Since 2011, Balloon has been working with micro-businesses, helping them to grow through technical assistance provided by teams of volunteers and through small, low-interest unsecured loans. The impact has been strong, helping entrepreneurs provide better for themselves and their families, but fast business growth is still unusual.
Whilst we’ve been focussed on this, there’s always been a nagging thought at the back of our minds…What if we could find the most exceptional micro-businesses and give them more significant capital investment and intensive technical support from experts to grow much faster?
What might happen if we could add rocket fuel to the best businesses we've encountered? What would happen if we threw everything we have at them?
In a sense, we’ve started to ask ourselves what might happen if we could add rocket fuel to the best businesses we’ve encountered? What would happen if we threw everything we have at them? What sort of growth could we achieve?
Earlier this year, we took a big step towards giving this a go.
At the end of March, Josh, our CEO, spent 5 days in Nairobi with IDEO.org and 5 other social enterprises that were awarded funding to launch ideas targeted at reducing youth unemployment in East Africa. Josh spent the workshops working with fantastic enterprises like Musana Carts – offering solar powered carts to food street sellers in Kampala; and Educate – who want to scale their proven model for building entrepreneurial talent in school leavers in Kenya; to apply the best of Design Thinking to their ideas. By simplifying, unpacking the critical assumptions and imagining prototypes, all of the enterprises were able to test and learn.
At the time of publication, we’re also really excited to be working with 24 global employees from Citi who are supporting 16 entrepreneurs in Uganda. These include Sam, who 3 years ago found a plot of land and built a bakery using skills he’d learned on his engineering degree. Since then, Sam’s business has grown to employ 5 workers and he feels ready to take his business to the next level.
The plan is...to provide up to 4 years of intensive support from a team of strategy, operations, finance and marketing experts.
The plan is to use the support provided by the Citi volunteers to help identify the best entrepreneurs, like Sam, who have the drive and determination to grow their business exponentially. We’ll then work with IDEO on our Micro Venture Capital fund, to make investments of $10,000-$15,000 and provide up to 4 years of intensive support from a team of strategy, operations, finance and marketing experts. We hope to take businesses like Sam’s, with 5 employees and grow them to the point where they can employ 50 local people.
So the three stages of the Balloon intervention will support entrepreneurs in all stages of their journey, from informal sector micro-entrepreneurs through to SME-level businesses.
Testing for this idea will start next week, and we’ll keep you updated throughout.