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StartupApp [Refinement Update]

Formerly: Connecting Refugees to Their Host Country and Capital via Online Entrepreneurship Training

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EXPLAIN YOUR IDEA

Our program delivers entrepreneurship training via pay-as-you-go smartphones. A gamified startup training app that utilizes various levels of loans, investment & mentorship to empower refugees to navigate a path towards financial stability. The content will be tailored to their context. Participants can qualify for a microloan to finance a “Business-in-a-Box." This Business-in-a-Box kit gives aspiring entrepreneurs all the essentials they need to start a proven business (e.g. playbook, raw materials and focused training). Entrepreneurs who aren't ready for a Business-in-a-Box might qualify for a “Business-in-a-Bag,” which is a pared down version. Likewise, entrepreneurs who demonstrate superior mastery of training might qualify for an expanded "Business-in-a-Container" offering. The goal is to create a gamified startup Marketplace. After participants have demonstrated a level of entrepreneurial mastery, they may also qualify for incubation of their own entrepreneurial ideas. As more indigenous ideas emerge, they can be plugged back into the Marketplace as curated crowdsourced content, and the original ideator will earn commission (only offered in non-competing camps).

WHO BENEFITS?

This course is accessible to anyone, anytime. Students are enrolled without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Individuals from both refugee camps and host country cities participate in the same entrepreneurship course, partner and co-create ideas. This achieves more than the watercooler effect, it ties more resourced locations to less, and also de-stigmatizes the refugees.

PROTOTYPE

In partnership with the the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, we are running an entrepreneurship MOOC with mobile delivery capabilities. The course utilizes short animated lectures, inspiring interviews with entrepreneurs from Africa and around the world, quizzes, and a practical final project. We are further facilitating conversations to make the content West African and refugee camp specific.

There are currently 47 refugees active in the pilot course. There are also 22 Ghanaians in Accra and Kumasi taking the course. Learning with smartphones was quite a new experience for most people who registered for the course. They found it interesting. The learners admired the flexibility in that they could pause the lectures and restart at convenient times. Even though certain aspects of the course were not directly relevant to their current situations, through post lecture discussions, together, we were able to juxtapose contexts and bridge gaps of situational resonance. The biggest problem we encountered so far pertains to linguistics. Some of them found the lectures difficult to follow because of their inability to properly understand the language.

We have also had outside mentors give the participants direct feedback on their entrepreneurial ideas via asynchronous video mentoring. This will continue throughout the venture formation phase of the course. At the end of the course, we will hold a pitch competition. We hope to link the best ideas to investors.

FEEDBACK

At the start of our pilot, we interviewed over 100 refugees in multiple camps. The average time in camp was 9.4 years and the average monthly income was US$25.53—they live on less than $1 per day. This dataset demonstrates an overwhelming need to increase their earning potential.

Below is a selection of quotes from those we have worked with.

When asked what new things did you learn from the lectures:

"You must have a vision of what will come out of your business in order to stay a venture."

"Knowing more about what the community needs, is important when starting a business."

"Also have to observe the environment, when launching a venture."

"An entrepreneur must relate to the people."

"You must have interest in the kind of business you are going to set up."

"Entrepreneurship is already part of us, you just need to bring it out."
 
"I learned you must be able to go in for a risk."

When asked to provide general feedback:

"It's a very good course."

"This program is very good; do you have any other courses?"

"It would be beneficial to own the smartphone ourselves."

"I feel like I can finally make a real life for myself, even while living in this camp."

Quotes From Camp Managers of Krisan and Ampain:

"If you are smart, you will definitely partake in this programme."

"I don't know why you guys didn't come earlier."

"This is an innovative way of educating; it works well in the camps."

HOW IS THIS IDEA DIFFERENT FROM WHAT YOUR ORGANIZATION (OR OTHER ORGANIZATIONS) IS ALREADY DOING?

There are three unique components to our program. The first a cross-subsidized pay-as-you-go smartphone. Second, the delivery system. With an offline app, syncing system, and the last mile ISP truck, our program can go practically anywhere. Last, both internal and external business ideas being given physical goods "investment", eliminates many challenges associated with providing capital in the context of a refugee camp.

HOW WOULD YOU USE AMPLIFY FUNDING AND DESIGN SUPPORT?

We firmly believe that the Design Support that you can provide is one of the fundamental ingredients to this program's success. The system we describe is complex, and the sort of talent on your team would be crucial in taking this idea to the next level.

Our preliminary budget for the uses of funds is as follows:

App Development: $50K+
Truck (ISP): $25-35K
Working Capital: $15-25k

*Initial pay-as-you-go phones will need a financial guarantor (i.e. manufacturer, telecom, bank, foundation or other substantial sponsor).

HOW DOES YOUR IDEA TAKE INTO ACCOUNT THE CONTEXT OF THE CHALLENGE?

With our Business-in-a-Bag component, one doesn't have to commit much time to the program before they earn the tools that can assist them in creating their own income. The pilot smartphones will be allocated 50% female // 50% male. Our plan to "invest" physical products, including delivering them, allows for the resource scarcity in the camps to be positively augmented. By owning the phone via the pay-as-you-go mechanism, the classroom goes where they go. By connecting the refugees to potential co-founders, partners and customers in the host community/country via our common training platform, we help them positively integrate into their current environment. Bespoke = cultural sensitivity.

ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS FROM THE AMPLIFY TEAM

Regarding connecting to entrepreneurial ideas, our course, and community building, focuses on helping local ideas to emerge. However, it is a hybrid model, where even if one isn't at a place right now where they can come up with a profitable idea, there will be access to more proven models. This direct real-world experience will help tremendously as they work towards starting a company of their own design.

Regarding mentorship, our idea is focused on collaborating to start a business. The key being connecting refugees to people beyond the aid community within the host community/country. That said there is a mentorship component, connecting the refugees to international experts.

Our curriculum has been developed by a retired senior silicon valley executive, who has experience working with MFI's in West Africa. The draft curriculum can be seen here: https://goo.gl/OlAO10

Regarding choice of technology, we have chosen pay-as-you-go smartphones, which will be linked to a local network device that stays in the camp, and fully synced back to the cloud via a truck which carries out the last mile delivery of the internet. This will make us a last mile ISP. The more companies that we can get to be interested to have their apps on the phone and synced via our system, the more we can subsidize the phone. Surveys and market research will also further subsidize the phone. In the pilot we are using the Motorola E Second Gen. This has been bolstered with the addition of splitters and extra headphones, thus doubling the quantity of student entrepreneurs served per phone.

Regarding the business Marketplace, we see our system becoming the ecommerce solution of choice for the world's most impactful social ventures. The various levels of which will be unlocked via performance in the entrepreneurship training. The continual addition of new businesses by the users themselves, unlocks a framework from which some of the world's most vulnerable people can contribute their intelligence to empower other people in similar conditions on the opposite side of the planet. This new node in a brain power collective will work in harmony with the proven models loaded to the Marketplace through various partners, such as the Impact Hub Network and the Unreasonable Institute. Without naming any brands, here are some examples of the types of businesses we imagine:

Bag: Solar lamp + phone charging setup
Box: Greenhouse + seeds + composting bin
Container: Biofuel production

Regarding in person training and support, our primary value proposition has always been to build physical community and support around online education. We firmly believe that this analog component to our digital solution has defined a lot of our success in helping online education take a firmer root in Ghana. The same team members who recruit, troubleshoot and facilitate for our partner programs (University of the People, EPFL, etc), will be the ones driving the truck to the camps. They are the backbone of our organization. They understand the technical and practical applications of our online partners' programs. In this case, they are actively being consulted as we build the curriculum. Thus their engagement and understanding will also include intimate knowledge of the pedagogical framework, thus further empowering them to deliver robust and effective support.

SKILL SHARE (optional)

We think there is a way to combine many different entrepreneurship courses and code a bespoke application that suits the environment. Those with the relevant skill sets to help us curate a longer/broader entrepreneurship course and code an android based app that works offline/online/syncs to a local network device are most welcome to contribute.

TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOURSELF

I am the Director of Research at the Open University of West Africa.

The Open University of West Africa has specialized in delivering online education (largely MOOC focused) in West Africa for the past three years.

IS THIS AN IDEA THAT YOU OR YOUR ORGANIZATION WOULD LIKE TO TAKE FORWARD?

  • Yes, I have implementation capacity and am interested in and able to make this idea real in my community.

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