Accelerating Social Entrepreneurship in Latin America: An interview with Agora Partnerships’ CEO Ben Powell
As Ben Powell, its founder and CEO puts it, Agora Partnerships “accelerates entrepreneurs that are solving social and environmental problems in Latin America.” It does this primarily through its flagship Agora Accelerator, which works with select groups of “high-potential entrepreneurs who are really focused on creating social impact through their business.”
Agora’s support of these entrepreneurs starts with a week-long retreat focused on “personal mastery, leadership, understanding the impact investing ecosystem, and really understanding the business model of the company,” Powell says. The goal is to build community among these entrepreneurs, and to set them up to successfully work with Agora’s team of consultants, who support them as they complete a 14-module program over the next five months. The program, which he describes as the key to Agora’s approach, aims to reveal what these companies need to do in order to grow and attract investment, and it culminates in face-to-face meetings, organized by Agora, between entrepreneurs and potential investors in their companies.
According to Powell, while these businesses have different requiremenets, they tend to share a rather surprising common challenge. “One of the things we ask entrepreneurs to do (in our consulting process) is to look at what their revenue drivers are, and do an analysis. And oftentimes entrepreneurs will discover that they’re spending a huge amount of time on products that are not actually very profitable. And so helping an entrepreneur to get an outside perspective is really critical.” Also important, he says, is the process of helping entrepreneurs to follow industry-standard impact assessment approaches, which “helps them to think about their impact often in new and different ways.”
Powell says this perspective is particularly important for early-stage companies, for which things are “often messy. Things change, problems come up, you don’t always have all the data. So we try to find consultants that are really focused on helping enterpreneurs solve their problem, even if not everything can be fit into nice, neat little boxes.”
Despite many advancements, he says there are some serious challenges facing the social business and investment space in Latin America, in particular the lack of a reliable pipeline of investable companies. “I do think that we’re not as far along as I thought we would be by this time. I think the industry is only now realizing that it doesn’t matter if you have billions of dollars that want to invest in impact-focused companies, if you don’t have the pipeline, and if you don’t have platforms that can efficiently connect entrepreneurs with investors.”
Powell discusses possible solutions to this problem – and trends that will shape the next 10 years in the sector – in this interview, which you can view in the video below.
Editor’s note: This interview was conducted at the BASE Forum 2015, presented by the Inter-American Development Bank’s Opportunities for the Majority initiative. NextBillion was a media partner at the event.
James Militzer is the editor of NextBillion Financial Innovation.