By Andrea Taylor
For social innovations, scaling is the key to impact. But how do these innovations scale, and how can funders, accelerators, and other partners accelerate that process?
We took a close look at the experience of a sample of innovators funded by the Saving Lives at Birth program to answer this question. Their journeys provide insight into which factors are most helpful on the pathway to scale and how funders and other partners can support and speed up this process. Through semi-structured interviews with eleven innovator organizations, we learned that there are three key factors that accelerate the path to scaling:
- Preparation for scale at the early stages of innovation development. For some innovators, the funding application process served as a forcing mechanism to prompt early thinking about scale by requiring a feasible scaling plan, even at the initial development phase. Accelerator support, including workshops and technical assistance also provided valuable guidance as innovators developed scaling and business plans.
- Facilitation of peer-to-peer support and networks. Innovators reported that the community of innovators brought together by the SL@B program was an important resource for support, collaborations, and market knowledge.
- Strategic connections with potential partners. Innovators need to attract the right distribution, licensing, and/or manufacturing partners in order to reach scale. Funders and mentors helped to identify potential partners and their introductions provided initial validation, which opened doors and catalyzed partnerships that otherwise may not have gotten off the ground.
The full research brief provides additional findings, including key turning points on the path to market and which supports were most critical at each point. We also make specific recommendations for the SL@B program and other innovation funders to further accelerate market entry and scale. For example:
- Take an intentional approach to multi-stage funding, with success metrics for each stage, to secure the progression of high-promise innovations through the growth pathway and prevent the disruption caused by gaps in funding.
- Help innovators to test market viability quickly and iterate as needed, following the “fail fast” mantra. This prevents wasted time fine-tuning a model that is not going to have traction in the market.
- Increase innovator connections to and support in target markets, to ensure that the innovator has sufficient knowledge of and real-time insights into the ecosystem.
Overall, the strongest themes emerging from our analysis are that the financial and non-financial support of the SL@B program played an important and positive role in the trajectory of the innovations, and that these organizations credit SL@B support with accelerating their progress toward market entry, scale, and impact. For details on how this funding program helped global health innovations move toward scale and the key lessons for other funders and scaling partners, please read the full research brief here.