The Startups for Sustainable Development program has evolved over the years to serve the needs of startups at scale. The importance of both personal support through mentorship and advising, and technological support through research and AI, has been consistent throughout.
Google's SDG Accelerator announced
Around the world, the number of startups addressing the world’s most pressing social challenges was rapidly growing. To Google, it was clear that technology could help address some of the world’s biggest challenges, from empowering others to use AI to address social challenges, to setting ambitious and long-term environmental sustainability goals.
On Nov 5, 2019, Kate Brandt, Google's Chief Sustainability Officer, with executive sponsorship from VP Engineering Yossi Matias, announced Google's first SDG Accelerator. Focused on Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, the program was designed to address the unique challenges founders face when building a social impact company. It planned to include 8 to 10 startups that would take part in a 6-month accelerator program in early 2020.
SDG Accelerator launched
After careful consideration of over 1,200 applications, on April 7, 2020 the 11 selected startups were announced, addressing a wide range of social and environmental challenges, to participate in the inaugural SDG Accelerator. This group included startups mDoc, OKO, and SkillLab.
While the original accelerator planned for in-person participation, in light of COVID-19 the program converted to being digital. Virtual training covered topics such as creating Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), UX Research & Behavioral Economics, ML Data Pipelines and Data Visualization, SDG innovation for sustainable impact, and Strategies for Social Impact Fundraising. The program kicked off on April 21st.
Startup Advisor: SDGs pilot begins
Given the tremendous interest in the SDG Accelerator, limited spots available, and success of digital-only support, the team began to think about how else to best serve so many talented impact startups. Just as the accelerator wrapped up in September, the pilot of a long-term, online-only program began.
At the time called Startup Advisor: SDGs, the pilot tested the unique model of providing similar support as the accelerator, but in a broader and more long-term and scalable way. The pilot was a hit, and by the end of 2020 over 60 startups were involved.
Program expansion and evolution
As COVID-19's effects continued to be felt around the world, the model of a global, online, and long-term program became more and more valuable. Startups were seeing the benefits of dedicated support from mentors, and the mentorship pool grew significantly as more experts wanted to provide help to startups in this space.
The program grew from 60 startups at the end of 2020, to over 250 at the end of 2021.
Startups for Sustainable Development
The program, now named Startups for Sustainable Development to recognize the broad scope of startups it supports, is still growing in impact. It supports nearly 400 startups in more than 70 counties, with a vast network of hundreds of partners and mentors available to support startups in everything from HR to AI.
The pillars of mentorship, funding support, and technology have been growing in scope and impact. Coupled with the support of Google Research and AI, they've helped participating startups to scale and reach their goals.
The Startups for Sustainable Development program is currently accepting impact startup applications.