Nathan Wyeth

Weekly Roundup: April 5-11

We posted this in the NextBillion Newsroom, but it’s worth a recap: this week, the Global Social Benefit Incubator at Santa Clara University announced its 2010 class of ventures. An emphasis on energy services for the base of the pyramid has led to the selection of a suite of creative approaches like Energy Plus in Uganda which does prefabricated wiring setups to reduce the cost of electrification, Promethean Power Systems doing solar-powered cooling systems for refrigeration in India, andWE CARE Solar creating customized solar products for use in obstetric health clinics in Nigeria. The energy focus links with the Power to the People: Renewable Energy for Underserved Communities conference happening at Santa Clara on April 22.

The eighth class for this incubator also features MAARDEC, supporting the creation of mobility devices for the disabled by the disabled, the Jaipur Rug Foundationsupporting artisans in Rajasthan, and more.

Also in the news, announcements in India weeks are signaling the continuing evolution of capital markets for microfinance institutions. SKS is responding to new capital reserve requirements by announcing an IPO, while Basix is taking on private equity investment from Matrix Partners.

And lastly, I had missed this, but Emeka Okafor highlighted an announcement that the Indian government has signed MOU’s with ten African nations to set up ’incubators for SME skill development.”

On the Blog this week, in case you missed it…

Moses Lee highlighted the teams selected for the Sparkseed accelerator for ventures coming out of colleges, including Malotraders. “Founded by Mohamed Ali Niang, MaloTraders specializes in the processing, storing, and marketing of rice for small-scale farmers in Mali. By making local production more competitive on the international market, MaloTraders is working to alleviate poverty.”

Saurabh Lall examined the intersection of caste and income in India to ask, “Why should BoP practitioners concern themselves about social issues? To me, it’s about solving the ’last mile problem’.”

Sriram Gutta spoke with Unitus CEO Brigit Helms on her experience at that organization and the perspective she has on the sector: “We know a lot about clients and what they need. What we know less about is how to meet the demands of those clients when you start moving beyond microcredit.”

Nilima Achwal proposed 6 – count ’em – guidelines for how “poverty tourism” can be constructive rather than exploitative.

Josh Cleveland spoke with Agnes Dasewicz of the Grassroots Business Fund about her career path and her view on essential skills for working in this sector.

Rob Katz spoke with Andrew Youn and Eric Polhman about One Acre Fund, the standout organization supporting some of the hardest-to-reach subsistence farmers in East Africa:

“Where we work, poor farmers are the guys with the money. They have the power… If we don’t deliver inputs on time, they don’t pay us back. This shift in “who has the money” makes us fanatically customer service-focused, which is really what the social sector ultimately wants.”

And finally, I was excited to see Kevin Keeper profile Anza on Monday, not least because the company is made up of friends and former classmates of mine.

At the NCIIA’s conference a few weeks ago, I spent time exploring Anza’s business model beyond the nuts and bolts of the product cycle they hope to create.

What I realized is that what this company is trying to be is IKEA for the base of the pyramid. What I mean by this is that they are delivering components products that can be assembled by customers. For all the same reasons IKEA is successful – it is cheaper and easier to ship components than assembled products, it is cheaper when customers assemble products post-purchase rather than paying skilled labor to do so – this may help Anza be successful. And when labor to assemble products is so much more widely available than wealth to purchase manufactured goods, it makes even more sense.

And Anza is doing Ikea one better, because they are intending to start by upcycling the raw materials for their products. Can you tell I’m a fan?


It was a relatively slow week for new job postings, but Acumen is hiring for a Portfolio Associate in Kenya.


Two additional conferences upcoming that we’ve just added to the Take Action page: