Scott Anderson

Magnetizing Entrepreneurs, Investors and Mentors: The Inclusive Business Accelerator aspires to be a hub for dealmaking (and much more)

Earlier this month, a new online magnet to attract entrepreneurs, investors and would-be mentors focused on base of the pyramid enterprises and opportunties began in earnest. The Inclusive Business Accelerator (IBA), created through a partnership a between the BoP Innovation Center (BoPInc), SNV and VC4Africa, opened for business – the business being that of connecting the startups with the money and the know-how that they need to be successful.

I recently spoke via email with Nicolas Chevrollier, Programme Manager at BoPInc, who is serving in a dual role as one of the coordinators of IBA, to find out what it’s all about. (Full disclosure: NextBillion also is serving as a media partner for the IBA).

Scott Anderson: What need did you and other organizational leaders aim to address when creating the IBA?

Nicolas Chevrollier: The IBA is designed to both consolidate and scale-up private sector engagement in BoP or low-income markets with the ultimate ambition to establish inclusive business as a business standard.

With the IBA we provide one window for all services related to inclusive business. Businesses will be connected to knowledge and market insights presenting them with feasible business opportunities. They will find support to create viable business models and connect to local partners. Resulting business proposals will be presented to investors and enable inclusive businesses to start and scale up.

SA: It could just be because we write about them a lot on NextBillion, but it often seems as though we have many (perhaps too many) conferences and events among investors and BoP companies. And with social media sites like LinkedIn, it feels like it’s even easier to connect investors and companies. Why is a matchmaker platform for inclusive business necessary in your view?

NC: Despite all these mechanisms available, companies, entrepreneurs and NGOs need a facility with the knowledge, experience and services that can help them to initiate and scale up BoP business activities. The current offering of business support services is scattered over different service providers. Most of these providers are not aware of the many BoP market opportunities that exist, or lack the quality and capacity to create inclusive business strategies at scale. This hampers the growth of private sector involvement in these markets. The core idea of the IBAis to build on these existing scattered forces and to orchestrate more than re-create.

(Left: Nicolas Chevrollier)

Our initiative consists of three elements. The IB Accelerator Online is an online community and marketplace. It connects inclusive innovators, investors, entrepreneurs and public and commercial business service providers. The fundamental idea behind the accelerator is to deliver services to online communities that help to stimulate BoP venture development.

But the IBA is more than an online acceleration platform. The intervention strategy of the IBA is to build a complementary suite of services to promote inclusive business at both a global and local level. It is also the IBA Global that captures best practices and creates a global movement. It serves as the precompetitive market intelligence and support structure for building alliances and working towards scale. It also keeps a state-of-the-art toolkit available to other pillars of IBA.

Locally, the IB Accelerator Local focuses on the incubation and acceleration of inclusive business solutions to development challenges. The first local offices are established in Uganda, Vietnam and Mozambique, and expansion countries like Bangladesh and Indonesia are under consideration.

Together the IBA online, global and local pillars create a one-stop shop for businesses and enable them to innovate, grow, replicate, leverage and improve their inclusive business strategy.

SA: The IBA is a partnership between BoPInc, SNV and VC4Africa. What does each organization bring to the table?

NC: The mission of BoPInc is to facilitate the acceleration of entrepreneurship in BoP markets. Since 2010, BoPInc has established in the Netherlands a clear focal point for IB and built up partnerships with the Dutch private sector and strengthened its ties with local business development support agencies in Africa, Asia and Latin America. SNV has been instrumental in supporting business in BoP markets for decades, and has a long-standing network of local offices. VC4A is a top-notch tech company bringing its expertise in virtual incubation and acceleration. We will soon be joined by Nyenrode Business School, which brings the state of the art knowledge on business processes.

Besides these founding partners, the approach of the IB Accelerator is to seek cooperation as much as possible with existing organizations to leverage the existing knowledge and resources out there.

SA: Tell us about the sectors you selected for the accelerator, and why you focus on those areas in particular?

NC: Markets at the BoP are linked to basic needs (that can be turned into opportunities) of low-income populations; in particular, the sectors “Agriculture and Food,” “Water and Sanitation” and “Sustainable Energy.” They represent significant growth opportunities for companies and a source of impact, creating the most needed win-win situation between companies and low-income groups.

SA: How will IBA determine what constitutes an impact investor and an impact venture?

NC: We see inclusive business as for-profit initiatives that incorporate members from the low-income population into the company’s core processes, generating a win-win relationship. Low-income populations typically fill one or more of four important roles: As producers, employees, distributors or consumers.

Impact investors are those funds that invest not only for the maximum return on their investments, but whose aim is to accomplish social goals as well.

SA: How is IBA funded?

NC: From day one, we take the sustainability of the IBA as a top priority. While the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs initially supports us, we are developing revenue-generating services to sustain activities on the long term. It includes a paid-for membership model for partners of the IB Accelerator Online, or a fee-for service approach for IBA Local.

SA: What does success look like in the next few years? Can you provide any goals for membership?

NC: We are growing our network of ventures online to 200 in 2016 with 2,000 members and are aiming at a network of 10 IBA local offices by 2020. But besides the sheer numbers, our ambition is to establish inclusive business as a business standard. To achieve this goal, we are looking to leverage existing forces. We cannot do this alone and are welcoming partnerships with organizations involved in supporting business in BoP markets. Reach out to us for more information!

Scott Anderson is the managing editor of NextBillion.

Base of the Pyramid, business development, impact investing