Our team met up with Michael “Luni” Libes for a one on one interview to find out more about the successful entrepreneur and the driving force behind Fledge. Read along to find out more about what inspires Luni to support young entrepreneurs and how the the “conscious company” accelerator is helping entrepreneurs who are bringing products and services to the growing number of consumers, who in their consumption are conscious of the environment, their health, of community, sustainability, and even conscious of consumption itself.
GoGreen Conference: “Fledge” is a beautiful concept and name for an incubator that focuses on fostering “conscious” companies. How did you get the idea of bringing cause-driven startups to one centralized environment? Do you have a stand-out story of collaboration between entrepreneurs in your space?
Luni: After 20 years of being an entrepreneur it was time that I help the next generation of entrepreneurs. Instead of starting my sixth company that might only bring something of value to a few customers, I wanted to help entrepreneurs have a bigger reach and to help more people.
I joined as a mentor at TechStars and as a mentor in the Portland Incubator Experiment. I started talking to teams, teams working on other programs, going online and tearing apart websites and trying to understand how the models work. I did a full end to end analysis of 50 other programs to find out how much money they give out, how much money they take in, where their funding comes from and how their business models work.
I came to the conclusion that TechStars was in fact nearly the right model. Just a few things could be changed for success. The question was – what to do with the information? Now that I had the knowledge of yes this model works, the question was where should it be applied?
In doing this research, I was introduced to Brian Howe, cofounder of HUB Seattle. When I met Brian the HUB was only two weeks old and there was no one there. He told me that he had dreamed of having 500 active members and an accelerator within the HUB.
We worked on the plan for months trying to figure out if the HUB would benefit from an accelerator. We knew what worked in general, at least for tech companies and we believed the format might also work for socially conscious companies.
To test out our theory we created #Socent Weekend targeted to benefit social entrepreneurs which took place in February of 2012. During the weekend, 80 strangers stepped forward into a novel experiment, moving from raw ideas into operational social enterprises in just 50 hours and during that time thirteen companies were created.
With that encouragement, I sat down and wrote a business plan for Fledge. The #Socent Weekend was the proof I needed that said there was a market for this type of project. If there’s a market in Seattle, there’s probably a bigger market globally.
GoGreen Conference: You launched Fledge in 2012, the first accelerator to foster ‘conscious companies’. Over the past 2 years, what are the key ingredients to success that Fledge has brought to its companies? How is Fledge different from other accelerators?
Luni: The biggest distinction is the culture of the organization. Just like any other organization there’s a corporate culture and ours is focused on collaboration.
Many accelerators provide advice from mentors and guidance on deadlines. The best of these programs will put entrepreneurs together in the same room to talk to each other and help each other. Fledge takes the best practices of those models to the next level, we are all about collaboration.
For example, at Fledge, when we do pitch coaching, all our teams are in the room pitch coaching each other. We have outsiders who come in to provide their opinion and those are equal opinions to everyone else in the room. Everybody participates in everyone else’s pitches, everyone’s stories.
Our entrepreneurs are socially conscious and they are part of the DNA of the system. They understand stakeholders vs. shareholders vs. employees. They understand it takes more than just one person to make a company succeed.
Secondly, our “fledlgings” quickly realize that the problem one of their peers is having today may be their problem tomorrow. Thus in airing issues as a group, not only does one company benefit, but all the participants learn about solutions to problems they are likely to come across as well.
GoGreen Conference: As an instructor, an author and an entrepreneur, you have led five successful startups and you have inspired so many to improve their daily life, community and the world. What other projects are you currently working on and what inspired them? What is a piece of advice you would give to an entrepreneur?
Luni: I created Fledge in 2012. A year later I realized that I had turned down over 90% of all the people who asked for help. That made me ask – how do we help the other 90%? I created a second program called Kick. The program helped 13 entrepreneurs who were all happy with the results.With that success, I thought that would simply be my summer program, and nothing more.
Two weeks later I was at the Social Capital Conference. In a meeting after meeting, the head of HUBs from all over the world were saying that they could use accelerator programs in their HUBs as well. But the question was how could they do it? I took that as a problem to solve.
After the third session of Fledge ended, I packaged up Kick for those potential customers. We started licensing it in January and as of yesterday we have 8 licensees: Victoria, Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Kenya, plus two grant-funded programs, and more on the way.
I don’t think you can be a successful entrepreneur unless you want to solve other people’s problems. You can build a product you like, but unless it solves a problem someone else has, you’re not going to sell very many of them.
Join us on April 30th and hear Luni speak more about his involvement with the B Corp movement during the all group session Benchmark Your Performance with B Corp starting at 9:30 am. We are also proud to have Fledge participate as a Community Partner of the conference. Use their promotional code FLEDGE when you register for 20% off tickets!