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Fast tracking innovation and maintaining sanity in lockdown

Our Innovation Accelerator Program for the Global Change Award winners is designed to accelerate the development of their innovations to reach the market quicker and therefore driving change in the fashion industry. This year, our Accelerator delivered knowhow from an impressive list of guest speakers, but it also played an important role in giving a sense of belonging and moral support to our winners because of the pandemic.

Digital Accelerator Program for GCA 2020

The winners of the Global Change Award not only share a grant of 1 million euro, but they also embark on a one-year long Innovation Accelerator Program. Many alumni winners say this program is even more important than the financial contribution and if often help to cut years off our winners’ timeline.

Usually after the dazzling Award Ceremony in April, we take our winners on three intensive bootcamp weeks in Stockholm, New York and Hong Kong. And in between these weeks we give tailor-made support and coaching sessions.

But due to the pandemic, everything changed. Cancelling the Accelerator Program was no option, but how could we make sure to still deliver value and quality through a screen without even having met our new winners? It was a real challenge for us, and we had to go back to the drawing board and re-think the whole program and set up.

As it turns out, our new digital format doesn’t have to be that bad.

“By having a virtual accelerator, we were able to invite even more guest speakers, investors, and mentors from around the world to collaborate in one global ecosystem. I truly believe that this experience has strengthened the innovators’ global network further.”

Sara Rahiminejad, Accenture, who alongside KTH are one of our partners in the Accelerator

Dipak Mahato, founder and CEO of SeaChange Technology and one of our new winners says: “Especially with the global lockdown and slowdown from the coronavirus, being able to continue to regularly meet and work with peers, mentors, and leaders around the world has been incredibly valuable – not just to maintain our business but to help maintain sanity in lockdown.”

Dipak Mahato at SeaChange Technologies
Dipak Mahato at SeaChange Technologies, winner of GCA 2020.

Designed to fast-track development

During the past six months, the Accelerator Program delivered three modules:

  1. Investment – helping to secure investors and partners, including sessions such as “Perfecting your pitch” and “Dragon’s Den”.
  2. Leadership – running and being part of a team, including sessions such as “Leading yourself”, “Leading and recruiting a team” and “Leadership and culture”.
  3. Supply Chain – understanding supply chain to better understand the context and how to scale the innovation, including sessions such as “Learning from a start-up who disrupted the supply chain”, “Vertically integrated in a fragmented supply chain” and “Partnerships and future of supply chain”.

In January, our Mentorship module kicks off focusing on matchmaking our winners with expert mentors to broaden their network and accelerating their ideas.

“The ability to speak with the owner or CEO of these companies in an informal and ‘risk-free’ setting allowed us to ask questions and get industry insights which otherwise would be very difficult.”

Amit Gautam, TextileGenesis, GCA winner of 2020

Highlights and learnings from this year

Throughout the year, we’ve had a broad range of guest speakers who have shared their learnings and insights. “The sessions with industry leaders and pioneers, especially with textile suppliers, was extremely rewarding,” says Amit Gautam, CEO and founder of TextileGenesis and winner of 2020. “The ability to speak with the owner or CEO of these companies in an informal and ‘risk-free’ setting allowed us to ask questions and get industry insights which otherwise would be very difficult.”

A highlight from the Accelerator is the equally dreaded as loved Dragon’s Den, where our winners have 3 minutes to pitch their innovations to investors and then get direct feedback on it. This year Burak Cakmak, Co-Founder at, Leslie Harwell, Managing Partner at Alante Capital and Axel Bruzelius, Head of Start-up and Growth at Nordea, were part of the jury and gave the winners great advice on how to perfect their pitch deck.

Another highlight was the session with Laila Pawlak at Singularity University who talked about self-leadership. Some takeaways were the importance of making a time budget just like you do with your money, that one individual can really have a global impact on millions of people and do not only measure impact by your organisation’s actions, but also how you make people feel and act.

Isaac Nichelson at Circular Systems who won GCA in 2018 shared some of his learnings. One of his advice is to hire people that are opposite to you in personality and skills-set. To build a high-performance team, diversity of perspectives is crucial as it creates a team that challenges one another in a safe way. The more a decision is debated, the more powerful it is. “Having yes sayers around you, isn’t that helpful,” he says.

Geof Kime, Yitzac Goldstein and Isaac Nichelson at Circular Systems.
Geof Kime, Yitzac Goldstein and Isaac Nichelson at Circular Systems, winners of GCA 2018.

An unknown future

We all know that we won’t go back to same old once the pandemic is over, but instead see the dawn of a new normal. Burak Cakmak, co-founder at and former Dean of Fashion at Parsons School of Design, talked about how not only the pandemic is shaking things up, but also how the fashion industry and consumers are evolving too.

Burak argues that we are all acting very differently this year, and everyone is impacted. Our lives are changing as well as our needs and demands, and we do not really know what we’re going back to. This creates opportunities, but also a potential gap. You can’t build a business on models we have known until 2020, since it’s clear that it’s not going to be the same moving forward.

“It’s true,” says Erik Bang, Innovation Lead at H&M Foundation and continues: “we need to stay incredible agile because the problem we’re trying to solve might not be valid in six months’ time.”

The challenges of the pandemic

Needless to say, the pandemic has been extremely challenging for many of us, not the least for our winners. In October we asked all our 30 GCA winners how they have been impacted. And the results showed that:

  • 44% said the impact on their development is urgent
  • 52% said it’s noticeable

“While the winners enjoy a bigger flexibility from being still small ventures, they also have significantly less slack to deal with sudden shifts in cash flow, demand and access. We see that the situation with cautious investors and industry due to their own uncertainties implies a significant risk to a generation of early stage circular innovation. Put simply, they risk being wiped out by the pandemic,” says Erik.

“We’re incredibly grateful to all guest speakers not only sharing their world class insights but also keeping us sane.”

Erik Bang

The pandemic has also tested us as organisers and the GCA model. “We not only had to focus on tech and business development but also supporting the teams in very tough circumstances. Our regular virtual meetings have served as a stable point of inspiration, influence and interaction in uncertain times. We’re incredibly grateful to all guest speakers for not only sharing their world class insights but also keeping us sane,” says Erik.

Participating pro-bono to accelerate change

Our Accelerator Program would not be as successful as it is without the amazing and invaluable support from our broad range of guest speakers. They have generously shared their expertise, learnings and feedback pro-bono to accelerate the change to a new industry. They have also given invaluable moral support in extremely hard times.
A sincere thank you to all of you – we look forward seeing you again!

Tariq Fancy, Rumie | Leslie Harwell, Alante Capital | Burak Cakmak, | Axel Bruzelius, Nordea | Laila Pawlak, Singularity University | Ryan Mario Yasin, PetitPli | Ann Runnel, Reverse Resources | Harish Ahuja, Shahi Industries | Anant Ahuja, Shahi Industries | Rakhil Hirdaramani, Hirdaramani | Enrica Arena, Orange Fiber | Isaac Nichelson, Circular Systems | Karl-Johan Persson, Board Member H&M Foundation | H&M Group | Accenture | KTH

Erik Bang, Innovation Lead at H&M Foundation at the 2019 Global Change Award Summit.
Erik Bang, Innovation Lead at H&M Foundation at the 2019 Global Change Award Summit.