History was made this year on June 25th when the first Unreasonable East Africa (UEA) Institute officially opened it’s doors. Thousands of miles away from our sister in Boulder, Colorado, a five-week boot camp in Kampala, Uganda united 12 ventures with 39 mentors and 30 investors to face some of the toughest social and environmental problems in East Africa.
Growing up in Uganda creates a strong personal attachment to the success of UEA. And now the solutions to the extreme social and economic injustices I experienced are now more visible thanks to UEA and the entrepreneurs. However, we still have a lot of work ahead of us and looking back at the program this summer, I want to focus on six key takeaways.
1. The social enterprise ecosystem is here. And it is here to stay.
There are thousands of organizations in East Africa working to solve what we call BFPs (Big F**king Problems)—problems that seem impossible to solve and urgently need to be addressed. The disconnect here is that many of them are working with little or no contact with others in the same space, consequentially, diluting the total potential impact. It’s nearly impossible to scale solutions and make meaningful progress on BFPs without an ecosystem of collaboration.
It’s nearly impossible to scale solutions and make meaningful progress on BFPs without an ecosystem of collaboration. Tweet This Quote
So we are beginning to build relationships with many of these organizations in East Africa—reaching about 30 percent of the total available network. We currently work with 40 organizations as pipeline partners to help us reach the entrepreneurs that we are looking to work with. But we also refer entrepreneurs to partnered organizations, and we spread the word about our partners’ work via social media and a newsletter with more than 10,000 subscribers.
In partnership with One Acre Fund and Segal Family Foundation, we hold the Kampala Social Enterprise happy hour—an event that brings together entrepreneurs, funders and organizations together once every two months. These events attract over 150 people and facilitate knowledge sharing and relationship building. The sooner we strategically unite with partners on an organization level, the sooner our combined impact can create a holistic support system for entrepreneurs to thrive.
2. Investors and entrepreneurs need to get comfortable sitting on the same side of the table.
We realized at the beginning of our program that many of our entrepreneurs cringed at the mention of investors—the word “investor” seemed to be synonymous with “shark.” But by working with over 50 investors we found that investors were eager to help. The problem was that both parties were speaking different languages—like reading from completely different scripts—and there was no space for the entrepreneurs and investors to have the conversations necessary to conquer communication barriers and change perceptions.
To help solve this entrepreneurs received support from our mentors. Leading up to a two-day event we call Investor Days, mentors helped entrepreneurs work on common due diligence questions, prepare investor pitch decks, and create financial models.
On the first day of the event, entrepreneurs led a team of four investors through two 90-minute breakout sessions. The sessions were structured so that the two parties could have meaningful conversations, build relationships, and focus on aligning the ventures onto a path of investability. This made investors approach every conversation with the objective to help the entrepreneurs navigate their investability challenges, which eased the tension our entrepreneurs felt in investor relations.The second day was structured so that investors and entrepreneurs could have follow up meetings. All but one company built strong relationships with at least three investors—the one company that didn’t reach three walked away with two. The entrepreneurs left the Institute with more confidence toward raising investment. And on the investors’ side, we received feedback saying that they enjoyed learning with entrepreneurs in a friendly setting as well as the meeting other investors and learning from them.
3. We need to be accountable to our entrepreneurs.
We ask a lot from our entrepreneurs. Not only do they spend five weeks with us, but it also takes countless hours to prepare and raise between $3,000 and $4,000 for the Institute. So we needed to establish a system of accountability beginning with understanding.
Before the program, we spent three months working to deeply understand the state of our ventures, including everything from two-year growth strategies to the most critical challenges they’re currently facing. We used this data to design the program and ensure we were delivering the value they needed. Our venture support team, led by Kate Hanford, Ivan Mandela and Fiona Hoffman Harland, used that data to design milestones with the entrepreneurs. And during the program, the team held weekly one-on-one check-ins with the entrepreneurs to help track progress and provide support.
These tactics gave our entrepreneurs a valuable experience. And although the feedback we got from entrepreneurs was really positive, we don’t have this completely figured out yet. We need to put more skin in the game, and we will be developing more of these strategies so that we are delivering the most value possible in the future.
4. Attitude is the mother of resilience.
If we want to move the needle on BFPs, we need to be resilient and always lift ourselves up when we fail—even when hope vanishes. The only way we can push this hard towards success is with the right attitude.
Attitude is the mother of resilience. Tweet This Quote
For example, one of our entrepreneurs, Carol Kimari from Grab A Book, came in with no clear business model and no answers to critical growth questions. But she was hungry to learn, and her relentless passion and humble attitude made her coachable. She was honest about her struggles—never letting them hold her back—and was not afraid to unleash her passion. “This is important for the kids out there,” Carol would say. She infected everyone she met with her attitude and walked away with solid commitments from funders.
All our entrepreneurs this year live, breathe and obsess over their vision. And they can’t help but smile when asked to speak about their work. Entrepreneurs with grit always have a great attitude, and as we move forward, we will always look for those characteristics.
5. Community is everything.
Our entrepreneurs ranked community as the most important part of our program, and I can relate. The truth is that being an entrepreneur is incredibly tough, especially when attempting to solve a problem that billions of dollars of foreign aid has failed. It often gets lonely and you feel misunderstood.
As our Unreasonable mentor, Pascal Finette, calls it, we need a tribe—a close-knit community to support us through the lonely times, and inspire and push each other forward. The UEA tribe formed organically this year, but imagine the kind of community we will create next year when we become more intentional about it!
6. Remember to Dance!
The team and I were already pretty burnt out by the time the Institute started. Making it through the program would have been impossible if we had not remembered to dance. Every morning, the teams started the day with reasons to dance, and we celebrated every document sent, every milestone reached, and every little success because getting burnt out is a real problem. Remembering to dance taught us how important and rejuvenating it is to celebrate the smallest wins.
There are always things we can improve on, but we’re heading in the right direction after the first Unreasonable East Africa Institute. The trusted community we have make the foundation for a bright future. And the valuable lessons we take with us will provide the framework to solve the biggest problems in East Africa. As we look to open applications for next year’s program, we cannot wait to apply what we have learned for a successful 2015 Unreasonable East Africa Institute!