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Sustainability Subscribed Accelerator: Subscription Innovations That Solve Global Issues

Tien Tzuo
CEO, Zuora

At Zuora, we’ve been especially busy working on our environmental and societal impact this year. We reduced our carbon footprint and achieved carbon neutral status for this fiscal year, and launched our first annual ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) Impact Report

But we wanted to think bigger. Every day, we bear witness to the power of subscription businesses to reinvent entire industries. What if we could harness that power into tackling some of the world’s biggest challenges?

This was the idea behind the first ever Sustainability Subscribed Accelerator program, a collaborative effort between Village Capital and Zuora to help identify and support amazing entrepreneurs looking to have a positive impact on society and the planet. An accelerator program for good, if you will. Village Capital has a strong history of impact investing; including alumni, Arable, who recently went on to raise a Series C of $40M, to continue their mission to find new solutions to reduce emissions, increase agricultural resilience, and create a more sustainable food supply. 

Nine companies were selected from a pool of over 50 applicants for this four month program. The participating startups and founders went through rounds of in-person mentorship provided by ZEOs, were able to speak to one another in workshop sessions, presented at a “Venture Forum”, and after a vote from their peers on the most “investment ready” startup, two winners walked away with a $50K grant from Zuora to help them continue to scale. As an added bonus, winners don’t have to give up equity in their company, unlike other accelerators. Click here for a program overview.

This week, we spoke to two of the brilliant leaders who worked on the Sustainability Subscribed Accelerator: Allie Burns, the CEO of Village Capital, Valerie Jackson, Senior Vice President, Chief Diversity Officer at Zuora. 

We talked about how the program came to fruition, why it’s important for Zuora and Village Capital, and how an event like this can have a positive effect for the Subscription Economy and the world. 

Hi, Valerie and Allie! Thanks for joining me today! It was thrilling to follow along as this program unfolded, and it sounds like the cohort of participants have found a platform to make a difference. Why do you think Village Capital finds entrepreneurs in some of these emerging categories so interesting?

A: Village Capital has a long history of helping entrepreneurs who are trying to solve major socioeconomic and environmental challenges, so we’ve always been really interested in what’s developing in the tech space that can help solve the big, hairy challenges as a global community.

It turns out, in order to tackle climate change, it’s going to take multiple innovations across different sectors. What is so promising about the participants in the accelerator is that they are working across the board in emerging categories, by using innovation to help fight climate change. 

V: I also want to add that we created the Sustainability Subscribed Accelerator program in concert with our partner, Village Capital. The program itself was co-designed and co-built from the beginning. From the length of time, to what we covered, to how we assessed applicants… everything.

This is the first time that we, as Zuora, had done anything like this and it’s the first time we had partnered with an organization, like Village Capital. We didn’t pay or recruit with some sort of incentive to get folks to mentor or be on our advisory board. They all did it because they were excited about it. It has been awesome, and it was a fantastic experience and partnership.

What is it about this partnership with Zuora that made the accelerator such a success? 

A: That’s an easy one! There was a clear philosophical alignment on the role that technology can play in solving some of those big socioeconomic and environmental challenges. We also had clear goals in mind, being able to collaborate with the Zuora team and the ZEOs, to align specific skills and expertise with the startups that needed them most. 

Also, I want to say I have a lot of gratitude for Zuora being able to hold an in-person event during this day and age, which is really meaningful considering what we’re trying to accomplish here. 

Oh cool! What’s next for the Sustainability Subscribed Accelerator winners? 

A: Sure, so let’s focus on the two winners: Benchmark Labs and Voltpost. Benchmark Labs’ mission is to be able to provide the agriculture, insurance, and energy sectors with modern weather forecasting technology that can alert them to micro-climates. 

The startup Voltpost’s name implies what they do: they offer modular electric vehicle charging stations that can be retrofitted to existing lamp posts, using a hardware-as-a-service business model. By democratizing EV charging stations, Voltpost is nullifying the idea that electric vehicles are only suitable for affluent neighborhoods (as is the case right now in the United States). 

Both of the winners will be using their grants to future expand, invest in development, and bring on more talented folks to their teams. They also will be receiving continued mentorship and support from Village Capital. 

Throughout this program we engaged partners, startups, investors, climate activists, members of the community, and ZEOs. What were some of the highlights working with a cross functional team?

A: First and foremost, we’ve always had a strong belief that bringing together diverse experiences and perspectives is important. Research shows that diverse teams make better and smarter decisions! Different folks with different experiences and backgrounds are crucial to us in the work that we do at Village Capital to support entrepreneurs. We’re able to bring together the best entrepreneurs because we have folks from different experiences and backgrounds that can shine light on the work that we do together. 

One of the biggest highlights for me was this bridging of the unique talents of ZEOs with the entrepreneurs and their needs within the accelerator. Not a lot of programs emphasize the input that the companies get from other founders, whether they’re in the cohort or if they run companies of their own! On top of that, being able to facilitate sessions where founders learned from each other was valuable to everyone participating. 

V: Well, there were many, and I can only speak from my perspective. Maybe, what impressed me the most, was that Zuora could be a catalyst for folks to come together in this way. After all, there’s no planet B. Some people think it’s a trite statement, but it’s true. 

One of the greatest benefits was seeing how enthusiastic, excited, and how really invigorated people were when given the opportunity to work on something like this. They all did it because they were excited about it. 

Tien, I have a question for you: How do you see subscriptions providing more social equity? How is Zuora moving that agenda forward in today’s economic climate?

T: Great question Allie! I think that subscriptions give easier on-ramps to new ideas, and the result is the Subscription Economy has been widening access to all sorts of important services. Zuora helps power the businesses that offer these implementations, while also taking on initiatives like the Sustainability Subscribed Accelerator program in order to support the kinds of positive change we want to see. 

In a practical sense, you can see how subscriptions provide more social equity. Need to be driven from point A to point B for an errand? You can use the Uber app on your phone to get there. Today, any new developer can now launch a product on Azure or Amazon Web Services, any content creator can debut their creative work on the global stage and run their own theater by charging their audience an entry fee. 

A new media conglomerate can directly deliver verified news to the most underrepresented. Cloud-based services are enabling the democratization of applications and services, which as a result, enables usership thanks to the compelling services that are launched. 

By getting Zuora involved in the next generation of sustainable subscription companies by putting the pedal on the accelerator, we’re able to not only support, but guide the positive climate innovations that quite frankly, the world needs. 

Thank you both, Valerie and Allie! I’m looking forward to what’s next for sustainability within the Subscription Economy! 

V & A: Absolutely, and thank you for having us, Tien. Hope to speak again about the good Zuora and Village Capital are doing soon!

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