia.

ShelterTech, a platform for affordable housing innovation, is meant to bring together entrepreneurial minds to answer today’s pressing global shelter challenges.

ShelterTech gives participating startups and scaleups access to key industry players, from corporate executives and investors to academics, government officials and innovators. They provide mentorship, connections and funding, backed by Habitat for Humanity’s decades of experience as a leading affordable housing organisation.

By scaling solutions developed by startups, Habitat is working to assure more of the 1.6 billion people who lack adequate shelter globally have access to improved housing products and services.

ShelterTech launched accelerators in Mexico in 2017, then Kenya and India in 2018, accelerating more than 40 startups whose innovations ranged from construction management mobile applications to paving blocks made from plastic waste to solar energy solutions for rural areas. Since then, accelerator alumni have gone on to secure funding from investors worldwide.

This year, in recognition of the important role housing plays in promoting better health outcomes, the accelerators will prioritise innovations that address Covid-19’s evolving challenges. To further help startups reach their milestones and encourage out-of-the box thinking, each ShelterTech accelerator cohort participant will receive US$10,000 in catalytic funding,

“ShelterTech is about closing the gap between the best innovations in affordable housing and families seeking a safe and livable place to call home,” says Patrick Kelley, vice president of the Terwilliger Center for Innovation in Shelter.

“By providing a tailored experience to startups, we facilitate the ideal market fit for scale and sustainability of their innovations. Ultimately, by opening new markets for them, we can also provide low-income families with affordable products and services, making their homes resilient and safer, especially in the context of Covid-19.”

Selected ventures will go through a virtual acceleration programme, testing and validating their business models with the support of industry experts and mentors. Then the startups will have opportunities to connect with global partners, investors and ShelterTech alumni. The accelerator is being co-designed by Village Capital in the Andean region and Villgro Philippines and Global Urban Village in Southeast Asia.

“Southeast Asia has a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem, and many startups are born from founders’ aspirations to develop solutions that can transform their communities and cities,” says Priya Thachadi, cofounder and CEO of Villgro Philippines.

“Housing is often an overlooked, under-valued sector in the impact investment space, and we are excited to partner with Habitat to fill the gap between new and great ideas and the enormous market potential that exists in the region,” she concludes.

In each region, the accelerator seeks for-profit companies with a minimum viable product, a meaningful customer or business validation and products and services that can improve housing liveability and affordability.

Companies with housing-related solutions in sectors such as materials, labor, finance, land, markets, energy and water and sanitation, especially those whose products and services can address Covid-19 challenges, are encouraged to apply.

ShelterTech is supported by a network of key partners, including Autodesk Foundation, Dow, the Hilti Foundation and the Keith V. Kiernan Foundation. Applications have been extended until Oct. 19, 2020. Interested companies can apply on habitat.org/sheltertech/participate.

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Startup accelerators don’t work for female founders. Here’s how to fix that

Startup accelerators work great for most startups. But not for female founders. 

This is something I’ve intuited for years. So many experiences have driven that lesson home: The time I found myself unable to even consider most accelerators because I couldn’t afford to leave my family for three months. The time I attended a demo night and out of a dozen or so companies there was only one woman on a team slide—and her title was “Executive Assistant.” The times—and there have been many—when members of our community who are going through top accelerators themselves share their experiences with me: their struggle to fit in; their struggle to keep up with the hustle-and-play-hard environment; their struggle to fundraise despite the programs’ genuine best intentions to help them. 

A study published earlier this year by the International Finance Corporation, a subsidiary of the World Bank, confirms what I’ve long suspected. The pollsters found that all-male teams went on to raise 2.6 times more money after completing an accelerator compared to startups who do not attend a program, while female-founded teams that completed accelerators saw no uplift at all.

Accelerators have the power to be a great democratizing force in venture capital, but this promise will never be fulfilled until we make accelerators work for female founders. 

Ready Set Raise, the accelerator I launched through the Female Founders Alliance, was designed to solve this problem. Despite our own short trajectory, we’ve demonstrated results: the eight companies in our most recent cohort raised nearly $5 million at the pre-seed stage in just a few months. The question is, which startups are most successful in the accelerator environment, and how do we replicate their success?

In our experience, what makes the biggest difference for female founders is how they connect to investors. Most accelerators—ours included—culminate in an investor showcase, a closed-door, invite-only event where startups present their perfect pitch to a large group of vetted investors. What we’ve learned is that relying on the showcase for the purpose of fundraising rarely works. Instead, startups succeed only when they build excitement and rapport in the weeks leading up to the showcase, and sustain investor relationships in the months after, all while demonstrating consistent business growth. 

There are three components to replicating this success. First, founders need to know how to talk about their business model, what KPIs to measure, and how and when to communicate their results. Ready Set Raise, and other accelerators that want to support female founders, should spend dedicated time helping founders understand their business model, build a data room, and write investor updates.

Second, founders and investors must get to know each other more meaningfully—not just a one-and-done on stage. We do this by hosting events and office hours with emerging fund managers across the country. While these meetings feel scary to founders, great, stage-appropriate investors want to engage with founders before the point of perfect polish. 

Finally, founders must learn to confidently soft-pitch their company before the pitch is perfect. This is a skill you can learn and a muscle you can build, and accelerators can add programming to support both. 

Fundraising successfully—and running a startup successfully, for that matter—are not achieved in a one-time-only, perfect on-stage performance. You have to build lasting relationships that matter. You have to know how to describe your business in a way that investors can understand and get excited about. And you have to be ready to pitch at any time. 

Ready Set Raise will help founders to always be ready. And we’re open sourcing our program design so other accelerators can help female founders succeed too.

Leslie Feinzaig is the founder and CEO of the Female Founders Alliance.

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