Taking The Leap: The Infosys Challenge And Beyond: Part II
By Zulfiqar Deo, Co-Founder Strategy and Marketing at BizGees
The next step for BizGees was to decide whether to take the project forwards. As a team they felt conceptually there was merit in what they had come up with. Now they were entering the chaos of the startup world. They applied to over five accelerator programmes, pitched three times before being accepted onto the F10 programme. This took them 6 months to achieve. During this time, only two of the six initial members from the FinTech Jam were left.
The BizGees team managed to onboard some key advisers during this time. One adviser – Kilian Kleinschmidt – was an ex Deputy UNHCR Representative and Senior Field Coordinator for UNHCR at the UN Camp they were looking to target in Jordan. The other specialised in Micro Chain – a version of blockchain they were looking to use. Francis Chen was the technical lead at MIT during his Master’s on the Micro Chain project.
The F10 – FinTech accelerator programme was sponsored by Julius Baer, PWC and SIX. They were selecting only 10 startups to participate in their programme. BizGees was the only project with a focus on social value and financial innovation among the participants. Upon selection they were invited to Zurich for the six month programme. It gave them the time and space to translate the Infosys Challenge winning concept into a practical solution to be taken to market. During this time, BizGees clarified its vision with the support of Lars Diener-Kimmich – a local Swiss innovation professional. They organised its mission to support the host community as much as the Refugee Entrepreneurs. The group managed to systemize their volunteer co workers base. Here they allowed corporate professionals to support a cause dear to their hearts, while not needing to take away from their careers. This approach also allows the corporate professionals to up and re skill themselves in ever changing environment for them. This gig economy based approach allows BizGees to access expertise to lower their skills deficit on a win/ win basis with local multinationals.
BizGees also spent time building up their advisory team. They onboarded the Managing Director of Threshold Group, Stephanie Cohn Rupp as an adviser. Her support entails supporting BizGees to become investment ready, understand the impact sector and having access to her black book. A senior partner from a local law firm has also been supporting BizGees navigate the compliance concerns of cross border financial transactions. Jana Essebier of Vischer also supported them on their trip to UN Camps in Jordan via introductions to local law firms in their network. BizGees has also worked with MBA students from Said Business School, University of Oxford to validate the risks and return ratios.
From a product development perspective, BizGees managed to generate a specialist micro financial service for refugee entrepreneurs. Along the way the team took a trip to Jordan along with their F10 Mentors. They met refugee entrepreneurs in Zaatri the UN camp in Jordan. This gave them a first hand insight into the lives of the refugees they were looking to support and the daily constraints the refugees have experienced to access supplies for their businesses.
BizGees now offer refugee entrepreneurs access to business-in-a-box solutions that will help refugees become successful entrepreneurs while they add value to their host countries. This pivotal change in direction took their supporters by surprise. BizGees felt it was important to find a low risk point of entry into the market. So they changed their geographical focus from Jordan to Uganda – where refugees have the right to work and experience a progressive environment. They also the changed from peer to peer micro loans to micro franchise fee loans because the impact of each loan was greater by factor of three. For instance, the training the refugees receive enables them to understand how to organise a business, how to engage with clients, how to manage inventory, how to organise business records, with six months of business mentoring.
This approach also helps BizGees support the host country micro entrepreneurs at the same time, without much additional costs or effort. Part of their offering now is to organise credit records for all the business-in-a-box entrepreneurs working with Wessex Social Ventures. All the micro entrepreneurs get to build up a business level identity that allows them to plug into mainstream financial system. This also allows BizGees to act as a feeder to other financial institutions.
For example, Kilian is now part of a SME bank (still a work in progress) backed by a sovereign fund to support SMEs in rural areas in the developing world. Another example are the UN Development goals that get supported along way. Each business-in-a-box solution essentially adds value to the local community by supporting at least 5 of the 17 UN Development goals at the same time.
BizGees have come long way in 15 months from FinTech Jam for Good. They are now capitalising on the growth of alternative finance and generating new forms of interest free financial service for high risks segments of society. They look forward to meeting more financial institutions who are willing to access the innovation they are generating on a win to win basis.