The 19 OPEN accelerator entrepreneurs have not all been matched to the finance they need to grow: OPEN was launched with a focus on finding great rural entrepreneurs. Insufficient emphasis was placed on understanding investor needs and demands. 150 rural entrepreneurs were found by our scouting partners, which were based all around the country. 35 entrepreneurs were visited by the OPEN team and 20 entrepreneurs were chosen to attend training camp. 19 of these 20 turned up to training camp (1 was ill). Success on one hand, however we failed to assess the rural entrepreneurs effectively in the light of bank and impact investor criteria. This means that 10 months on, only 1 of the 19 entrepreneurs are matched to finance. Although we are still working with 7 of the entrepreneurs and are optimistic that they will be linked to finance, any future OPEN accelerator will start with a deep understanding of impact investor needs and demands. This will be built into the selection criteria. We will only accept entrepreneurs onto the programme if we are confident that we can match them to an investor at the end of the programme.
Our entrepreneurs were not always effectively supported through our mentoring programme: We were privileged to work with a committed and talented group of mentors during the pilot of OPEN Accelerator. However we found that the entrepreneurs and their small businesses needed more intensive support than the mentors were able to offer during their brief engagements. We also discovered that it is difficult to use mentors who live outside Bangladesh. They face challenges with the culture and language, and are less able to provide on-going support once back in their home country.
Implementing a sustainable revenue model for another OPEN accelerator has not been easy: When we think back to summer 2013 it seemed straight forward to fund OPEN Accelerator. We designed it as a low cost programme, so the budget of €80,000 was not huge and Incluvest had already committed a decent chunk of funding. There was a great deal of local interest in OPEN and we acted on the belief that this interest could be converted into sponsorship funding, as long as the programme achieved its objectives and became ‘talked about’. 2 years on, we appreciate just how hard it is to fund an investment-readiness programme. Talking to impact investors and other established accelerator programmes there is a consensus that this type of initiative tends to rely on significant grant funding, at least in the early years.
In our bid to get Tindercapital established we have begun pieces of work on trust: This has led to our doing some work without getting paid. In future we will professionalise relationships and get contracts in place at an earlier stage of the process.