Interview: Impact Shakers

Yonca Braeckman is the Founder and CEO of Impact Shakers. We asked her about her view of the impact ecosystem in Europe, and her experience in supporting underrepresented founders in growing their business and ideas.

Yonca Braeckman, how would you describe the tech startup ecosystem in Europe?

Accelerators have been part of the startup landscape for years. The scene has boomed in the last 5 years in Europe, while vertical segmentation and topic-based accelerators emerged. More recently, impact accelerators started popping up and gaining popularity.

In the European ecosystem, the UK definitely takes the lead when it comes to anything impact or diversity related. With regards to sustainability programmes, the Netherlands and France are also leading ecosystems. In our impact accelerator report, London, Amsterdam and Paris are the cities with the highest number of impact acceleration programmes in Europe. Our research shows that the impact space in Central Eastern Europe and the Balkans are in the phase of maturing, yet there are only a few accelerators explicitly focusing on impact and scaling impact businesses.

How do you perceive your role in the national and global ecosystem today? Who would you say are the main players?

As Impact Shakers, we clearly want to position ourselves as an ecosystem builder. We take a radical collaborative approach, think from a perspective of abundance and strive to lift the entire ecosystem. Our own accelerator will only support 8 companies this year, so we are super happy when more companies receive the support they need. We work to amplify the impact of all of us working towards the same goals. The Impact Awards we started are intended as a celebration of the ecosystem.

We have learned so much from the impact organisations we admire most. Maze X in Lisbon just gets everything right, the way they built and managed the accelerator and later on the impact fund, the platform work they’re pioneering and the transparency on how they manage the fund is fantastic.

BGV is probably the OG impact incubator with their own impact fund. They only invest in companies that have been through their own programming, so they really follow through with the companies they select early on. 

Globally, Zebras Unite is leading the innovative finance and governance movement and we’re very proud to be members of their coop (you can be as well) and to call them our partners. They are leading the charge in how we can finance businesses in a more sustainable and humane way. How to make it more accessible and assure we lift communities as well as individuals.

What do you think is needed to further push the development of the tech for impact ecosystem?

We need to unite the power of likeminded ecosystem players and advocate for access to finance through new financing mechanisms as well as make sure we allow new and different types of people to become investors. The investor layer is as un-diverse as the entrepreneurs themselves, which obviously is no coincidence. 

This is why we launched our microfund. We want to actively work on diversifying investors and again since this is a systemic issue, we need to build different pieces that fit together and shift the needle. With this microfund, we open investment and investment education to new investors from as little as EUR 250 to democratise access to investment.

What piece of advice would you first give to any entrepreneur willing to start an impactful business in Europe?

Align your purpose with the financing instrument you choose. With this I mean, if you want to keep full control of your business, don’t take any type of equity investment. Also, if you don’t want to scale your business at an exponential pace, don’t take venture capital, not even impact venture capital. Because the structure of these funds still is a 10 year fund in which they will pressure you to exit your business after 5 to 10 years, it is how all the incentives of the fund are structured, and systems lead to certain practices and behaviour. Part of our mission is to create alternative instruments with different incentives. The microfund is our first experiment.

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