For more than a decade, IIM Ahmedabad's Centre for Innovation Incubation and Entrepreneurship (CIIE) has been working on incubation, acceleration and seed-funding initiatives for early-stage entrepreneurs. In May 2018, it set up the Financial Inclusion Lab (FI Lab) under the aegis of the Bharat Inclusion initiative to incubate and back startups working in the areas of financial inclusion, skilling and livelihood.
CIIE’s decade-long experience in working with early-stage entrepreneurs made it very evident that these startups needed deep hand-holding and softcapital in their early stages, before being able to prove their commercial viability and raise scale-up capital. At the prototype stage, the support is required to validate product assumptions and build a field-tested MVP. At the post-MVP stage, assistance needs to be geared towards validating business assumptions and designing sustainable scale-up strategies.
These learnings translated into two programmes - FI Lab - Build, to help prototype stage startups build validated MVPs and FI Lab - Validate, to help post-MVP stage startups create sustainable go-to-market and scale-up strategies. The Bharat Inclusion Seed Fund can further support the startups with equity capital for scale-up, thus providing a continuum of support to the startups.
The inaugural edition of the Financial Inclusion Lab accelerator in 2018 focused primarily on helping startups build validated MVPs, launch products faster and acquire their initial set of customers. The programme received over 260 applications startups across from 40+ Indian cities, and 11 startups – Easyplan, ExpressMOJO, Finlok, GramCover, Jai Kisan, Kaarva, MunshiG, Navaana Tech, SureClaim, WonderLend Hubs, Bridge2Capital – made it to the cohort.
Now, the Lab is launching its second edition - a four-month-long accelerator programme, the FI Lab - Validate.
The Bharat Inclusion Initiative is an effort to build knowledge and foster innovation and entrepreneurial activity directed toward improving financial inclusion and livelihood for the lower income segment. As part of the Initiative, the Financial Inclusion Lab accelerator creates and disseminates resources that help startups and entrepreneurs get the right knowledge, tools, funding, partners, and access to test markets to help develop inclusive solutions. Here’s a quick run through of what the programme has on offer for startups.
The grant will be made available during the programme period and will be disbursed in phases. All selected startups part of the cohort will receive this support. The capital will enable startups to design and implement different marketing and distribution strategies, make incremental changes to their products and forge the right partnerships.
CIIE is collaborating with MicroSave Consulting, an international financial inclusion consultancy firm, to give the participating startups high-touch advisory support and insights into the low-and-middle income (LMI) segment. Customized market studies, diagnostics and clinics with experts will help startups with insights needed to build their go-to-market strategies.
Founders of CIIE’s investee companies, as well as other founders with whom CIIE engages regularly, have been roped in to support the startups. Getting connected to the members in the network will enable startups to learn from people who have traversed similar journeys before them, avoid common pitfalls and tap missed opportunities.
During the programme and even after, dedicated portfolio managers will engage with the startups to identify the right connects for them based on their needs, including investors, banks, MFIs, financial institutions, NGOs, and other potential partners.
In addition, the startups will receive support through intensive workshops, curated sessions by faculty and experts at IIM Ahmedabad, investment readiness advisory and preparation, cloud credits, legal, marketing and other ancillary services, visibility on online, offline, social channels and events, and much more.
The Bharat Inclusion Initiative has received a commitment of $25million from some of the largest philanthropic organisations working to improve the lives of the underserved. This includes Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, JP Morgan, Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, and Omidyar Network. The Initiative’s unique design is one-of-its-kind, encompassing research, acceleration and funding, to provide startups with a continuum of offerings to de-risk their journeys.
The partnerships with these well-established organisations who have done some phenomenal and impactful work on the ground, and their financial support will pave the way for startups to address the unique needs of lower- and middle-income people and grow along.