November 13, 2020

Accelerating Impact: How Funders and Other Partners can Speed the Pathway to Scale

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 @ Birth program to answer these questions. The journeys of these innovations 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 11 innovator organizations, we learned that there are three key factors that accelerate the path to scaling:

  1. Preparation for scale at the early stages of innovation development. For some innovators, the funding application process prompted early thinking about scale by requiring a feasible scaling plan, even in the initial development phase. Accelerator support, including workshops and technical assistance also provided valuable guidance as innovators developed scaling and business plans.
  2. 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, collaboration, and the sharing of best practices.
  3. 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 that 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 for each. We also make specific recommendations for the SL@B program and other innovation funders to further accelerate market entry and scale. For example:

  1. Take an intentional approach to multi-stage funding, with success metrics for each stage, to secure the progression of highly promising innovations and prevent the disruption caused by gaps in funding.
  2. Help innovators test market viability quickly and iterate as needed, following the “fail fast” mantra. This prevents wasted time finetuning a model that is not going to gain traction in the market.
  3. 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 were 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 innovators credit SL@B support with accelerating their progress toward market entry, scale, and impact. 
For details about 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. The SL@B program was funded by of the USAID, the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada, the U.K. Department for International Development, and the Korea International Cooperation Agency. Duke’s evaluation was supported by USAID and Grand Challenges Canada.