We believe deeply in the work that we do. And at the same time, we believe deeply in the value of militant transparency. We know that the journey we have embarked on is not an easy one, but one with questions worth answering and challenges worth solving. We also know that it is going to take time, but confident that we will eventually get there. As a team, we’ve experienced a number of shortcomings and false starts over the past year. To keep us humble and to ensure that we always learn from them and get help, we enumerate some of them here.
We need to effectively continue supporting our entrepreneurs beyond the 5-week program.
We have learned after working with 21 companies so far that our entrepreneurs continue to need our support way beyond the 5-week program because their needs continue to evolve over time. We currently aim to build a strong Unreasonable network of mentors, entrepreneurs and investors that continue to support each other over the long haul, but have learned that while we have this network in place, we need to more intentionally build infrastructure around it to make sure that this network is able to continue supporting our entrepreneurs over time.
This is one of the things we are focusing on in 2015/2016, something we are excited to bring to our entrepreneurs, as we learn how to continue providing them with an unreasonable advantage to help them grow their businesses.
We need to have more capital flow to early stage companies.
We have also learned that despite the growth of the Impact Investing movement, our fellows continue to struggle in their early stages to raise funding despite the technical support we provide them with, including strategic planning, financial modeling and much more to ensure they are ready to raise funding. In addition, we also put our entrepreneurs in front of our global investor network of over 550 funders.
We have realised though that this is not a problem with just our companies, but spans across the entire industry. Our friends at Echoing Green recently wrote a report on this and the 2015 Global Impact Investing Network’s (GIIN) annual survey found that of the $60 billion managed by impact investors, less than 10% is invested in early stage companies(thanks to this article for this data). We see so many opportunities here and this is one of the things are are focusing on solving for our companies in 2015/2016. We have started with the Unreasonable East Africa Revolving loan fund that we launched early 2015 to provide working capital debt to our past fellows and are going to continue working around the clock until we have more solutions.
Creating more tangible/concrete takeaways for fellows during workshops and seminars instead of solely theoretical discussion.
While we have significantly improved on having our fellows have concrete takeaways from workshops, we still continue to face a few challenges with this that we are focusing on solving in 2015/2016. We have learned that workshops are only as good as the value they actually provide our entrepreneurs and are looking to learn how to further customise workshop content to more directly solve our entrepreneurs key challenges. One of the things that worked really well during our 2015 institute was facilitated dialogue with all our fellows during the workshops so that our mentors or workshop leads addressed these challenges.
We will be doing this more with our 2016 program and even implementing some of the things we continue to learn as we design the 2016 program.
Core/Lead mentor matching needs to have more of the fellow’s input.
For our 2015 program, we tried out an approach to mentorship that we were confident was going to address our fellow’s direct needs. As part of our approach, we matched each of our fellows with a Core mentor that we selected based on our knowledge on the experiences and personality of both the mentor and entrepreneur. The Core Mentor’s role was to be the sounding board to the entrepreneur before, during and after the 5-week program and we let the mentors select the entrepreneurs they wanted to work with but did not give the entrepreneur this option. While we registered some success with this, we learned that this relationship could be stronger and more effective if we let the entrepreneurs actually select who they wanted to be their core/lead mentor from our expansive list of mentors. We are excited to implement this during our 2016 program.
We still struggle to create a good working environment for our team.
While we have significantly improved with this and our team is content with our work, we still face this challenge especially while working in a semi-chaotic start-up environment. The health of our team and the culture of the organisation continue to be a great priority of our CEO though and we are confident we will continue making headway with this as we brace ourselves for another year.
Bottom line: As we celebrate our great success in our second year and embark onto our third, we are increasingly growing confident in our model and approach. While we are not making a promise that we have it all figured out yet, we are definitely onto something and we are learning fast what it takes to support early stage entrepreneurs in East Africa. Our model is better and stronger than it has ever been, with so much promise of getting even better. We continue to have our hearts and minds fully vested in doing the best job possible for our entrepreneurs, mentors, partners and various stakeholders yet being aware that this journey is going to continue to be marred by some challenges and mistakes. We will continue to LEARN fast from them and continue to work hard to mitigate them. We would also love to share what we know but also learn and discuss what is out there and any solutions that exist. If you want to help or have any input, please reach out to our CEO Joachim Ewechu at joakim(at)unreasonableeastafrica(dot)org