Bertil, you are the Director of Strategic Projects at VC4Africa and you are working on the new Inclusive Business Accelerator initiative. Could you give us a brief explanation of what you are doing exactly?
VC4Africa is an online community of startup entrepreneurs and investors dedicated to building game changing companies on the African continent. Entrepreneurs have access to free online tools, mentorship opportunities and they can indicate that they are looking for funding. Investors can set up intelligent alerts, follow progress, conduct due diligence and connect directly with the entrepreneurs on our platform. The community has more than 20.000 members in 160+ countries and meetups with community members have been hosted in more than 50 cities around the world.
I’m responsible for the projects we are setting up with our partners, such as the new worldwide ‘Inclusive Business Accelerator’ platform aimed at entrepreneurs who are targeting Base of the Pyramid (BoP) markets. In collaboration with the BoP Innovation Center, SNV and Neyenrode Business University we are building an online and offline structure to support these entrepreneurs to grow their ‘inclusive business’ ventures. The powerful model of inclusive business is creating access to quality basic products and services for low-income communities. And at the same time jobs are created at the BoP level as people are employed by these companies, or play a role as retailer, distributor or supplier.
To connect these entrepreneurs to different players in the ecosystem we have created a matchmaking platform for founders, mentors, impact investors, NGOs, governments and anyone who is interested in the growing inclusive business space. See: https://iba.ventures
With our “empowering people. Network” we hold close ties to all kind of organizations and projects in the field of social entrepreneurship. How would you describe your connection point with the network?
I think that there is an overlap between the operations of a part of the entrepreneurs in your network as they are not only working on technical solutions for people in low-income areas, but also employing people from their target groups as part of their business models. I think that the Inclusive Business Accelerator platform can play a role when the companies in your ‘empowering people. Network’ are looking to scale up and when they are looking for an investment. They are very welcome to create a venture profile on our platform and then launch a fundraising campaign. We will then support them in their effort to connect to the right investors.
Where do you see potential benefits and synergies in managing different networks?
We are mainly focused on growing for-profit inclusive business ventures operating in three sectors: Agribusiness, WASH (Water, sanitation and hygiene) and renewable energy. I believe you also focus on other sectors such as healthcare, education and housing for instance. You are very much focused on new technical solutions and we both focus on new models as well as support proven concepts that are being replicated elsewhere. So I believe we can complement each other and learn from both of our experiences.
All over the world, the situation for social entrepreneurs is different and complex. What are, in your opinion, the biggest challenges for social entrepreneurship?
The biggest challenge for social entrepreneurs in general is transforming a very good idea into a profitable business. Operating in BoP markets with a new concept is very hard as there are many factors to take into account. How do you reach your target customers who have a very small income and who are used to buying kerosene for lighting for instance? How do you change their behavior and make sure that your product is available on every corner? But there are also less known problems as it is often very difficult to find and hire the right employees from the BoP - and to make sure you can keep them after they’ve been trained and have some working experience.
These entrepreneurs are doing very important work and they need support to succeed. Let’s work together and contribute our part to make sure the members of our networks can find the information and connections they are looking for!