Marissa Sackler established Beespace in New York City in 2013 to provide social entrepreneurs with experienced mentorship; in-house PR, tech, development, fundraising, and design assistance; and the support of an innovative entrepreneurial community. Beespace does not accept payment from its "Incubees" and requires that they secure at least four months of operational income before they head out on their own.
PND spoke with Sackler, founder and president of Beespace and a founding sponsor and activist for charity: water, in November about the incubator concept, how Beespace works for and with its Incubees, and her ambitions for the organization over the next few years.
Philanthropy News Digest: Although the concept of accelerators and incubators is fairly well established in the for-profit world, it's still relatively new in the nonprofit space. Why have nonprofits and funders been slow to embrace the concept?
Marissa Sackler: There are nonprofit incubators out there doing good work, but we think we've developed a more comprehensive model that's going to help organizations grow and achieve their potential. We use a three-pronged approach. The first prong is what we call our co-working space. It's important that we have a diversity of organizations learning and working side by side. The second prong is the internal agency we provide — our executive director, PR, tech, design, development, and fundraising experts — all of whom work to help the organizations grow and reach their potential. We also have people from social media, marketing, and accounting backgrounds visiting for weekly office hours with each organization. Finally, the third prong is the broader Beespace community within the nonprofit world. Beespace connects each Incubee with a nonprofit and for-profit mentor who then works with the organization to guide and support its growth.
PND: You’re currently working with three nonprofits — the Malala Fund, the Adventure Project, and Practice Makes Perfect — and you're planning to add three more. What do you look for in an Incubee?
MS: We look very closely at the leader, at the issue they're working to address, and at the nonprofit's overall organizational structure. We’re geography- and issue-neutral — we take organizations that are working both domestically and internationally. They can be working on any issue, but we want to identify groups with a strong organizational vision and an innovative strategy that have the ability to create real change and that are attempting to solve issues at scale. We look at scale in two ways: horizontally, in terms of expanding programs to effectively help solve an issue in multiple communities or even countries, but also vertically, making sure an organization is always maintaining the strongest quality and depth of programming while expanding.
PND:In your experience, what are the challenges most likely to prevent a nonprofit startup from succeeding, and how does Beespace help them overcome those challenges?
MS: We've identified six main challenges. Number one is financial management; cash on hand is a huge problem. Leadership, communication, programs, fundraising, and staffing are the other five. We work with organizations to help them overcome those challenges. We believe strongly in the power of effective communications, branding, and storytelling to help an organization stand out in what has become a very crowded nonprofit space. To address the fundraising issue, we have a full-time development person on staff as well as training in accounting, legal, finance, and best practices. Effective programming is vital, and we strongly believe that effective programming comes from effective operations. The best way to provide great operations is through human resources training.
PND: You’ve mentioned leadership a few times. What does successful leadership look like in a nonprofit startup context?
MS: Most importantly, a leader in these situations has to be incredibly passionate and dedicated to their organization and cause. With help and training, they can develop strong management skills, but vision and passion are necessary from the beginning. A strong leader also is able to identify and address the areas where their organization needs to improve. Organizations, in turn, need strong teams to support a visionary leader. Unfortunately, we feel that many nonprofit startups are not building teams equal to the ones we see in the for-profit world. Proper HR training can help those leaders develop the skills and teams they need to make their organizations a success.
PND: What are your ambitions for Beespace over the next couple of years?
MS: My main ambition is to create a high-quality organization that helps our Incubees succeed in the world and surpass their goals. In the immediate future, we're excited about expanding Beespace and bringing new Incubees into the program. In fact, we are currently accepting applications from interested early-stage nonprofits at www.beespacenyc.org.
— Matt Sinclair