Reviewing the Balloon Pitch Process – Balloon Ventures

Reviewing the Balloon Pitching Process

As part of each Balloon Ventures programme, from Balloon ICS to our partnership with Citi, entrepreneurs have the opportunity to pitch for financial support. This pitch takes place at a ‘Pitching Event’, and represents the culmination of many weeks’ hard work, both for the entrepreneurs and for the volunteers.

To support their pitch, entrepreneurs are asked to complete ‘Pitch Documents’ throughout the programme, aided by the volunteers. These are then presented to a panel, who make the final decision about who should receive the funding.

Panels are made up of a mix of Volunteers, Team Leaders, staff and, sometimes, external experts. The panels are responsible for guiding the financial investment Balloon makes in informal sector businesses. They decide who gets investment, and how much. It’s an important decision, and one we know we have to get right.

Earlier this year, we decided to review the pitching process, to make sure there was parity and clarity, and that we were making consistently good decisions about who to fund. Dr Nick Andreou, our Insight & Impact Lead, took charge of the project, and visited a number of pitch events in country throughout the process.

At the beginning, Nick identified a number of challenges with the way the process ran:

  • There were no standardised criteria being used;
  • There was no common process across locations;
  • The pitches were focussed on ‘Pitch Documents’ which had become cumbersome and too long (some were over 100 pages!)
  • There were no data being collected, so it was difficult to gain insight or learn from what was going on.

As Nick put it: “as someone who likes structure, consistency, clarity and precision, it was my worst nightmare!”

Nick set up a series of goals for the project, but the overall goal was fairly simple – making sure that Balloon got the right sums of money to the right people, for the right reasons.

In 2016, Nick visited our project locations twice, to figure out the key challenges and conduct a review of everything that was being done by our Programme Co-Ordinators in country. He worked closely with Josh, our CEO, and Doug, our COO, to understand how their experience could feed in to the process. At the beginning of 2017, the first version of the new process was rolled out, combining the best bits from all the current pitching sessions across our projects.

More research was conducted, using data from the first cycle of this new version (including psychometric analysis and a whole host of other technical methodology), and more field work was conducted earlier this year. Our in-country Insight & Impact manager, Gerishon, oversaw all the pitches on a particular programme cycle in Kenya, and innovations were tried during out Citi partnership, Volunteer Africa.

And here’s what we ended up with:

  • A coherent, well-defined set of criteria
  • Guidance and materials to structure the pitch process (e.g. briefing, panel templates, etc.)
  • Character references to support pitch data
  • Using Survey Gizmo (an online platform) to gather data, so that it can be centralised
  • Re-ordering some of the data collection better to inform panels about entrepreneurs’ business
  • Use of a new activity tracker, which helps entrepreneurs to focus and to pitch for the right things
  • Added oversight from Gerishon to ensure quality and consistency throughout

Nick designed the new pitching process around the latest version of the Balloon curriculum, and its three vital questions – ‘Should they?’, ‘Can they?’ and ‘Will they?’. All the criteria are now designed to interface with the curriculum in this way, and the whole experience is much more seamless as a result.

Armed with clear guidelines on what to prioritise, along with the improved evidence provided by, amongst other things, the activity tracker, panels should now be able to make better decisions.

As we continue to collect and gather data from pitching events across Balloon project locations, Nick is hoping that we will be able to develop the ability to accurately predict entrepreneurial performance before the loans are made. The higher-quality data should also give us the ability to predict the chance that an entrepreneur will repay their loan.

Overall, this is a positive step which is helping Balloon to make data-driven, evidence-based loan decisions to ensure we have the maximum impact at all times.