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Catalyst for Change : Creating an ecosystem for young entrepreneurs from East Africa

Published
April, 2018

In 2014 -15 we at Intellecap were fascinated by the energy of entrepreneurship and its role in transforming societies and local economies through product or business model innovations. This report was made then and we are uploading the same now as a way of looking back while looking ahead in all that we do.

With India, the “hub for social innovation” as our home base, we were excited about the passion of young entrepreneurs that are working to drive change at the “Base of the Economic Pyramid” by providing access to Waffordable products, services and livelihood opportunities for low income and underserved communities. Motivated to explore the evolution of this landscape and seek answers to difficult questions, we started our first research series on the growth of the microfinance industry in India in 2007. Over the years, we have expanded our research focus to other impact sectors.

We were watching the Indian impact enterprise landscape grow from a small group of individuals endeavoring to make a difference in their communities to a diverse set of entrepreneurs developing for-profit and affordable market solutions across several critical needs sectors. Our interactions with this emerging class of highly motivated entrepreneurs inspired our studies on the impact enterprise landscape in 2012 and 2013.

With the launch of “Sankalp Africa” in 2014 and our work with enterprises and eco-system players in East Africa, we have been witnessing a similar evolution of entrepreneurs and impactful business models. We experienced first-hand the youth energy in East Africa through Sankalp Africa and the Intellecap Impact Investing Network (I3N) where young entrepreneurs showcased their business models that attempt to find solutions to complex local problems across sectors such as education, energy, healthcare, water, agriculture and financial inclusion. This proliferation of youth entrepreneurship encouraged a discussion on the importance of eco-system support for the success of early stage enterprises. Young entrepreneurs, we realized, faced unique challenges, many of which could be addressed through strengthening existing support systems.

This research concept emerged from multiple conversations with stakeholders and young entrepreneurs who called for a more systematic understanding of the challenges they face, their demand for ecosystem support and the white spaces that indicate opportunities to strengthen supply of targeted support. With our roots in the Indian social entrepreneurship eco-system and through our experience of 12 years of working with young ambitious, entrepreneurs we are convinced that youth entrepreneurship can make a significant contribution to Africa’s inclusive growth.

To bring out this report in 2104-15 we had been listening to the stories of enterprises, partners and other stakeholders to understand their perception of the entrepreneurial eco-system in East Africa. As we concluded this phase of our youth entrepreneurship research, we recognized the need to invert another pyramid – that of support systems available to the vast majority of young entrepreneurs eager to raise capital, build capacity and leverage networks that will help turn their ideas into scalable businesses.
We are grateful to the enterprises and eco-system players for sharing their perspectives with us and helping us verify our hypothesis and findings, and hope we can collectively work towards “inverting the support ecosystem pyramid’’ for East Africa’s young entrepreneurs.

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