Announcing the Impact Union

A programme to unlock the potential of all entrepreneurs working on the thorniest challenges of our time

The Impact Union
Oct 22, 2018 · 5 min read


The new ventures that are going to tackle this century’s greatest challenges will be led by people from all kinds of backgrounds, and take all kinds of forms. We believe Cambridge, as a city of scholars, entrepreneurs, radical thinkers, pioneers and more, all of them connected in a global network under a powerful brand, can help these ventures in new ways, and accelerate our progress to a better future.

The Impact Union is a programme which enables change-making entrepreneurs realise their visions to deliver tangible impact at significant scale. It is a structured, immersive programme offering a peer community, a diverse and well-connected network, and world-class mentorship all in a safe, supportive environment. The Impact Union aims to give entrepreneurs the tools and contacts to develop their ventures and get through their toughest challenges, creating effective organisations which are solving our most serious problems.

There are many routes to success in sustainably providing everyone with shelter, food, energy, clean water and air, sanitation, education, decent work, peace and justice, health and wellbeing, fairness and equality, and maintaining shared goods such as biodiversity. These routes are not all effectively supported today. Practical ways to make a difference in these areas may be products, services, systems, technologies, standards, communities, knowledge, tools, movements or policies. The organisations that deliver these things should be of the right form to do so — rather than copying the trendiest trend in startups. The Impact Union helps ventures in whatever form is best for their purpose, be it non-profit, social enterprise, charity, co-operative, for-profit, or hybrid. This diversity is a strength that we use to help break through the tough challenges faced by growing organisations tackling complex problem spaces.

Supporting the teams leading these ventures, even if they don’t have a traditional “startup” or entrepreneurial background, or feel that a conventional accelerator or incubator isn’t for them, is how we cultivate great strength in leadership and a diverse and effective network. Ideas, and more importantly, practical solutions to the most pressing challenges facing our societies, come from diverse places, and from diverse teams. The potential of leaders is limited when it is forced to fit into a specific entrepreneurial mould, or go through a fixed training recipe. Our future is about listening, connecting, and enabling people to be the best leaders they can be, so that the ventures they lead stand the best chance of succeeding in their missions.

The Impact Union builds a sense of community and a network of opportunities for our ventures, so that they can better progress towards their goals with resilience, a better strategic roadmap, and an understanding of their place in a wider landscape. The Impact Union programme is designed to meet the needs of diverse teams, and designed for anyone who is starting to scale beyond an initial demonstration or pilot. We work to give timely and appropriate support, enabling entrepreneurs to achieve their potential in their own way. Our ambition is to empower organisations until they are ready to give back to the programme themselves.

This is an ambitious goal, and so we need a scalable plan to achieve it. Our dream for the Impact Union has three parts which will cause it to succeed:

  • a pioneering programme in Cambridge for teams to go through, a mix of face to face activities and ongoing support online
  • a distributed global programme, echoing the Cambridge one, delivered by partner organisations around the world, and developing our network and community
  • a fund of funds, supporting both these activities and the ventures themselves where appropriate through a hybrid model, enabling different types of investment and financial support.

We face risks and challenges ahead. There are many open questions still to be answered, about entrepreneurial models of support and the future of organisational acceleration for impact. But we believe in action — in trying, listening, and learning. So in January 2019, we’ll be hosting the first ever Impact Union event, prototyping our ideas in practice. A weekend-long Cambridge programme will bring together entrepreneurial teams who have started their journeys and are looking to the future, connecting them with mentors, coaches, and supporters in a variety of workshops and activities, followed by online sessions and the establishment of our ongoing remote community. We hope to create, in miniature, what a full scale programme experience could be like, to find out what works and what doesn’t, and build support and awareness of our larger ambition. It will be a first step towards our dream of a complete, sustainable system for supporting the entrepreneurs around the world who tackle important problems.

We are the Impact Union. We stand for meaningful practical impact on the challenges of our age, delivered by a community of diverse, committed, change-making entrepreneurs, who share values of fairness and the importance of purpose, working in our own ways to make a real and positive difference in the world. Join us.

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The Impact Union logo

You can follow the Impact Union on Twitter, and read our updates and learnings on Medium. As much as possible, we will conduct our work in the open, sharing the upsides and downsides of our journey with our community. If you’d like to be part of it, and can support us with time, resources, or contacts, in the run up to January or at the event itself, we’d love to hear from you. If you’re part of a team who could benefit from our programme, or know folks who are, send us your application, or drop us a line to let us know what sort of challenges you face, or help you’d like to see us provide. Contact us anytime at Longer term, we’ll be looking to build out our community more, but right now we’re focussed on making Union19 happen in January. We’re a small group of folks, not working on this full time, so please bear with us!

Jess Williamson,

Jonathan Holtby,

Laura James,

Stewart McTavish,

The Impact Union

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