Pope-inspired accelerator brings a little Silicon Valley to the Vatican

Sure, your startup has a few million in funding, is backed by big-name investors and scored a deal with Google.

But has it been blessed by the Pope?

For a new cohort of startups relocating to Rome this summer, that possibility might not be so far-fetched.

Menlo Park-based investor Stephen Forte, of Fresco Capital, is launching an accelerator in Rome for social impact startups. Forte says he was inspired to do so by Pope Francis, who in a TED Talk last month challenged tech companies to act with thoughts of equality and social inclusion in mind, and has been an advocate for action on climate change.

“As a global citizen with young children,” Forte wrote in a Medium post, “I’m called to respond to His Holiness Pope Francis’ challenge.”

Startups accepted into Forte’s accelerator will get $100,000 in funding, and will relocate to Rome from July 13 through September 9. The program also will include virtual mentoring sessions before and after the start and end dates, and will culminate with a demo day at the Vatican in December. Forte is looking for companies that want to change the world while simultaneously making tons of money — a business model he says often is overlooked. Mission-driven startups tend to have a hard time scoring funding as for-profit companies, he wrote.

Forte isn’t the only investor seeking out those types of startups. Mountain View-based accelerator Y Combinator in January put out a call for startups tackling issues such as fake news, the freedom of the press, the future of work and improving access to democracy. And the Pope, a prolific tweeter who last month became the first reigning Pope to give a TED Talk, is no stranger to social impact investing, as evidenced by the “impact investing” conferences the Vatican has hosted.

For the Rome accelerator, Forte is looking for startups tackling climate change by focusing on energy, water, food, urban communities, conservation, finance and “human potential” — minimizing the human suffering that results from climate change.

Forte started accepting applications Friday, and the deadline is June 5. Interested companies can apply here.

Photo: Pope Francis has his picture taken inside St. Peter’s Basilica with youths from the Italian Diocese of Piacenza and Bobbio who came to Rome for a pilgrimage, at the Vatican, Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013. (AP Photo/L’Osservatore Romano, File)


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