“The only barrier to Entrepreneurship should be dreaming something worthy”
“WE²” INITIATIVES: BACKGROUND & SUMMARY
When CTEK’s founder, Lu Cordova, headed the Techstars Foundation (a global nonprofit helping entrepreneurs), she saw that many of the grant applications Techstars received showed a need for similar kinds of assistance and many overlapped. For example, in one grant-round, several applicants were individuals wanting to build an accelerator or innovation hub in their city or university. There was another group of small microlending organizations, each asking for small amounts to build their own technology platform. All of them needed mentors for their constituents, and few of them had any robust plan for scaling beyond their initial pilot or event.
In reviewing hundreds of applicants, it became clear that even if the foundation could fund the thousands of individuals and organizations that would apply for funding, the money might be spent inefficiently with poor results, helping relatively few entrepreneurs. A more powerful way of helping the most people with the fewest dollars would be a unique approach that focused on worldwide initiatives with the dual mandate of effectiveness and efficiency in use of funds to help an entire class of organizations. The following “WE² Initiatives” aim to help many organizations simultaneously to globally achieve the shared mission of equity, diversity and inclusion in entrepreneurship:
WE² Initiative 1: Neighborhood Innovation Centers
WE² Initiative 2: Microlending Technology Platform
WE² Initiative 3: Global Mentor Network
WE² Initiative 4: LatinX YouthBiz
WE² Initiative 5: Women in the MENA
CTEKs Global Initiatives focus on “ecosystem infrastructure.” For example, rather than give a small amount of money to a handful of individuals to set up innovation hubs in a few places with little chances of success, CTEK’s Neighborhood Innovation Center Initiative is to develop a “Playbook” that provides meaningful direction, support, funding and partners to ensure the successful deployment of innovations hubs in thousands of communities worldwide.
Rather than give $50,000 to each micro-lending organization to build its own technology, when that is not nearly enough to make a difference, CTEK’s Microlending Technology Platform Initiative pools its funding to create a global technology that all microlenders could use, not only enhancing the level of technology that would be available to microlenders, but also creating a common platform to track lending activity and success.
CTEK’s Global Mentor Network Initiative goes beyond helping a single organization wanting to set up a mentor network to instead create a vast, global connection accessible by all entrepreneurs everywhere.
By harnessing technology in this way to build capacity in the core infrastructure of our ecosystem, we create a “multiplier effect” that helps thousands of organizations who in turn help millions of entrepreneurs.
CTEK’s Regional Initiatives focus on programs that solve particular barriers for a broad class of entrepreneurs. While these programs could be applied globally, the initial focus is on a region where the barriers to entrepreneurship are particularly high.
CTEK’s Youth Entrepreneurship initiative focuses on Latin America. High school kids are taught entrepreneurship uniquely blended with ethics and inclusion to better prepare them for success and overcome the barriers of historic corruption and gender bias.
CTEK’s Women Entrepreneurship initiative focuses on the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region, teaching rural women to code as freelance entrepreneurs. This program honors their role in the family that keeps them at home, yet provides a way for them to become part of the digital economy.
The first three initiatives are about helping nonprofit organizations create a path for underrepresented entrepreneurs to become successful. The last two initiatives are programs where individuals can become entrepreneurs and begin their journey to success, focusing on the youth, which are the future, and women, which have traditionally been left out of the digital economy in many countries
INITIATIVE 1: NEIGHBORHOOD INNOVATION CENTERS
The first barrier budding entrepreneurs face, especially in developing countries, is the self-realization that they have the potential to be an entrepreneur. Neighborhood Innovation Centers act as hubs of an ecosystem that encourages individuals to explore and create, thereby helping them grow into successful entrepreneurs. It is critical that they be designed with free workspace, internet, hardware, and software and with open arms to all.
CTEK’s founder has seen that many individuals and organizations are looking for funding to start a neighborhood innovation center (impact hub) in their town. However, they lack both the knowledge on how to do that successfully and the necessary buy-in from the local community, corporations, service providers and government. CTEK’S Neighborhood Innovation Center Initiative is to craft a “Playbook” (blueprint) for how to start and run a Neighborhood Innovation Center that welcomes diversity and embodies inclusion. The Playbook will come with core best practices for rural and urban centers. It will be open-sourced so that extensions to the Playbook can be added to address “vertical subgroups” like youth, veterans, women, at-risk populations, etc. as well as diverse locations worldwide.
It will also contain research statistics on the impact a center makes, so the town, government and local providers would see the benefits in supporting the center. It will have signature pages for the Mayor (or equivalent), local internet service providers, academic institutions, libraries and local real-estate space providers to sign their commitment to the center. It will have mayors from other cities and other champions who provide their contact information for the local counterparts to call if they need more support and encouragement on the positive effects of supporting a neighborhood innovation center.
Once the local “Champion,” who is an Individual or organization spearheading the NIC, has buy-in and signatures from all stakeholders, that Champion is now a proven, capable leader by getting widespread support. The Champion can then come back to CTEK for funding, and CTEK then triggers co-funding and support from other organizations for operational cash and important free products and services from CTEK’s provider-partners. The center’s Champion would then have the entire local community and international partners supporting the effort.
This initiative gives CTEK’s provider-partners a way to truly make a difference in opening a literal door to new entrepreneurs, welcoming them into our ecosystem. Their chance of success skyrockets with the support of an entire local and international community.
INITIATIVE 2: MICROLENDING TECHNOLOGY PLATFORM
The next barrier along the entrepreneurial path is access to capital. Micro-financing, also called microlending, is often the first step in funding for the underrepresented founder in a third-world country. Microlending organizations typically offer very small loans, usually USD$100 to USD$1000, to an individual or group of people needing capital to start a business. An example might be a $100 loan for a sewing machine for someone wanting to make or repair clothes, or a $200 loan to buy a goat for an individual wanting to make and sell goat cheese, or $300 for a food cart and initial supplies that helps a family get a start selling their homemade goods.
Microlending organizations, while growing rapidly, are finding that managing their business is becoming unwieldy. They have to track a growing number of incoming money from sponsors and investors and outgoing loans and debt repayment from entrepreneurs, as well as provide reconciliation and reports and comply with numerous international, federal and local laws. It is becoming more costly to the point where providing low-interest loans might not be sustainable. These nonprofit microlenders are in need of software to help them but often do not understand the technology needed, or how to develop or implement it, nor can they afford ongoing support for the platform. Giving each microlender a small grant to reinvent a technology for their use is not efficient or effective. CTEK’s Microlending Technology Platform Initiative aggregates CTEK’s funding, along with CTEK’s technology expertise, to find the best lending software in current use and work with partners to make it available for microlenders all over the world.
In 2017, BNP Paribas reported 1500 micro-finance institutions (MFIs) from 85 developing countries, supporting 23 million borrowers. CTEK’s initiative can help these entrepreneurs by changing how we think about technology’s role in entrepreneurship: Traditionally, the focus has been on helping technology entrepreneurs because technology scales to increase jobs and wealth. At CTEK, we use technology to help millions of the most under-served, non-tech entrepreneurs worldwide, and globally, 80% of the jobs come from small businesses, not large ones.
INITIATIVE 3: GLOBAL MENTOR NETWORK
Having access to capital overcomes a major obstacle for budding entrepreneurs, but a key driver of success is having mentors to guide them along their way. Current mentor networks are siloed, inefficient and often used as competitive magnets or closed systems that enhance the success of only the most privileged and selected mentees.
CTEK’s Global Mentor Network Initiative is about harnessing the Internet of People. It is building a worldwide Mentor-Mentee digital/human portal where worthy and under-served mentees can be guided and tracked by trusted “Curators” who match them to a wide range of experienced mentors who wish to increase equity, diversity and inclusion by helping those less fortunate. CTEK aims to broaden the visibility of entrepreneurial mentors and mentees to each other to foster the growth of entrepreneurship in needy segments of the economy with successful and gratifying relationships between the participants.
INITIATIVE 4: LATINX YOUTHBIZ
CTEK program initiatives layer on top of the infrastructure initiatives to create pathways for entrepreneurship. Neighborhood Innovations Centers are open to all and attract entrepreneurs with programs that enable them to explore this new world. As we look to the future, one of CTEK’s main goals is opening access to entrepreneurship for our youth. In high school, they refine the skills and knowledge that they will take into adulthood, but many impoverished youth do not continue their education past the secondary level.
Many students in Latin America face social, political, and economic barriers on their journey to adulthood, and getting more students involved in entrepreneurship before they graduate will have positive long-term effects on their communities.
CTEK’s LatinX YouthBiz Initiative partners with organizations in the US and Latin America to launch programs in schools and youth centers that will not only teach business skills and financial literacy alongside entrepreneurship, but it also embeds ethics and a GiveBack ethos in youth that will encourage all entrepreneurs to help the next generation.
While the YouthBiz program is piloting in Latin America, it can be taught at the Neighborhood Innovation Centers globally, where promising youth could, once they graduate, have access to microfinance and mentors through CTEK’s other initiatives.
INITIATIVE 5: WOMEN IN THE MENA
While our youth are the future, countless studies show that women are currently the most underserved population for entrepreneurship, especially women in the Middle East and North Africa region where female participation in the workforce, especially in technology jobs, is one of the lowest in the world. CTEK’s Women in the MENA Initiative empowers women to join our entrepreneurial ecosystem with its program to teach software development as a freelance business.
Many women face barriers to entrepreneurship due to religious and cultural norms where their important role in the family might inhibit traveling far from home or attending a male-attended accelerator. By introducing opportunities for women to adhere to their cultures and yet still learn STEM and business skills to become freelancers and developers in their communities, it brings them opportunities and allows them access to our entrepreneurial ecosystem.
The program is piloting in the rural MENA where the need is greatest, but it can be also taught at the Neighborhood Innovation Centers, especially when there is no access to home computers, where both men and women entrepreneurs can also have access to CTEK’s microfinance and mentorship platforms.