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Dare to dream bigger | Lessons learned from Yvonne Otieno, founder of Miyonga Fresh Greens

Dare to dream bigger | Lessons learned from Yvonne Otieno, founder of Miyonga Fresh Greens

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They say talent exists everywhere but opportunities don’t. This statement stands true in every part of the world where entrepreneurs like Yvonne exists. Yvonne Otieno is an alumna who participated in Miller Center’s 2018 Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) Online Accelerator program. She is a farmer from Kenya who embarked on the journey of entrepreneurship to change the livelihoods of fellow farmers. Yvonne’s enterprise, Miyonga Fresh Greens, exports fresh fruits and vegetables from Kenya to the UK, Norway, Netherlands, Germany, Greece, Ireland and South Africa. Miyonga started exporting from a horticultural farm with 10 acres located in Lukenya, Machakos County and expanded to become a fully-established exporter with access to a network of 5,000+ growers with over 200 hectares of land.

How did this happen? Let’s hear from Yvonne.

The lifelong journey of exploration

Starting and managing a business most commonly originates when an entrepreneur identifies a way to solve a problem or serve a need. What’s unexpected is that, once ignited, one’s entrepreneurial spirit permeates and turns into a lifelong endeavor. To move forward, a founder has to trust her instinct when it comes to decision making and, in those moments, there may not be any indication whether her choice will work out favorably or turn out to be disastrous. The journey is a roller coaster ride of emotions sprinkled with moments of unexpected wisdom. Once Miyonga Fresh Greens achieved its initial milestones, Yvonne regretted not dreaming bigger. (Well, don’t we all?)  “We executed what we set out to do. We have grown from farmers to exporters, diversified from just fresh produce to value addition of fresh fruits to dried fruits and fruit powder and were positively impacting our community by creating employment. But, my only regret is not dreaming bigger at that time,” reflected Yvonne.

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Perhaps, the point to ponder here is that even the best-laid plans can go astray. Even though Yvonne carefully crafted a solid business plan, there was a stark difference when it came to the first round of financial actuals. The first planted product was a failure and, to her great frustration,, nothing was making sense to Yvonne. “There are days everything looks bright and there are days when you aren’t quite sure anymore why you are still in business. Our business began farming on a 1.5-acre piece of land growing green beans, or Haricot verts, as commonly known in Europe. Our first planting of the product made huge losses. When preparing the business case, all numbers seemed to make sense and I just couldn’t understand why we were seeing losses,” she shared.

The phase with patience, persistence, and passion

Patience, persistence, and passion make an unbeatable combination for success. When plans take an unexpected detour, entrepreneurs do not quit; they stay patient, become persistent and use their passion to explore the avenues to get back on course. In Yvonne’s case, her business found hope in remodeling the entire business plan and transitioning from just farming to an agricultural business. Since then, Miyonga has won multiple accolades including the 2016 Gender in Innovation and Agriculture, Social Impact award for women and top 50 innovators in Africa.

Besides the initial USD$10,000 seed capital Miyonga Fresh Greens received as an award, it has grown organically and is currently on its first round for investments. Yet, the journey has been quite challenging with a lot of questions that used to keep Yvonne awake at night. “One of the challenges we faced was where to find investors? Another was what type of funding should we seek: equity or debt? If equity, how much equity should we be giving up as a company? And last, because our business cares about positively impacting the community, how does our organization measure its social impact? Those are questions that we struggled with,” listed Yvonne.

Paving the way to find the “right” investor

Making the decision to let someone invest in your company is harder than anything for a founding entrepreneur. You find people showing interest in your idea, but do they really believe in it? Do they trust your passion or commitment towards it, or are they just after the ROI? These questions linger in every entrepreneur’s mind when they are seeking funds.

At Miller Center’s GSBI program, we prepare social entrepreneurs for investment, scaling their business and growth. 93% of the participants in the 2016 GSBI Accelerator cohort raised funding within six months after the program concluded. We match Silicon Valley executive mentors who accompany selected social entrepreneurs for the duration of their time in the program. Oftentimes, this accompaniment goes beyond the program dates to develop the operational excellence and investment readiness required to scale impact. Yvonne benefitted from her mentors’ expertise and now understands how to measure the impact for her business and what to look for in investors before shaking any hands for investment.

She said, “After going through the GSBI Online Accelerator program this year, we now have an understanding of our metrics and how to measure the impact. We have a living investment profile and now know what type of investors we should be speaking with. We keep a database of potential investors and maintain an internal checklist on what type of investor would best fit our company. Before the program, we would get excited every time any investor showed interest and we would share information. Before long we would see our ideas being implemented by others.

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Right now, we still get excited, but we now approach  fundraising like dating: you have to find the right fit. Plus, we are more protective of our innovations. Through GSBI, we also learned about a pro bono legal services resource; we applied and qualified. We are in discussions with potential investors and an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) is a prerequisite before we engage in any discussion.”

From a farmer to every entrepreneur in the world

“I just want to say: you can do it! If this farmer with little or no business experience is now contracting other farmers and impacting the livelihoods of 1,500 other farmers in Kenya, and exporting to five different destinations in Europe, you can do it, too.

How will you do it? Know your mission and focus. If you hold a magnifying glass over a pile of dry leaves on the hottest day of the year with the sun shining overhead, nothing will happen as long as you keep moving the magnifying glass. But as soon as you hold the magnifying glass still and focus the rays of the sun on just one leaf, the whole pile of leaves will erupt into flames. Take one day at a time and solve one challenge at a time.

Learn: Make use of the numerous opportunities available to empower you with the skills needed to run a business. The GSBI is just one of those programs that changed my perspective.

Lastly, you will fall 1,000 times and you will get up 1,001 times. Trust your instinct or intuition. It’s a God-given compass to guide you.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Hira Saeed joined Miller Center in July 2018 through a partnership with the US Embassy in Islamabad and Atlas Corps. Hira works as a GSBI Women’s Economic Empowerment Fellow to implement  new  research,  initiatives,  and  projects  to  help advance women’s economic empowerment through GSBI programs globally and with a specific focus in the Middle East.

Photo credits: Miyonga Fresh Greens

What are our Global Social Benefit Fellows up to now?

Some of our GSBF alumni are engaged in exciting international work!

Click on bolded fellow names and company names to learn more.

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Kaci McCartan (GSBF 2014, Bana/Mechanical Engineering) is in Ghana on a fellowship with Burro to develop frugal agricultural technologies.

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Lauren Oliver (GSBF 2017, Teach A Man To Fish Foundation/Civil Engineering) has accepted an offer from the Peace Corps to work with agricultural technology in Benin starting next year.

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Erika Francks (GSBF 2016 ONergy/Environmental Studies and Class of 2017 Valedictorian) begins her Fulbright research project on socio-economics of solar microgrids in Lesotho (South Africa) in December 2018.

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Athena Nguyen (GSBF 2017 KoeKoeTech/Public Health Science and Class of 2018 Valedictorian) is in Vietnam as part of her teaching Fulbright.

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Katrina Van Gasse (GSBF 2013, Solar Sister/Marketing) begins her Fulbright research on women and entrepreneurship in Fiji early next year.

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Marisa Rudolph (GSBF 2017, Farmerline/Environmental Science) is conducting research on women’s economic empowerment in Ghana’s agricultural sector.

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Katie Diggs (GSBF 2017, Sistema Biobolsa/Environmental Science) has a year-long internship with Impact Amplifier, a GSBI Network partner in Cape Town, to support their acceleration work with energy enterprises in Southern Africa.

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Nithya Vemireddy (GSBF 2017 Awaaz.De/Psychology) received a William J. Clinton Fellowship for Service in India from the American Indian Foundation, and has begun working at Chindu, a nonprofit focused on promoting capacity building.

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Carson Whisler (GSBF 2016, ONergy/Economics) is preparing to start Fulbright research on solar energy in Indonesia early in the new year.

#SheMeansEntrepreneurship - In Conversation with Manka Angwafo, Founder of Grassland Cameroon and Her Journey’s Challenges

#SheMeansEntrepreneurship - In Conversation with Manka Angwafo, Founder of Grassland Cameroon and Her Journey’s Challenges

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The hashtag in the title speaks for itself. But, I came up with this after an enlightening interview with our Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) alumna, Manka Angwafo, a member of the 2018 GSBI Online cohort and the founder of Grassland Cameroon. 

Grassland Cameroon is a premier grain-handling company in Cameroon. It works closely with smallholder farmers in the North West region of Cameroon to improve the lives of farmers, their families, and their communities at large.

Manka along with other female entrepreneurs know that entrepreneurship is a very lonely journey. There are challenges every step you take and it is not an overstatement to say that those challenges are multifold when you are a woman.

 Manka’s story is full of such challenges. One day she is struggling to have a seat at the table and other days she is being mansplained that she will never get married because of her career choice. 

I am constantly told that my job is a man’s job and that I won’t ever get married because of my business.
Manka Angwafo, founder of Grassland Cameroon and Miller Center GSBI alumna (‘18)

Manka Angwafo, founder of Grassland Cameroon and Miller Center GSBI alumna (‘18)

On some of the biggest challenges she faced 

There are countless women in this world working hard in their respective fields who are eager and able to make a difference as peers; but when it comes to representation, the table is “usually” full. Manka faced a similar challenge initially when she was working with an all-male advisory board and constantly doubted her potential. She had to fight really hard with her need to validate her decisions to the men.

“I think the biggest challenge I faced initially was not believing that I ought to have a seat at the table. Given the country/industry my business is in, and the type of operations we run, I had only male advisors to look up to, and male counterparts to work with. Subconsciously, it made me doubt every decision and plan I would come up with, and then go back to the same men for validation. As time went on, I started noticing my advisors asking me for my input and feedback on their business strategy and it helped me realize that I actually am able to think strategically, and I had, without any doubt, earned my place.

I think more female founders need to find that strength to keep believing in themselves, especially in fields that are male-dominated,” shared Manka.

Fundraising was not easy for her

Unsurprisingly, in June 2018, the Boston Consulting Group and MassChallenge published a report based on the study of 350 companies in total and found that startups founded or co-founded by women received an average of US $935,000 in investment. This figure contrasts sharply with the average US $2.12 million investment received by startups founded by men. Manka identifies with the reported disparities and believes the imbalances are not only limited to tech startups. She said, “I should also mention that fundraising is a bigger challenge for female founders than it is for male founders. The numbers on this are very stark. Female founders receive much less financing than males. I know that this topic has started to get more coverage, particularly in the tech world. However, as we are currently fundraising, I am realizing this disparity is across all industries.”

Let’s talk about Gender Bias

Photo courtesy of Grassland Cameroon

Photo courtesy of Grassland Cameroon

In our previous newsletter, I wrote a blog on challenging your unconscious bias and this week I am drafting an example of that bias. Manka and many other female founders are constantly being told that their job is a man’s job, that their chances of getting married are very low if they choose the path of entrepreneurship. All of this comes down to one word: discrimination. Society never questions the choices of our male counterparts and constantly nudge when a female does a similar thing. Manka had a similar story to share on this when I asked her if she ever faced any sort of discrimination during this journey.

“Absolutely. I am constantly told that my job is a man’s job and that I won’t ever get married because of my business. I obviously, don’t think either of this is true, and also feel it is really unfortunate that in 2018, society still places marriage as a woman’s definitive achievement (note no emphasis on happily married). As with all bias, I think the best way to deal with it is by outperforming everyone else and proving them wrong. I use that in business and try to extend that to other parts of my life,” she added.

advice FOR female founders

“Being a founder/CEO is a very lonely journey and, as such, is one that you should be ready for and in it for the right reasons. Seek out other female founders, regardless of their business sector. I stress on seeking out female founders because your female friends would never understand what you’re going through and the decisions you have to make every day. Your female founders will become your sisters and best friends. Create a tribe of unfailing supporters, and hold them close to you. This is what will keep you going through all the tough times.” 

Why Women’s Economic Empowerment?

Manka’s story tells us there is so much more work that needs to be done. At Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, we believe in women’s economic empowerment for a sustainable future and highly discourage gender bias within our center and programs. For the initiative and commitment-to-self, a new affinity group of women-led social enterprises has been introduced in our Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) programs. The goal for this affinity group is to bring more women, social entrepreneurs, onboard, refine and validate their business and financial models, provide a customized resource library with curated content specific to their businesses, match them with industry-relevant mentors, foster peer-to-peer connections with our alumni, and offer opportunities for their businesses to flourish.

 As Manka said, your female founders will become your sisters and best friends and, in their company, you will find a tribe of unfailing supporters. So let’s create a tribe of hard-working and talented women social entrepreneurs in the world and make this world an unbiased place to live.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Hira Saeed joined Miller Center in July 2018 through a partnership with the US Embassy in Islamabad and Atlas Corps. Hira works as a GSBI Women’s Economic Empowerment Fellow to implement  new  research,  initiatives,  and  projects  to  help advance women’s economic empowerment through GSBI programs globally and with a specific focus in the Middle East.

Banner photo courtesy of Grassland Cameroon

The lasting impact of the GSBI® In-Residence accelerator

The lasting impact of the GSBI® In-Residence accelerator

Photo from 2017 GSBI In-Residence accelerator Investor Showcase

Photo from 2017 GSBI In-Residence accelerator Investor Showcase

Tomorrow, eighteen social entrepreneurs making impact around the world will showcase their work in front of an audience of investors and will highlight the hard work they have been doing over the past 10 months in the GSBI® In-Residence accelerator program.

To me, this event is one of the most inspiring days of my year and it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the potential for these enterprises to scale their impact and truly help change the world. But the skeptic inside me also wonders how many of these ambitious social entrepreneurs will deliver on their promises and projections? Have we at Miller Center done our job and equipped these entrepreneurs with the tools they need to scale and to become architects of hope?

Looking back at the 2017 GSBI In-Residence accelerator lends us some insights and I am happy to report that our alumni’s ambitions are matched by their ability to deliver.

Out of the 14 social entrepreneurs that pitched at last year’s showcase, over 50% of them were successful in meeting or exceeding their justifiable ask or the investment request they and their mentors think is “justifiable" based on their financial model and ability to meet their operational growth targets.  As a cohort, they have raised a median of ~$500,000 and a cumulative total of over $12 million.

Raising investment is one thing, but are these enterprises able to utilize this capital they receive to grow their social impact and serve more people? Happily, the answer here is a resounding yes! Last year’s cohort on average doubled their impact in the 12 months since graduation and some have seen growth in the 5x range.

Photo courtesy of Food 4 Education

Photo courtesy of Food 4 Education

One of last years’ Social Entrepreneurs who has had transformational success since last year’s showcase is Wawira Njiru, CEO of Food 4 Education. In Kenya, where food for education works, 1 in 5 children are developmentally stunted due to malnourishment. Food 4 Education provides high quality, nutritious meals to students in Kenyan public primary schools to improve their nutrition and education outcomes. They use a social enterprise model that caters healthy and convenient meals to Kenyan corporates and private institutions and uses the profits to provide the nutritious lunches that keep children in school, improve their learning ability and opportunities to use education as a means to break out of the cycle of poverty.

Photo courtesy of Food 4 Education

Photo courtesy of Food 4 Education

When Wawira joined the GSBI program in 2016, Food 4 Education was one of our earliest stage enterprises; they had raised less than $100,000 in investment and had served only 2,500 school children.

Since graduating from the GSBI accelerator, Wawira has attracted some of the most influential partners in the impact investing space.  Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation invested shortly after Wawira completed the program, and Mulago Foundation recently named her as one of the fellows in their newest class.

Food 4 Education has now grown their investment from $100,000 to $550,000 and has utilized this investment to more than double their social impact from 2,500 children served to over 6,000.

Food 4 Education is just one example of the many social enterprises that have grown their impact dramatically since last year’s showcase and we would invite you to review their progress on our GSBI Alumni Database.

This retrospective gets me even more excited to be working with this 2018 class of GSBI In-Residence accelerator social enterprises. When I am watching the pitches tomorrow, I will be inspired by not only the audacious ambition of our social enterprises to create change, but the data that gives me faith that they will be successful in meeting their goals.

Please join us at the showcase or watch through our livestream. I look forward to connecting you with any of the social entrepreneurs you’ll see pitching.

 

Cover photo courtesy of Food 4 Education

Banka BioLoo: A Journey from Start-up Social Enterprise to IPO

Banka BioLoo: A Journey from Start-up Social Enterprise to IPO

2015 GSBI alumnus Banka BioLoo, a social enterprise that innovatively tackles human waste management, had its Initial Public Offering (IPO) on February 5, 2018. The enterprise operates in India, which is home to 60% of the global population that must defecate in the open due to not having access to toilets. Within the greater global context, data from 2015 indicate that only two out of five people were able to use safely-managed sanitation services. In light of the overwhelming reality of minimal sanitation services, Namita Banka began to examine sanitation infrastructure and started Banka BioLoo.  The enterprise began operations, as a for-profit social enterprise, in 2012 and is currently co-directed by Namita along with Sanjay Banka, Akhilesh Tripathi, and T. V. Rama Krishna.

While the conversation surrounding waste management is one that many shy away from, Banka BioLoo recognizes that the impact of inadequate sanitation services in India is much too grave to ignore. Poor water supply and sanitation problems in India have contributed to a serious risk of sanitation-related diseases, which particularly impact children under the age of five. Banka BioLoo seeks to provide solutions for those who do not have access to toilets, and for those that do, the enterprise helps in the process of treating and managing the waste. Distinctly, Banka BioLoo offers Indian defense-patented bio-digester technology, making it possible for users to manage waste onsite and reduce dependency on resource-consuming sewage infrastructure. Banka BioLoo also provides operations and maintenance of bio-toilets to Indian Railways, its largest client-partner. In 2015, Sanjay and Namita participated in the GSBI In-Residence accelerator program, where they were mentored by Daniel Kreps and Naresh Nigam.

Watch Sanjay Banka's presentation at Miller Center's 2015 GSBI Investor Showcase   here  .  PDF:  Banka BioLoo's 2015   Investor Profile   

Watch Sanjay Banka's presentation at Miller Center's 2015 GSBI Investor Showcase here.
PDF: Banka BioLoo's 2015 Investor Profile 

After the GSBI In-Residence, Sanjay shared, “GSBI has added many dimensions to Banka BioLoo since our immersion in the accelerator. It truly accelerated many things at our end, most notably my joining the company full-time. And I’m sure it’s the beginning of things to come.” 

The journey to IPO began in September 2017. Banka BioLoo pursued the Emerge platform offered by India’s largest stock exchange, the National Stock Exchange of India (NSE). Emerge, also known as the SME platform, is a marketplace that brings together seasoned investors and emerging or small and medium companies. It connects businesses that possess “exciting growth plans, innovative business models and commitment towards good governance and investor interest” with investors that can meet their financial needs. In the process of moving forward and growing as a business, maintaining Banka BioLoo’s social mission along with stable financial growth has always been at the top of the team’s priorities. The “triple bottom line [of people, planet, and profit] was an essential part of the discussion” when reaching out to investors, Sanjay says.

The Banka BioLoo team hit a major roadblock when two major investors backed out right before the IPO. Amidst that hectic event, the organization’s leaders were undaunted and passionately kept moving forward. Sanjay and the non-executive director Vishal Murarka spent two weeks in Mumbai, confidently and unwaveringly, pitching to investors. “We were left on our own,” Sanjay said. “[But] we leveraged our network and reached out to new investors through colleagues, friends, and family.”  Ultimately, due to the team pooling together their connections, resources, energy, and business prowess, Banka BioLoo pushed forward: the resulting IPO raised two million dollars.

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Throughout the IPO journey, strong governance was a key anchor that kept the staff rooted in their mission and firm in their determination. “The IPO was fast,” Sanjay said. “[The team] was working long hours; the business had to be running smoothly simultaneously with the IPO details.  [Our] top management dealt primarily with the IPO process.”  Banka BioLoo’s CFO, T.V. Rama Krishna, had prior experience with taking a company public and played an invaluable role in successfully reaching this milestone only a small percentage of businesses are able to achieve. Sanjay described the whole process as a “mini miracle”.

In preparation for the IPO, Banka BioLoo was required to adjust the makeup of its board and added three independent board members to establish a solid governing team moving forward.  “One [independent board member] is an angel investor, another is an HR expert, another is an entrepreneur: eight members total are on the board. In Q4 2017 the transition happened, all of it a part of the going-public process,” Sanjay recounted. It is becoming increasingly popular for companies to make these major changes to their boards pre-IPO, in order to demonstrate their commitment to good governance.

With the capital raised from its IPO, Banka BioLoo is now able to take on larger projects — projects that they were originally hesitant to tackle — and continues to lead the fight in providing access to adequate, sustainable sanitation solutions in India.  Sanjay’s reflections on the imperfect, but strengthening and gritty nature of Banka BioLoo’s IPO journey, shed light on the hustle and heart that moving a business forward demands.

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