epAward 2019 Shortlisted Solutions are Highly Impactful and Scalable

Determining the business potential of smart innovations is no easy task! After the evaluation of the technical functionality of empowering people. Award 2019 entries, Intellecap came on board to examine the 26 long-listed projects on their ability to sustain over the long run. Intellecap is engaged to foster and grow enterprises that have the potential to transform lives across Asia and Africa. They work towards making the emerging markets equitable and inclusive by mobilizing capital.  We spoke to Martin Kiilu, the Lead for Intellecap Impact Investment Network, about the rigorous assessment rounds to narrow down to the best social enterprises for the award.


Can you give us a sense of the assessment team that evaluated the entries of empowering people. Award? Why did you decide to have several people assessing the long-list?

There were two levels of evaluation.  For the long-list, mostly a team of three Intellecap employees was created. The team collectively have over ten plus years of working with social enterprises and early stage businesses across East Africa and India. Their backgrounds are in enterprise coaching as well as youth assessment facilitation helping raise capital and everything in between that deals with the execution and optimization of businesses. For us, the priority was that the team had exposure in looking at business models and examine if these models are scalable. From our experience, we have always found that bringing different experts with their skilled viewpoint gives any applicant a fairer assessment against having an individual who may bring in bias. Moreover, multiple people bring their diverse knowledge in looking into business models and a couple of sector approaches which might not be harnessed if you have one individual.

This is the first time that you are evaluating the entries of the empowering people. Award. How was your experience?

Our experience was actually a very positive one! Unlike other challenges or awards, that we run as a company or for our clients, empowering people. Award is more global. It allowed us to compare business models beyond East Africa and India to the entries coming from Latin American countries and Europe. This being our first time also enabled as to benchmark the technologies and opportunities that are prevalent.

What were the different parameters on which you carried out the evaluation?

The first was that the solution makes sense and has a place in meeting a social goal and bettering the lives of people. Then to check if the technologies behind these solutions were feasible and actually provide benefit.

Martin Kiilu conducts training on business planning and financial modelling for entrepreneurs in Accra, Ghana.

At what scale is the impact: only in a village or across multiple countries and geographies? Then to measure the sustainability behind the business. As a for-profit does the business model make sense? Have they explored the market and the distribution channels to get to the end-customer or beneficiary? Are their growth plans aligned with building a sustainable business? Whether they are generating enough revenues more than relying on grant funding or donor support.  Lastly, we assessed the team composition, their commercial backgrounds and experience to scale the business.

What are the general challenges in assessing the current or future sustainability of a social enterprise?

It is very hard to validate the assumptions businesses make! Given that the shortlisted enterprises operate in developing economies that lack background data which could not be used to confirm their claims. So, a lot of assumption went into the business plan they submitted, which are future looking and didn’t have historical bases to back. Secondly, it was difficult to certify whether the market actually exists or the end-users are willing to pay the price listed by the enterprise as they had not really tested the commercial aspects. To determine the sustainability of any business it is important to factor in the role of future innovations or disruptions that may bring better products into the market. The applicants seemed to assume that the market will remain the same.

epAward winner 2016, Elliot Avila, CEO, Imara Tech, in discussion with an investor during Sankalp Africa 2019.

Were there particular challenges that arose during the examination stage? How did you mitigate them?

Challenges arose during level one of the evaluation. The documented applications were not clear on the business models, lacking enough details to support a judgement.  The second round of one-on-one interviews helped clarify our question, fill the gaps and also hear from the entrepreneurs themselves. In applications, you can only put a limited amount of information and they can be more like self-reporting. The interviews helped us estimate and validate each claim. However, during the interviews, we faced language barriers due to the global nature of the entries. Maybe this is something to think about for future rounds.

Could you identify some common challenges faced by the enterprises?

Something that ran across all entries was that they require assistance to improve their technologies and refine it to get to the next level to meet customer demands. Majority of the issues arose around their markets’ identification and to corroborate that the markets actually exist. A number of them were either in the pilot or post-pilot stage and are now getting into commercialization. None have been doing this for a long time to be able to speak as an authority. They all need financial support to actually execute their plans along with scaling up their teams.

What were some interesting features that you observed among the entries?

There were a lot of effective tech companies looking at problems dealing with physical disabilities, be it speech, motor cognitive, or visual, that was very interesting to see! Quite a number of the solutions are tackling challenges that are global but they are designed to be affordable and relevant in their local contexts.

The pricing was geared and made for the bottom of the pyramid.  Those companies that have multiple markets both in the developed and emerging markets had a subsidized program to allow low-income customers to access at a subsidized rate from the developed world.   What captivated me most was that the shortlisted solutions are highly impactful with strategies and plans that are actually scalable and sustainable.

Having closely examined the shortlisted projects what can we expect for the grand finale in Cairo?

The judges are going to have a hard time determining the winner! Each solution is unique and there’s no duplication. So no one company is doing like the other and are all doing amazing and impactful things for the most underprivileged and have a global resonance.

Gagandeep Bakshi, Director, Investment Banking, Intellecap, in a mentoring discussions during a speed dating and mentoring session organized by Intellecap during Sankalp Africa Summit.

Martin Kiilu has extensive experience in working with impact enterprises across Sub Saharan Africa and India. He has supported multiple start-ups by consulting on strategy, financial planning, modelling and valuation and capital raising. Currently, he is leading the Intellecap Impact Investment network in East Africa, an angel network of high net worth individuals and early stage funds. He closely works with enterprises: from screening, assisting them with their investment readiness preparation, pitching to investors and deal facilitation. He is currently working to facilitate deals for enterprises showcased to the network as well as outreach to individuals, funds, and family offices for the angel network chapter in East Africa.

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