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At Techstars Impact, we’re in the business of solving problems that matter, and we have a deeply held belief that some of our deepest problem sets also represent some of our biggest opportunities. However, people ask us all the time what we’re actually looking for when we say “impact”.

The short answer is that we back mission-driven founders building technologies to solve pressing social and environmental problems. If you’re wondering what gets us most excited though, below are the key areas where I am most looking to invest.

As a founder, we know that time is one of your most precious assets, so our aim is to be as transparent and direct as possible about what we’re looking for*. In an effort to do that, I’ve built this list (which we’ll add to regularly) of the types of impact startups we’re particularly interested in. If this is you, let’s talk**.

*Two caveats: Firstly, we have and always will back incredible founding teams over ideas. Ultimately, you matter much more than the business model you are applying with. Secondly, consider this list directional, not prescriptive. We fully expect you to have identified opportunities that sit outside of this list, so applying with a startup that fits into this list does not guarantee that you will be accepted into the program.

**Already know you’re a good fit for Techstars Impact? Applications close on Feb. 25th, 2018. Apply today.


Financial Services

We see a gap in financial products that are both designed for the underbanked and are non-predatory (i.e. payday loans). We’re looking for financial products for the underbanked that help build healthy financial futures.

Affordable Housing

Across the United States, there doesn’t exist a single county with adequate affordable housing for its residents, and our ability to meet that need is trending in the wrong direction. We’re looking for technologies that enable housing solutions for the lower-quartile of communities in developed countries or universally in emerging markets.


Migration is one of the single best tools in our toolbelt to tackle global poverty. We’re looking for technologies that support or enable global migration and whose end-benefits positively reach underserved communities. For example, in 2014 migrants sent $436B in remittances, nearly three times the total amount of official development aid given by the world’s wealthiest nations. There’s a lot already in this space, so we’re looking for alternatives that can build a competitive advantage by providing a better, more affordable product for people on the move.

Workforce & Future of Work

Automation and other technological innovations are fundamentally changing the shape and makeup of the labor economy. As these shifts set in, we’re looking for solutions that will help navigate that transition, including upskilling and reskilling platforms that anticipate the evolving skills needs of the new economy, as well as solutions and technologies that inclusively enable a transition toward non-labor income streams, such as nanopayments and the token economy.


Our education system is badly broken, and is not built for today’s learner nor tomorrow’s economy. We’re looking for alternative, accessible and affordable education models aimed at outcomes like reducing dropout rates and improving persistence rates, as well as preparing students to be competitive in tomorrow’s economy: it is becoming increasingly apparent that nonhuman competition will require that we adequately train tomorrow’s workforce with skills and abilities that will be harder to automate.

Diversity & Inclusion

The data keeps rolling in, and it is increasingly clear: diversity drives better business outcomes. We’re looking for solutions that increase diversity across the spectrum, ranging from building and connecting talent pipelines to enabling hiring, fair wages and promotion practices to products and services that incentivize diversity in governance structures


Technology is uniquely positioned to empower the masses to build better-functioning democracies around the world. We’re looking for startups that either a) strengthen existing democracies or b) provide democracy-strengthening opportunities for people living in closed societies, ranging from open media and election technologies to anti-corruption fintech and encrypted communications.

Impact Investing

With the $30T transfer of wealth between the baby boomer and millennial generation underway, we’re seeing a surge of capital moving into the impact space. We’re looking for impact savings and investment products that bring impact investment to the masses, ranging from solutions that increase financing into underserved communities to ones that will help fuel the emergence of the global impact investing economy in innovative and more accessible ways.

Clean Energy & Climate Change Solutions

Climate change is one of the most urgent threats facing humanity. We believe that business and technology is uniquely positioned to drive the adoption of climate-improving practices at scale to bend the emissions curve by 2020. We’re looking for startups building:

  • Technologies that enable the transition to solar and other forms of clean energy as quickly as possible, whether that be a financing or an accessibility play or otherwise
  • Climate-smart solid waste management, including waste-to-liquid fuel, waste-to-energy and circular economy marketplaces
  • Methods of capturing, storing and utilizing CO2
  • Technologies to enable our transition toward electric vehicles
  • Smart cold chain storage and transportation plays
  • Platforms that enable cities, which produce 75% of global greenhouse emissions, to cost-effectively reach goals set out by the Fossil-Fuel-Free Streets Declaration led by the C40 Climate Cities Leadership Group

Food Supply & Security

As the global population continues to grow, we need to develop climate-smart ways of to feed the world with healthy, affordable food and without also driving up greenhouse emissions. We’re looking for technologies targeted at:

  • Food recapture and recovery
  • Shelf-life extension
  • Accessible, affordable healthy food options for underserved communities
  • Scalable strategies to finance the half-billion smallholder farmers around the world

Oceans, Water & Sanitation

Whether viewed from the lens of climate change, meeting the growing global water demand, or mitigating the repercussions that will be faced by the millions worldwide who depend on coastal resources, water is inextricably linked to building a better planet. We’re looking for water innovators who are tackling issues like:

  • Drones/blockchain solutions for real-time ocean monitoring
  • Supply chain innovations for fisheries
  • Water recycling and reuse
  • Water-smart technologies

The Team Behind the Mission

As we mentioned, this is a non-exhaustive list, and we’ll be adding to it on a regular basis. And while these are some of the issues we’re looking for founders to tackle with innovative technologies, regardless of the issue, what’s most important to us is the team behind the mission.

Here’s what we’re looking for in you:

  • You’re in it for the mission, and know you’ll get there by building a big business. You’ve tightened your aperture around a pressing global problem that also represents a massive market opportunity, and have developed an innovative technology or business model to link those two together.
  • You operate with unshakeable intellectual honesty and an insatiable curiosity to learn and improve.
  • You demonstrate strong founder/problem fit, meaning your background, skills and experience give you an unfair advantage to tackle this problem. You understand the industry that you are operating in, which gives you unique insights about where there are open opportunities, and have a real passion for the space.

Let’s talk!

Applications close on Feb. 25th, 2018. Apply today.

If you’d like to join Techstars Impact as a founder, let’s talk. You can reach me directly at zoe.schlag@techstars.com.

We’ll also be on the road in January and February, meeting with founders from LA, San Francisco and Vancouver to Boston, Chicago and NY, and more. Keep an eye out for dates.


This was originally published on Medium

Zoe Schlag Zoe Schlag
Zoe is the Managing Director of the Techstars Impact Accelerator in Austin. She is the Founder & Executive Director of UnLtd USA, providing seed funding and venture support to entrepreneurs tackling pressing social and environmental challenges. She is an Aspen Ideas Scholar, formerly a Mentor-in-Residence at Techstars and has worked with social ventures across the United States, India and Africa.