Q&A: How Hub Ventures plans to change the world

There’s something unusual about Hub Ventures.

Certainly there are dozens of Bay Area tech accelerators, but few would exclusively fund startups that make the world a better place. Even fewer would handpick entrepreneurs with no concrete notion of how to make money, and train them to become social business leaders.

At the Hub Ventures’ demo day last week, seven companies pitched their ideas to Bay Area investors, with the intent to solve problems around healthcare, education, civic engagement, and the environment. This week, two of the startups — StreetOwl and CheckInOn.Me — received financing from Lakeland Ventures, and DIIME, a medical advice maker for Africa, is also under consideration.

It was refreshing to hear pitch ideas with more substance than a geo-located mobile app, and we’ll keep tabs on the graduating class. CheckInOn.Me is a particular favorite of mine — it’s a personal safety app for the iPhone that alerts friends and colleagues to check in when you’re in a vulnerable situation like a late night walk home or an online date.

Above: Wes Selke, Hub Ventures

I caught up with Hub Ventures’ founder, Wes Selke, also an investor at Good Capital, to chat about the program, what they’re looking for from the next batch of entrepreneurs, and the future of this booming space known as social entrepreneurship.

To read more about mission investment and technology for good, click here.

VentureBeat: Wes, how would you sum up Hub Ventures’ vision?
Wes Selke: Hub Ventures is a startup accelerator that provides funding and support to high caliber entrepreneurs building scalable, for-profit solutions to global challenges ranging from poverty to environmental sustainability.

VB: How does it differ from your typical accelerator?
WS: We take the best of the tech accelerator model (seed funding, mentorship, community, perks, etc.) and apply it to impact startups to help these entrepreneurs build their companies better and faster. We’re filling a gap in the marketplace and catalyzing early stage impact startups that otherwise aren’t getting the funding and support they need to take their companies to the next level.

VB: Can you tell me more about the kind of companies that you’re looking for?
WS: What differentiates us from other accelerator programs is our focus on impact companies – to get into Hub Ventures, you have to be solving a big global challenge rather than a trivial “problem” such as a better way to share photos online.

During the program, we help our entrepreneurs design their companies for maximum impact from day one and help them fully integrate that impact into their business models, so as their companies scale, the impact scales also.

VB: Why did you choose these seven companies?
WS: The seven startups in the current class are the cream of the crop, and they have what we look for:  really strong teams, scalability (most are tech focused), and potential for big world-changing impact.  The teams are impressive and include a serial entrepreneur (Ofer Raz from StreetOwl) who built an industry-leading transportation company that is backed by Benchmark Capital and plenty of entrepreneurs with strong pedigrees – MIT, Berkeley, University of Michigan, and solid skill sets in engineering, computer science, business admin, international development, and mobile banking.

VB: How many applications did you receive? Is this a hot space for entrepreneurs?
WS: This year we received 209 applications for the seven slots in the program, up 300% over last year and only a 3% acceptance rate. So, needless to say, we had our pick!

VB: I enjoyed hearing the pitches and meeting the startups at Investor Day. How do you think it went?
WS: Investor Day was a huge success, with a packed room of over 200 investors and exciting pitches from our seven startups. Since the event, investor interest in our startups has been high – a few already have firm commitments, several have verbal commitments, and all have had numerous investor meetings since last week. I’m optimistic that they will all raise capital in the weeks and months ahead. Additionally, we’ve had good investor interest in our fund — we’re currently fundraising for our next cohort in 2013 — and from experienced folks who are interested in mentoring our next class.  All in all, it was a successful event.

Upon acceptance to the program, each company will receive mentorship, training, and $17,500 to $20,000 in convertible debt note financing. To learn more about the program, click here.

[Top image credit:  Robert Kneschke/Shutterstock]

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