Next in our series of blogs from this year’s Skoll Scholars is a post from Austin Harris. Austin is the founder of Inkomoko, a Rwanda-based business accelerator for high-potential SMEs.
“I began my career working in finance, working first with a startup M&A and then a major bank. I appreciated the skills I gained, yet rarely felt a strong connection with the impact of my work. Throughout my career I have taken time to travel and volunteer in the developing world, witnessing hardships of many and the positive transformations that can be yielded by socially minded businesses.
In the beginning of 2010, I transitioned from traditional finance into microfinance, hoping to apply my work experience to financial services in areas of need. I worked in Bangladesh and then Rwanda, witnessing first-hand the transformational effect of lending and the notable growth in borrowers’ lives. In contrast to my former jobs, I felt proud of my contribution to a product that provided beneficial change.
Over my life, a variety of entrepreneurial projects have captivated and inspired me, continually building a desire to create a socially beneficial and sustainable business. In January 2012, I started Inkomoko, an accelerator firm in Rwanda that has been providing the necessary consulting, capacity building, and financing services for SMEs that are creating innovative products and services. The companies we are supporting are helping to expand and strengthen the Rwandan economy, and will serve as a model for others who are planning their own entrepreneurial ventures.
I am inspired most by providing growth to the developing world through the private sector in a way that can be both viable in business and impactful to the public. I believe supporting innovation through business will broaden industries as well as supply new career opportunities. I trust that original goods and services can benefit the people of a country as well as address many of the developing world’s pressing issues. My hope is to deliver the means for entrepreneurs to build constructive businesses. I also hope to be a conduit for investment in SMEs to help grow these businesses and broaden the areas they serve. This often overlooked sector is large in scale and has the ability to benefit all socioeconomic levels. With support and guidance, these SMEs can be a driving force in self-driven development.
A hurdle I strive to help overcome in the investment of SMEs is reducing the unknowns and strengthening the connection of the business to the outside world. By consulting for these companies, providing mentors who can report on company progress, and establishing a track record through our own financing, we develop a wealth of information and establish a history with SMEs. The intimate level of due diligence reduces the unknown factors in financing companies of this size and at this stage in development. It also opens up alternate forms of financing to reduce necessary collateral and provide affordable support with flexibility. Through our accelerator track, we can provide greater reassurance on the strength of the SME’s business and present a more comprehensive picture, giving investors greater understanding of viable SMEs and their prospects in the developing world.
My experience at Saïd will provide me greater understanding of financial services and business operations so I can expand the benefits of supporting and actively guiding SMEs. Saïd will deepen my knowledge and strengthen my ability to both improve my own business and advance other socially-minded businesses. In addition, the Skoll Foundation connects me to a wealth of knowledge and a supportive community. The Foundation will offer exposure to the successes and difficulties of others in similarly-minded tracks, and a learning opportunity that can be applied to my own venture. The combination of Saïd and Skoll will provide the support and guidance for me that I strive to extend to the businesses in Africa. “
Continuing our series of scholar blogs, here’s a post from Nicolás Argüello , another of our Skoll Scholars for 2013-14.
Nicolás is co-founder and director of Mentores Solidarios, an education-focused nonprofit in Nicaragua that provides full scholarships, one-to-one mentorship, leadership training, job skills, and college transition assistance to over 300 impoverished yet academically exceptional students.
“Starting a business as an MBA student has many advantages. You get free, top-quality advice and mentoring from expert professors and accomplished classmates. Class projects can be used to develop your idea and refine your business plan. You can analyze strategy frameworks and financing schemes in terms of how they can best be applied to your business model. And since you’ve already decided to forgo a salary for the program’s duration (a deterrent to many aspiring entrepreneurs), you might as well invest your free time in developing your business instead of participating in career-related clubs, events and workshops—a massive time-sink for most MBA students.
However, not all MBA programs are the same. The degree to which business schools support entrepreneurs varies considerably. Whereas some schools offer few entrepreneurship-related opportunities, others have robust entrepreneurship programs. Yet, even in this latter category, there are top-performers that are in a league of their own. Such is the case for the Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford.
In my opinion, the Business School provides exceptional support to students that want to start a new business. The Entrepreneurship Centre offers skill-building programs such as ‘Building a Business’ and the ‘Lean LaunchPad’. The Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship provides access to leading social innovation research, a vast network of social entrepreneurs across the world, and expert mentoring. The SBS Seed Fund helps entrepreneurs with great ideas to launch their businesses by providing early stage venture capital and considerable post-investment business support. The Entrepreneurship Project, part of the MBA program, allows you to work with classmates to develop a business plan and pitch it at an investor forum. You can then use the eight-week Strategic Consulting Project, also part of the MBA curriculum, to do market research and further develop your venture. The list goes on. All of these initiatives come together to create a truly remarkable ecosystem for entrepreneurs. And as an added bonus that not many other schools can claim, many of the world’s leading experts (in all kinds of academic subjects) are minutes away. Whether you want to start an off-grid solar energy distributor, a game-based learning startup or a financial services company (to name a few of the businesses that Oxford MBA graduates have recently launched), chances are you’ll find the support you need.
I came to Oxford to start a social enterprise and I cannot imagine a better place to do so. Staff at the Skoll Centre have been incredibly supportive and inspiring. They’ve put me in touch with other social entrepreneurs, given me great ideas (as well as much-appreciated critical feedback), and offered me working space, whiteboards, and all the post-its I need to brainstorm ideas and lay the foundations for my business. When I came to Oxford, I knew that I wanted to start a business, but I didn’t have a concrete idea. All I knew was that I wanted to return to Nicaragua and do something in the field of education. Thanks largely to all the support I’ve been given, I now have a very clear idea for a social enterprise: a technical school to provide job skills to unemployed youth in Nicaragua.
The new academic year is well underway, and we are excited to welcome the new intake of MBA students – including the new crop of Skoll Scholars for 2013-14!
Over the next few weeks we’ll be publishing blog posts from each of our Skoll Scholars, and hearing more about their ideas, passions and the impact they want to have on the world, now and in the future.
” I’m CK Raine. I’m passionate about developing online programs that change the way people think and behave, particularly focusing on health. I’m interested in understanding why people do stuff (often stuff that isn’t that good for you in the long term) and how you can incentivise them to change. Over the past five years, my work has focused on one particular health issue in the world – misuse of alcohol.
Misuse of alcohol is responsible for 4% of all deaths globally (around 2.5million – more than AIDS or tuberculosis) and costs governments tens of billions each and every year. Yet, like most non-communicable diseases, rarely do entrepreneurs look for consumer-focused solutions to them. The problem is that “non-policy” solutions often lack the necessary evidence, don’t have a commercial market and are terminably unscalable. I think there is a huge opportunity to use technology to create scalable solutions to issues like this.
My team in Australia has built an NGO called Hello Sunday Morning. Over the past four years we have built a simple three month program to help individuals go through a process of change around the way they drink as well as use their story (through blogging) to recreate the culture around them. Our overall participant base now sits at 17,000 people, over 50% of whom drink at very hazardous levels. As you can see from the graph below that measures the audit score (alcohol consumption test) of people in our program vs other treatment services – we get a significantly higher amount of people who drink hazardously and want to change. These are people who either don’t want to, don’t have access to or don’t know how to get help from traditional services, yet they want to change! This is the power of technology, not just in alcohol – but for all behaviour change in society.
AUDIT Score distribution of HSM and Australian general population
So where are we going? Changing the way the world uses alcohol is a HUGE opportunity. If we look at the annual social costs of alcohol (Over £ 20 billion in the UK, $AUD 36 billion in Australia and $US 200 billion in the United States), if we can reduce the costs by just 1% through changing a few hundred thousand people – we will have been successful.
My post-MBA goal is to continue to build Hello Sunday Morning as a program while also seeking large-scale investment from governments and individuals to build a technology company that takes the best in behaviour change programs in the world and use investment to scale them to the point that any individual in the world has an opportunity to change the way they drink, when they are ready.”