NI entrepreneur urges local ‘businesses for good’ to apply for UK accelerator

  • The Northern Irish co-founder of a UK-wide impact-driven accelerator and angel network, is urging entrepreneurial activists from NI to apply for its latest accelerator programme initiative.

    Banbridge native, Sara-Louise Martin helped launch Impact Central. Its new six-month programme involves an intensive 12-week accelerator.

    After that, start-ups are paired with a business mentor – someone who has run a global business or raised significant investment – who will meet with them every week for three months, helping them scale their business and introduce them to their network.

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    “We’re a bit broader than tech-for-good, in that we’re sector agnostic,” said Sara-Louise. “We work with companies solving any type of social or environmental problem, and we say that they all use tech to scale their business!

    “It's not a competitive environment, it's much more collaborative and that's why I think many more people thrive, because you're not competing to get funding.”

    Sara-Louise added she “would love to see Northern Irish businesses get excited to be part of the programme.”

    She has urged local ‘businesses for good’ here to “go for it” even though the initiative is primarily London-based.

    One of the companies Impact Central has worked with in the past is Tranquiliti, a digital service that continually measures and supports wellbeing in schools

    It will be a hybrid of Zoom with some in-person events, which she believes people will really get the most out of.

    “We want to see businesses scale and I think also there's a lot of opportunity with the network that we have across the UK and the US.

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    “Our requirements are that businesses are limited companies registered in the UK, but if other businesses have different legal structures, like if they're set up as a social enterprise or a community interest company, it’s not too difficult to change.”

    Turning personal passion into a full-time career

    The Co Down woman has worked across marketing and comms since she left university, where she studied French and International Business. After spending some time in France and then New York, she has now worked and lived in London for the past 12 years.

    Spending so much of her time outside of work on social impact projects, the entrepreneur decided to give up her professional services job three years ago, to make her passion a full-time role.

    “I helped to start a small charity that works with women that were sex-trafficked, and spent a lot of my free time doing that in London and was involved in various other social action type things.

    “I just really felt I needed to redress the balance because this area was bringing me so much more joy and fulfilment than my working life.

    I came across an opportunity within the impact sector, and have been working in this space since 2018.”

    Taking a huge pay cut and essentially stepping into the unknown was an undoubtedly scary step to make, but Sara-Louise says she always knew it would be worth it.

    “I knew that if I could drive my passion into something positive, then it would be worth it, even though it was financially challenging.

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    “I think Northern Irish people in general are very socially minded, and I think partly because of our history; because of the legacy of the Troubles, we often want to see the good and be part of that,” she continued.

    “My father was killed in the Troubles, and I think for me, the legacy of that has always been a real driving force for how I spend my time and what I do for work. My work had to be something that was driving change in society. We’re only here for a short time, it’s good to make that time count.”

    Between meeting her fellow Impact Central co-founders through a previous accelerator programme, the four built their business virtually through lockdown “it's a real coronavirus baby in many ways,” Sara-Louise laughed.

    Sara-Louise with her fellow three co-founders of Impact Central

    Since its inception, Impact Central has worked with over 30 start-ups such as New Ground Coffee, which provides training and employment to ex-offenders, and Luminary Bakery, which caught the attention of the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, and has gone on to win a Queens Award.

    She also featured them in the September 2019 edition of Vogue she guest edited; they work as a bakery, but also as a centre for vulnerable women who have potentially been in abusive relationships or have been trafficked.

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    “We're building an ecosystem, so we've got the accelerator programme, the Chorus Angel Network - which is a platform for angel investors - and then we're also in the process of building an Impact Fund,” added Sara-Louise.

    “The idea is that we can support these start-ups as they grow and scale through the different rounds of funding that start-ups tend to go through.”

    Applications for the September 2021 cohort of the programme are open now and close on Tuesday 6 July 2021. Founders can apply on the Impact Central website here.

    About the author

    Niamh is a Sync NI writer with a previous background of working in FinTech and financial crime. She has a special interest in sports and emerging technologies. To connect with Niamh, feel free to send her an email or connect on Twitter.

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