When applying to bring a project to the UNICEF Fintech Jam. The project was a post-conflict economic regeneration project in Swat, Pakistan. The region has been devastated because of conflict. It is now looking to regain its place in the world. Being a high-end provider of hand made wool, leather-based items and precious stones. After pitching this project at the start we all built our teams. This is where we the Co-Founders met. The concept we pitched at the end on the Sunday was radically different.
By Sunday, we were looking to offer UN Registered Refugees with micro business loans. This would help them scale up their businesses. We felt this would also help generate local employment for other Refugees. It would help empower them. It would also help lower the radicalisation concerns. We pitched the project and won ! It was great to gain the recognition. We were also invited to pitch at the Innovate Finance Summit. Here we were interviewed by the BBC World Service as well.
We then started on organising the future for the project. This meant pitching to accelerator and incubator programs. Along the way the Claro Partners consult supported us in gaining clarity. Identifying the accelerators and our own support needs was a key concern for us for few months.
We then started the long arduous journey of applying to accelerator programs. We used each pitching event with them as a feedback session. This was vital for us. The biggest problem wasn’t what we were doing - the concept’s great. The industry trends are in our favour. The demand for the support is there. The dominant concern was how to articulate what we were looking to do. How do we structure the communications such that we come across as a viable project? We need to be taken seriously both from the social value perspective and the business side. Usually, it is one or the other. Yet, in our case we have to juggle both at the same time. This took some stretching of our intellect. By our third pitch invitation, we seemed to have done a reasonable job.
Our pitch to F10 was in Zurich. As the pitching day proceeded it became evident we were among some strong startups. We all had a good understanding of our markets and the value we were looking to add. We met the sponsor companies in the afternoon. They were open with their thoughts and concerns. This helped us gain an insight into potential stakeholder concerns. It also highlighted the need startups have of engaging with companies at an early stage. It helps build bridges and generates realistic expectations on all sides.
The F10 approach and organisation seemed quite unique to Zurich. In London, the approach we are used is different. The emphasis here seemed to be more on access to business networks.
Cutting a long story cut short. We received a phone call a couple of weeks later highlighting we had been accepted. It was a great day for us. We both felt all the hard work we had put in was starting to pay off. Finally, we had the opportunity to make the project happen. Now it was time to start performing.
Earlier this week we started the accelerator program with F10. We all started by revisiting the basics of our own projects. This meant ensuring we understood why we were doing what we were. This then helps to define the vision, mission and the rest. For our project, we found it helped us align our own vision and expectations. By the end of the first week - we had reassessed our next steps. Our mentor from F10 - Lars Diener-Kimmich, an innovation specialist - had met us three times. Our time with him has been highly productive. We have also benefited from other mentors taking an interest in our project.
The Future looks brighter already
Even though we are still settling in and organising our business. We feel the clarity we gained has helped to identify our risks accurately. We are now working on managing them and taking the project forwards. We look forward to helping “Refugees become successful Entrepreneurs”. Join in us in making this happen - drop us a note here.