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What’s an MIT Solve Custom Challenge Support Program?

What’s the deal with Solve support programs?

Social impact entrepreneurs want (and need) funding—that’s a given. Once that money is spent, the cycle of fundraising and grant applications begins yet again (and probably never stopped in the first place). This is why Solve provides entrepreneurs with funding and in-kind support and wrap-around services, which can lead to deeper and longer lasting impact. We’ve seen time and time again that support program benefits pay dividends well beyond when prize funding has been used up. Solve supports social entrepreneurs not only by connecting innovators with funding, but also by creating an engaging, capacity-building opportunity that centers the growth of the entrepreneur. 

Evidence suggests that selective, cohort-based accelerators and entrepreneurship programs (which tend to include prize funding, peer networking, and business skill development) are effective, and founding teams with women are most likely to rate the program benefits as important.

When and why does Solve offer support programs for custom challenges?

For cohorts of five participants or more, Solve offers support programs for custom challenge finalists and/or winners. This aligns with one of Solve’s core values—partnership—as we know that no one organization, sector, or industry can solve these challenges alone. Progress is made through partnership, which is furthered by introductions, connections, networks, and learnings gleaned through Solve support programs. 

Five or more support program participants allows for cross-team learnings in a cohort. We know that being a social impact entrepreneur is hard work, and leading a startup team is often an isolating, stressful experience. Providing a cohort-model support program composed of teams at different stages of growth and with different lived experiences allows for cohort members to share advice, feedback, grievances, and wins with one another. 

Recent custom challenges that have included successful support programs include: 

I’m a custom challenge client - why would my organization want to add a support program to our custom challenge? 

In short—to increase your challenge impact and put your dollars where they matter. Solve has over seven years of experience supporting social impact entrepreneurs at various stages of growth around the world. We’ve iterated on the support program elements over the years and have a standard set of offerings. 

You also have the opportunity to be as involved (or not) as you’d like. Do you have in-kind organizational resources able to be leveraged? Would you like to showcase a winner at an upcoming all-hands meeting? Can you shine a spotlight on your winners through your newsletters or impact reports? We collaborate with you to create a support program that best reflects your intentions for the innovators.

Additionally, this is a great moment for employee engagement, whether that be through ad-hoc mentorship, volunteering, informal meet and greets, or more. This is a chance to engage your employees in your social and environmental impact initiatives and leverage their unique skills and experiences to further support your winners.

I’m a busy social impact entrepreneur so why would I want to participate in a support program?

We know you’re busy. That’s why we’ve designed our support program with monthly touchpoints to make the most of everyone’s time. We ask that you commit to engaging in the support program opportunities to the best of your ability. We’ve consistently seen that entrepreneurs get out what they put into the experience—the more engaged, active, and open you are throughout, the more you’ll get out of it.

Here’s what you can expect:

  • Six months of support programming, including

    • Executive leadership coaching with Karla Garcia Teruel of Growth Empowered - consistently rated as one of the highlights of the support program experience. Karla was instrumental in helping me navigate impending changes within the organization.” - Digital Workforce Challenge support program participant 

    • Capacity building workshops - this may include topics like participatory design, theory of change, marketing principles, or impact metrics. 

The Participatory Design workshop helped us evaluate our team's skills, functions, and perspectives and helped us see that we were trying to ‘team too hard." - Digital Workforce Challenge support program participant  

  • Cohort calls - expand your network, get to know your fellow cohort members, share wins and struggles, and exchange feedback and input with one another.

  • Individual team check-in calls - tell us how things are going, how your needs have been met or have shifted, exciting things on the horizon, and more!

  • In-kind resources, including pro-bono legal support, software licenses, free courses, and more.

That said, if you’re applying to a Solve custom challenge just for the accolades and prize funding, be sure to take a look at the specific challenge eligibility and details to determine whether the challenge includes a support program. They’re not for everyone, and you know your needs and capacity better than anyone else. 

Learn more about how you can launch a custom challenge with Solve here

Custom Challenges
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