Back in 2011, the Taronga Foundation made its first green grants to support conservation and environmental ideas that had potential for making a difference.
The inaugural winner was Take 3 for The Sea, an initiative to clean up our beaches by the simple act of removing three pieces of rubbish from the beach each time you visited. It was an idea devised by surfers and ocean lovers who had become increasingly concerned about the pollution on our beaches and shorelines. It proved to be a powerful idea whose time had come.
The green grants, that put $150,000 into shaping important ideas about the ecosystem, have evolved into something new – an accelerator program called Hatch, still focussed on the same environmental and conservation goals, but designed to pressure-test an idea through a rigorous program that will arrive at a winner later this year who will receive up to $50,000 to develop their initiative.
Within the broad environment and conservation focus, there is no hard and fast rule about what the idea should be – it could be about habitat changes, climate change, pollution or the illegal wildlife trade. It could be about community-building activities, technology or adopting a social enterprise approach. But the initiative must support Taronga’s 360-degree approach to conservation, that supports wildlife, habitat and communities to achieve change that works across the whole ecosystem.
Some months ago, Taronga approached CEO and founder of the BridgeLane Group, Markus Kahlbetzer, to see if he would be interested in supporting an accelerator program that would help identify the next not-for-profit or social enterprise in the natural environment sector.
Markus, who is also a Philanthropy Australia New Gen member, has a range of investing experiences, that covers technology start-ups, property and agriculture, and distinguished by an entrepreneurial flair. “There’s a relationship between this and the things we do – we’ve done work with start-ups and we’re also a business that’s been involved in agriculture for many generations,’’ Markus says. “And we see ourselves in some ways as guardians of the environment.’’
The first iteration of Hatch has just closed. The word is that there are more than 40 applications and it’s expected that 10-15 of them are particularly strong, ensuring the final selection will be a tight contest.
According to the Taronga Foundation’s Community Conservation and Engagement Officer, Danielle Fryday, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed some of the proposed face-to-face contact for Hatch. Instead, some of the key elements of the program will be delivered virtually, during the 14-week commitment.
One of the key initial considerations is that the idea aligns with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, and then each idea is reviewed by a panel of Taronga experts, the potential finalists are interviewed and then five outstanding projects are chosen to join the accelerator program. Each of the teams will receive $2000 in seed funding.
There will be two two-day immersives, a two-hour workshop every Tuesday, and tapping into Markus’ extensive network to help provide a mentor and a subject matter expert to each of the five finalists. A final virtual pitch will be held in November and the winner will then be announced.
“The consideration will be “what impact can this make?’ on an environmental or conservation issue,’’ Danielle says. “We’ll also ask – is it scalable? Can it be Australia-wide? Or can it go broader than that, internationally?’’ Commercial considerations will also be important, especially if there is a market for the idea that can be tapped in to but the goal, in that instance, is to ensure that it’s “profit for purpose.’’
The four unsuccessful ideas or projects will have evolved and been refined during the accelerator process, and even though they will not receive any additional funding they will be supported through the Foundation’s media coverage of the program.
For Markus, the potential to be part of growing something remarkable has its own rewards. “We want to make a meaningful contribution,’’ he says. “Hatch is in its infancy and we would love to be able to help grow these ideas into something sustainable.’’
At this stage, the accelerator program will be held every two years. The next Take 3 for the Sea may be just about to hatch.