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A startup accelerator for the world’s poorest (medium.com)
47 points by andreasklinger on Sept 13, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 31 comments



People in poor countries already have an incredibly entrepreneurial spirit. They need to, hustling for themselves is what they need to do to get by, since there are very few jobs.

To properly support these people, you need 3 things: - Security - Infrastructure - Capital

Generally, people in 3rd world countries are much more creative and resourceful than we are, they just need an environment in which they can flourish, and where they're not constantly worried about someone coming to take everything away from them (in my wife's country, having any sort of wealth guarantees you WILL be robbed - and the police are complicit, sometimes committing the robbery themselves).


One thing that strikes me, and which I think is important is that we focus more on the fact that we could inspire a million x $10K a year companies rather than a 100 x $1Bn dollar a year companies.

Focus on the microdevelopment aspect of this rather than the dreams of avarice and VC ROI. I don't want to replicate a "Found it and Flip it" mentality.

I'd like to see a world where people start building businesses that they could feasibly pass on to their children. Solid local businesses, (both tech and traditional) using entrepreneurial tools to find and serve a need for the community.

It keeps you honest if you always put the needs of your customers ahead of your investors - who are usually looking for an exit. Continued customer revenue demonstrates that you are continuing to deliver value over time.

This is the message we should be trying to spread in the developing world, not get rich quick. Hasn't worked out so well for us, really.

That said - count me in.


I also see the potential for global companies -

Some of the stories I've heard around African Fintech point to a more grounded approach, with systems built around political redundancy and growth coming from old-fashioned cashflow.

I'm hoping to learn more about this, as there's potential for us to learn, not just teach, and potential for these companies to jump the chasm into Western markets, where the finance system is getting shakier.

Perhaps the first Antifragile Fintech startups will come from emerging markets.


Having spoken to a few charities, there's potential that the accelerator model could offer them a bigger bang for their buck. So it feels like there's potential to work with them to get things rolling, which means we can focus on startups that focus on customers and fundamentals, not just startups that choose the investment path. (This was actually the goal of Founder Centric when we started it!)


I think the attention on the world's poor is great...and I'm not going to be one of those naysayers who argue, "Poor people don't need smartphones they need food"...but the OP is doing some serious forward-jumping here.

Let's assume that smartphones and tablets (and previously, cheap netbooks) are as vital to the poor as they are to everyone else. What does that have to do with enabling them to be the next "tech founders"?

In America, we have digital device wealth aplenty, and there's no clear correlation that such availability to the middle class enables a corresponding rise in valuable tech entrepreneurship. In fact, one might argue the opposite: that tablets and on-demand-high-speed entertainment has made people more into consumers (and snarky commenters) than producers.

Again, I think the attention toward the poor is great and much needed. I just think the "let them make startups!" vibe is cognitively awkward.


Some countries with broken economies, usually end driving a interesting amount of entrepeneurship.

I am from Brazil, here for example 50% of the entire economy is underground, most of these are composed by small 1 or 2 person business, the normal tax-paying economy also has a huge amount of small business...

What happen here is that normal jobs are so problematic, that people then rely on creating business (legal or not) a lot.

I am very sure if you got a bunch of tech here, and invested into the people ideas, some really cool things would flourish... I frequently hear people wanting my help with several cool ideas! (I do not help them beside advice, because I need help myself too anyway... My business is make educational but fun games for children below 6, and I am finding no funding, the education market is seemly very scary and hard to understand, most investors avoid it entirely)


Good point - that's why I really want to go and see for myself, and talk to people who have. Also, I'll be watching the FirefoxOS marketplace for apps that aren't ported from other mobile platforms, but built around grassroots needs.

In the same way that the likes of M-PESA enabled a group of tech founders, like in the pan-African transaction networks for example, there are untapped needs in food distribution and other "last mile" inefficiencies where tech could help. My feeling atm is that we can borrow lessons from vertical accelerators like HealthBox, for example, and speed up the time to get to a rapid field trial.


One model you should consider is pairing up the poor (but with insight and vision on the issues at hand) with tech talent from around the world. Tech talent can be donated time either remotely or on-site as part of the founding teams. At least in the near term, you can definitely speed up your development cycle and time it takes for your accelerator to get results.


This is a great idea! Remote techies could get projects off the ground faster, and then act as technical mentors to enable the local founders to progress faster.


I'd do it. (Am already, to an extent).


Thanks! How can I learn more about what you're doing?


I have sent you an email to your "smile" address.


There is a crazily entrepreneurial culture in Kenya. My guess is you will have no problem whatsoever in finding potential founders there -- people just need a gentle steer in the right direction and a little positive encouragement.


"people just need a gentle steer in the right direction and a little positive encouragement" I'm interested in what you mean by that. To help me better understand, are there particular stories you're thinking of behind that advice?


There are a few stories, which I will not recount here, but the main take-home messages are these:

1. Small business fads exist -- everybody seems to try to run the same business at the same time. Somebody gets the idea of importing cars -- and suddenly you have hundreds of copycat businesses -- all importing the exact same make and model of car. A relatively small steer towards e-commerce (If the pioneers are seen to be making money) could trigger a large avalanche of interest. The problem then will be persuading enough people to find distinct and profitable niches so that a sufficient number "stick" and are successful.

2. Technology start-ups require quite a lot more time and energy to be invested before you see returns. Certainly more so than a typical import/export business. Many will be discouraged by this, so the gentle encouragement may be required to help people stick the course. There are a lot of social groups and cooperative savings societies that already exist -- these could probably be used to help reach potential entrepreneurs.

3. A surprising amount of entrepreneurship is driven by middle aged women. These individuals are tremendously busy, and may already be running up to 2 or 3 small businesses (in addition to day jobs) so they may not be able to take on anything as time-intensive as a technology start-up ... but they are definitely movers and shakers in the Kenyan small business sector.

Finally, a caveat: I am also an outsider; my view of the Kenyan economy is filtered through a fairly narrow lens -- (My wife and her family).


Are you focused mainly on tech startups or innovative entrepreneurship in general?


Plan A is tech, particularly web-tech on mobile, since the whole FirefoxOS/tablet thing looks promising.

We've done a decent amount of training for general entrepreneurship in London, so I'd keep my eyes open for ways to help general entrepreneurs too.


Keep us updated. I'm on the fringe of the tech world but I've done some limited work in Kathmandu and am looking for ways to get more involved in other developing communities abroad. There's so much potential at the ground floor and many people in these areas just need a little help getting started. My specialty is business advisory and accounting.


I agree with this. Giving someone access to tech devices is one thing, but empowering them with education on how to use such devices to better their lives is something completely different altogether.

In America, I would hope that public libraries help bridge that gap.

I'm all for educating the world's poor, but it must come from a different perspective. For example, I wrote a Python web development course from the bottom up so that one actually learns programming techniques. I touch Django last.

When it comes to those less tech-savvy, you need to educate from a more practical, instantly gratifying standpoint. Teaching them how to get an MVP off the ground quick, even if they don't understand what's happening beneath the surface is key.

With the rise of MOOC, it would be great to tailor one to American's poor.


  > "Poor people don't need smartphones they need food"
Burt Wonderstone: Marvelton's Magic Gift To Poverty

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LVwiaKsQMq8


Ha! That's funny. But seriously, we're talking about using tech to solve education, distribution and financial problems.


When I visited Kenya two years ago I was amazed at M-PESA's spread, and the $99 Android phone had just launched there. If you're interested in disrupting tech in Africa, I'd recommend a visit to Nairobi's iHub, it's am amazingly energetic space: http://www.ihub.co.ke/


Love the idea, would love to invest (not an accredited investor, so would have to wait for the JOBS act to go through, or to find another way to do so). SaintSal, I've just emailed you about this.


The timing might be fine. There's a lot of pre-investment groundwork I'll need to do, and ideally run an MVP, before there's an established investment opportunity. Things going a bit mental atm, but I'm looking forward to getting back to you on email! Thx!


I created an email list if anyone who wants to be updated: http://eepurl.com/FeE2z


On a related note, I'm looking for a good program to sponsor a child's education. Most of what I find are run by church-affiliated groups which is fine if the education is secular. Any suggestions would be welcome.


I've heard good thing about work done by AKDN and AKF ... they are so reputable that they leverages every dollar received through matching grants from leading donor agencies and partners, including the U.S. government, to create a multiplier effect that stretches resources and amplifies the impact of every donation....

http://www.partnershipsinaction.org/content/donate

http://www.akdn.org/Content/928


"Our Academies programme is rooted in the conviction that effective indigenous leadership will be the key to progress in the developing world... "

I like this attitude. A lot of our accelerator clients ask us with a kind of cultural change, from bring protective of ideas, to being open and inclusive. This is easier when there's a local community of experience tech founders to connect - so we can include the new founders and they feel safe sharing.

I'm wondering how/if AKDN has a similar goal, or if they look for existing, indiginous attitudes that help others take on the right attitudes...


I am the founder of nKoso.org a sponsorship program for children in rural Ghana. We focus on at risk rural children and place them in one of our partner private schools. We're new, but have funded nearly 100 children's education since our launch in April.

If you want to chat further email me ben@nkoso.org


Off topic: it seems that posts from medium.com are less often on front page now. Sign of decline?


EVERTHING changing in London sure looks similar to not very much changing. I was in Bangkok 2 years ago and I must have had blinders on since EVERYTHING changed. I think the only thing that hasn't changed is bullshit hyperbole.




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