Three Companies that Are Creating Equal Opportunities
Entrepreneurship, the process of taking what seems like a simple idea and transforming it into a sustainable business model, may seem like a linear, almost formulaic path on the surface. 
Find a need, conduct market research, tailor a solution to that need, market your product, and just like that, a startup is underway.

And while there may seem to be a linear path for entrepreneurship, founders of startups often have to wear multiple hats, one of them being the investor hat. Startups need funding and need to raise capital in order to expand their business models. However, historically, funding and advice had only been given out to people who are already wealthy. Recently, there has been a global movement to fund startups from people of all different diverse backgrounds and ages.

In this article, three companies that are allowing everyone to have equal opportunities of succeeding, including people in developing countries, are presented.

Pioneer

Pioneer aims to bridge the talent opportunity gap. Pioneer is an experimental fund that aims to identify and nurture high-potential people. The group, comprised of three people, aims to use internet tools such as global communication and crowdsourcing to find talented candidates from a diverse range of fields.

Founder, Daniel Gross, was an 18-year-old student in a military school in Israel who sent in an idea to Y Combinator on a whim. After being accepted into the accelerator program, he was able to grow his company and eventually sell it to Apple. Now, Daniel Gross launched Pioneer, to identify talented people across the world who may not have equal opportunities.

Pioneer allows people to submit projects and have other candidates vote for each others’ projects in a leaderboard manner. The winners of these tournaments receive grants and flights to San Francisco, where they can meet with advisors, venture capitalists, and other idea makers.

Y Combinator

A slightly more established program is an American seed accelerator- Y Combinator. Y Combinator selects 120 companies every year and provides them with a seed funding amount of $120,000, along with access to an accelerator program that includes mentorship opportunities with successful entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.

Y Combinator provides seed funding to startups and nonprofits and has a special mission for social entrepreneurship. Additionally, Y Combinator is extending its global outreach, meeting with founders in Nigeria, Mexico, Israel, India and many other countries. Deemed as one of the world’s most powerful startup incubators, Y Combinator allows people from all over the world to bring their ideas to fruition.

The Thiel Foundation

Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal and early Facebook investor, founded the Thiel Foundation to fund breakthrough technologies and nonprofits that engage with human affairs, government and technology.

Within the Thiel Foundation, there are three projects that provide people with equal opportunities in capitalistic society. The Thiel Fellowship offers $100,000 to students under the age of 20 to drop out of school and pursue their work, whether that be a social movement, startup, or scientific research. The second project, Imitatio, funds research and education on philosophical theories. Finally, the third project is titled Breakout Labs. Breakout Labs distributes grants to early-stage scientific research.

The underlying theme in all three projects is that there are funding opportunities for just ideas, even if they are not fully formulated or show tangible proof of concepts. Programs like the Thiel Fellowship and Breakout Labs provide a platform for visionary people who may have a world-changing idea but do not have the means to pursue it.

Opportunities like the Thiel Foundation, Y Combinator and Pioneer are using their global network to bring together people with high talent, exceptional ideas, and daring visions. Regardless of their socioeconomic background, people from all over the world can apply for these equal opportunities, making an impact not just in their community, but around the world as well. These companies can be especially useful and beneficial for people in developing countries, allowing them to compete fairly easily in a global market.

– Shefali Kumar

Photo: Flickr

Female Entrepreneurs in Latin AmericaThe entrepreneurial spirit is catching in South America. According to the World Bank, 63 percent of Latin Americans believe they have what it takes to start a successful business. Meanwhile, local governments are offering support to local entrepreneurs. In Chile, the environment is so strong for startups that it has been dubbed “Chilecon Valley.”

Despite this, there is still widespread poverty in the region. An estimated 25 percent of the population lives below the poverty line of $4 a day. The situation is even worse for women, as only 53 percent participate in the labor force. Fortunately, three women are aiming to change that by helping their local communities and being role models for prospective female entrepreneurs in Latin America.

Leila Velez

Leila Velez is a Brazilian entrepreneur who is aiming to bring the efficiency of waste management in the fast food industry to beauty salons. She started her business, Beleza Natural, at 19 years old with the hope of bringing the accessibility of places like McDonald’s to the beauty industry. Now, her company has locations all over Brazil and employs 3,000 people, many of whom Velez says are single mothers in their early 20s.

While Velez may have modeled aspects of her salons after fast food, she did not want them to become another low paying job people take on temporarily. She wanted to provide career opportunities that give her employees sustainability in life. She says working at her salon is the first job of 90 percent of her employees and she wants her company to offer the opportunity to build a career rather than be a temporary stop.

Jimena Flórez

When Jimena Flórez began her initiative to educate rural farmers about sustainability, she had no idea it would lead to an international snack food company. Chaak Healthy Snacks, originally called Crispy Fruits, works closely with local Colombian farmers to provide healthy snack foods like low sugar brownies to 90,000 kids per month.

Flórez’s company started out trying to help out local Colombian farmers by helping them use organic techniques she learned from relatives in Germany. When she visited her family’s German brewery after college, she knew she could bring the information back to help Columbians. This led to a dry fruit company that later rebranded to healthy snack foods to appeal to an international audience.

In 2015, former President Barack Obama invited Florez to attend a Global Entrepreneurship Event where he thanked her for “helping to lift up his community.” As one of six young entrepreneurs invited, Florez is primed to expand and continue to provide healthy snacks all over the world as one of the many rising female entrepreneurs in Latin America.

Marian Villa Roldán

Being a female entrepreneur is difficult anywhere, but in Latin America, where a certain level of masculinity called “machismo” is integral to the culture, it is more difficult. The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean found that 40 percent of Latin American women have been on the receiving end of violence in their lives. This negative attitude toward femininity goes all the way to the top, where only 17 percent of executive positions are held by women.

Marian Villa Roldan and her company Eversocial are out to change that. Eversocial, an online marketing and design company, has supported numerous initiatives that empower Latin American women, including PionerasDev, which helps teach young women how to code. Eversocial has also supported Geek Girls LatAm, a similar organization that helps Latin American women get into STEM fields.

Success for Female Entrepreneurs in Latin America

Latin American women pursuing careers in entrepreneurship are succeeding in a tough environment, but they do not let that stop them from giving back to their communities. Whether it be through providing employment, offering a helpful product, or supporting noble causes, these women fight poverty and serve as role models for the next generation of female entrepreneurs in Latin America.

– Jonathon Ayers
Photo: Flickr

Resourceful EntrepreneursThe contrast between Western and Indian approaches to entrepreneurship is striking. Western organizations spend lots of money on R&D, while Indian entrepreneurs specialize in creating something from extremely limited resources.

“Jugaad” is the Hindi word for finding cheap solutions in a smart way. Indian entrepreneurs are frugal and have a knack for making the most of limited resources.

Their thinking is creative, and they are willing to consider nontraditional solutions. These resourceful entrepreneurs also tend to introduce people into the formal economy who could not previously access it.

In developed countries, customers will pay $3,000 for a fridge that talks to them, while a poor Indian can purchase a fridge for $30. This clay fridge uses the evaporation of water to keep produce fresh without electricity.

India’s method of innovation is worth considering for Western organizations who are trying to improve conditions in developing countries. Instead of pouring money into a structured innovation process, companies could attempt to formulate solutions based on the resources and materials available in a region.

The Raspberry Pi, an ultra-low-cost-computing device, is an example of a Western idea that has adopted the principles of resourceful entrepreneurs. The Raspberry Pi was created to address the lack of college computer science applicants who had experience tinkering with computers.

In the 1980s and 1990s, a computer user had to learn some programming to be able to interact with a computer, but modern computers can be used without any understanding of how computers work. Raspberry Pi was meant to allow kids to experiment with technology to gain a valuable understanding of its functioning. The low price was made possible by an open source method of designing the device, so anyone could analyze the device and contribute to its improvement online.

The Raspberry Pi is an exposed board computer, so users can literally see how the device works. Users must connect a mouse, keyboard and monitor to the device and load their own applications in order to use a word processor or browse the Internet.

The VS-Pi program has used the Raspberry Pi technology to increase access to educational materials in Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand. The fully assembled computer costs only $65 and comes with personalized educational materials in the local language and with relevant content.

The devices have content targeted to a specific community related to education, health, agriculture and finance. The system does not require Internet access and uses little electricity.

The Raspberry Pi’s successful use of cheap materials, creative design methods and expansion of economic opportunities illustrates the value of the methods of resourceful entrepreneurs. Especially in regions with limited access to resources, simple solutions that are “good enough” have the most impact.

Kristen Nixon

Photo: Flickr


Sixteen entrepreneurs had the chance to present their companies’ plans at the United States Institute of Peace this past month. These entrepreneurs from all around the globe have developed business ideas to help alleviate global poverty and meet the U.N’s Sustainable Development Goals. They had the opportunity to pitch these plans at the Unreasonable Goals Global Event Summit, an annual event hosted by the private holding company Unreasonable Group in Washington, D.C.

The Unreasonable Group brings together for-profit enterprises seeking social change and connects investors to their initiatives. The Group’s main goals in this endeavor are clearly stated, they are: to increase the flow of investment dollars to these initiatives, to accelerate the rapid-growth of effective entrepreneurial solutions, to establish public-private relationships between the world’s largest institutions and the most impactful entrepreneurs and to see a short and long term measurable impact for millions of people’s lives through these companies. The group’s goals are all framed around helping achieve the U.N’s Global Goals, signed two years ago, and which have a concrete deadline of 2030.

In 2015, 193 countries signed onto a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals at the United Nations which strive to achieve several ends. These include ending global poverty and global hunger, ensuring good health and wellbeing for all, fighting inequality and tackling climate change. Under these 17 goals, the U.N. outlines 169 concrete targets for the 193 signatories to be achieved by 2030; they are also actively keeping track of work done so far and further outlining what is still needed.

At the first Unreasonable Goals Global Event Summit this year, there were several presentations of business ideas to help alleviate poverty that ranged from mobile health applications to clean water start-ups. One notable pitch was that of CEO Emily Stone of Uncommon Cacao. In her presentation, she claimed that 90 percent of cacao farmers are locked in poverty, earning a mere $2 per day; the mass consumption of cheap chocolate bars across the world, especially developed nations, perpetuates this situation. Her company, then, seeks to combat the commodification of the cacao supply chain by paying more directly to the farmers for better quality chocolate and thus helping lift them out of poverty.

The Unreasonable Group is demonstrating how achieving the U.N’s goals and constructing a better world is not solely in the hands of governments. By empowering entrepreneurs with business ideas to help alleviate global poverty they are softening the burden on centralized authorities and helping to catalyze the achievement of the sustainable development goals.

Alan Garcia-Ramos

Photo: Flickr

Code for Good
By harnessing the power of technology, three young men in Rwanda have set out to empower other Rwandan youths. Ildephonse Mungwarakarama, Theogene Niyonsenga and Jerome Habimana launched the Code for Good program to teach Rwandan students, the skills they need for app development for free.

The three entrepreneurs began their partnership in 2014 when they launched House of Technology, a company that provides its clients with web-based solutions ranging from website design to internet portal management. Code for Good is their most recent initiative.

The Code for Good program is aimed at educating youth throughout Rwanda about app development, reaching college students and those that have already graduated from universities, as well as those still in high school and under the age of 18.

For those that may be unemployed after college, Mungwarakarama, Niyonsenga and Habimana hope to provide the opportunity to learn valuable skills and gain work experience. Regardless of age or schooling, the program prepares students to meet industry standards and to enter the workforce, all the while improving academic performance.

Training is completed within the community by volunteers who meet with students after they have registered to complete the program. Once students have completed their training, they are equipped with the skills needed to teach these same skills to others as well as to apply what they have learned to future projects.

This program could be especially impactful in a country where poverty is such a prevalent issue. Of Rwanda’s nearly 13 million people, 62 percent live in poverty. In recent years, there has been an indication of a positive trend away from poverty, as the Rwandan economy has grown rapidly and the poverty rate has dropped. Programs like Code for Good will help to continue this trend.

With organizations like Code for Good that are actively engaged in building Rwanda’s future, it seems as if much can be done to alleviate poverty in Rwanda. By capitalizing on the high-tech world, young Rwandans can enact powerful change within their country.

Jennifer Faulkner

Photo: Flickr

India_businessAccording to the World Bank, 21.3 percent of India’s population lived on $1.90 or less per day in 2011. Since this statistic was released, entrepreneurs in India have established private enterprises that cater to the needs of those living in extreme poverty in India. Over the last year, these private firms have seen great success after going public.

In January 2016, Narayana Health was publicly listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange and was immediately valued at $1 billion. Narayana Health was founded in 2000 as a private firm that provided heart surgeries and checkups to low-income individuals at affordable costs.

The expansion of the private firms in the healthcare sector of India, especially the development of firms catering to impoverished communities, is compensating for the lack of government expenditure on public healthcare.

In addition, the World Bank estimates that as of 2014 India only spends 4.7 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on healthcare. Most developed countries spend almost double this percentage on healthcare, with the U.S. at a high of 17.1 percent.

Ujjivan, a private microfinance firm based in India, also went public on April 28 of this year. The financial services firm provides small, interest-free loans to women in poverty. Founded in 2005, Ujjivan is now worth over $600 million (40 billion Indian Rupees) and is expecting to transform into a small bank for the poor.

The firm has also started to give loans to micro and small enterprises, with the aim of reducing poverty in India at the individual level.

These loans allow women and small enterprises to develop their own businesses without having to go through the tedious and often unsuccessful process of obtaining a bank loan. Forbes contributor Nish Acharya reported that “the poorest people in the world, who, contrary to conventional wisdom, had a higher repayment rate than the typical borrower.”

According to Forbes, the “social enterprise” model allows for the business to be more innovative in terms of solutions, as they have the larger focus on raising quality of living standards.

The success of these firms will perhaps become a model for other social entrepreneurs around the world, going beyond alleviating poverty in India.

Isabella Farr

Photo: Flickr

UNICEF Innovation Fund
Starting in February, UNICEF will be accepting applications for its Innovation Fund. The funding will go to companies, teams or ideas from the developing world that help empower the local youth.

To be eligible for funding, the recipient’s project must use open source technology. This means that it is open to the public and can be modified by anyone.

UNICEF’s Innovation Principles stresses the importance of open source tech. According to UNICEF’s website, open source technology permits a global community of developers and designers to tweak and improve the code and design elements.

This allows the latest and most effective methods to be applied to the tech at no additional cost. It facilitates the creation of a public good by a global community.

In addition to the open source requirement, the tech must help local youth through the Innovation Fund’s three portfolio areas:

The first is that the project must be for people under the age of 25. Technology for this group can help break down the barriers that restrict access to information. It can also allow youth to connect with each other to share and scale their own solutions.

The second portfolio area of the Innovation Fund is real time information. With constantly updating data, decision makers will be more informed. Inefficiencies, disparities and restrictions can be resolved quickly.

The third area is infrastructure. UNICEF’s Innovation Fund aims to increase access to information for youth by improving infrastructure like connectivity, sensors and transport.

The open source requirement and the three portfolio areas represent the fund’s overall theme of access. The Innovation Fund desires that all children have unrestricted access to information.

According to its website, UNICEF believes “access to information, particularly basic, life-enhancing information, is a human right.”

This access to life-improving information is typically much more difficult for children living in poverty.

UNICEF Innovation Co-Lead, Christopher Fabian, stressed this when he said to Panarmenian.net: “We’ll be identifying opportunities from countries around the world including some that may not see a lot of capital investment in technology start-ups.”

He went on to say, “We are hoping to identify communities of problem-solvers and help them develop simple solutions to some of the most pressing problems facing children.”

So far, the Innovation Fund has raised $9 million for technology that helps young people. These funds have gone to various projects that improve the lives of children, like the U-Report project in Burkina Faso.

U-Report increases real-time access to information to help young women and girls in Burkina Faso. It connects the local girls so they can better cope with harmful traditional practices.

It also allows the girls to share information with each other, such as how to practice safe sex and improve familial practices.

UNICEF’s Innovation Fund helps empower youth in the developing world by increasing access to information through open source technology.

Andrew Wildes

Sources: Innovation Fund Backgrounder, OpenSource, Panarmenian, UNICEF Innovation Fund 1, UNICEF Innovation Fund 2, UNICEF Innovation Fund 3
Picture: Google Images

HelloFoodHelloFood, an online portal that allows customers to order food and have it delivered, recently celebrated its third anniversary.

HelloFood began as a 1970s-style website in November 2012. It was the first online food portal in Africa and took around one minute to load. The company only received two orders on their first day, but it was the start of an incredible journey to revolutionize how people eat in Africa, according to It News Africa.

HelloFood provides food from a listing of more than 270 restaurants. More than 125,000 customers order food every six seconds during the lunch time hours on the site. The company then delivers food to homes and offices where customers can pay upon delivery.

Joe Falter, CEO and Founder of HelloFood, said, “It was just a basic website [when it started]. Far from what it looks like now.”

HelloFood has grown 20 percent each month over the last 36 months. It has tripled in size in the last 12 months and now has 500 employees, 50 percent of which are women. It News Africa reports the delivery riders have traveled the equivalent of 100 times around the Earth.

HelloFood has also created mobile shopping apps, allowing customers to keep up with changing trends and technologies.

“I’m incredibly proud of what our team has achieved — building this business from nothing to dominate 11 African markets, and change the way that hundreds of thousands of people order food on a daily basis,” Falter said. “However, we’ve only scratched the surface, the potential for this business model is stratospheric and right now more than ever we are buzzing about the opportunity to reach more customers and ensure a stress-free ordering experience.”

According to Biztech Africa, the company plans to expand to other major towns and provide job opportunities to people across Kenya.

As part of its third anniversary celebrations, the company discounted food up to 40 percent on Black Friday. HelloFood said they hoped to reach the highest ever sale of food ordering in Africa on Black Friday.

Jordan Connell

Sources: Biztech Africa, It News Africa
Photo: Google Images

social_entrepreneurs_in_education
Entrepreneurs are individuals that go beyond the status quo in order to make change happen. “They pursue poverty alleviation goals with entrepreneurial zeal, business methods and the courage to innovate and overcome traditional practices,” says the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs.

Reform and change are never made without a struggle. Social entrepreneurs in education are no different.

Many struggle with receiving the support and funding necessary to keep programs running. But despite hardships, they press forward in order to make improvements.

Occasionally, an entrepreneur will find a break in the form of investors. Schwab, Skoll and Ashoka are three such foundations that provide this relief to individuals making change happen around the world.

One such fellow, or entrepreneur, that found relief works for an organization by the name of abcdespanol. Based in Colombia, the organization worked to create a new methodology for teaching reading, writing and math skills.

Javier Gonzalez discovered that the issues across Latin America were not due to the people, but the methodology while playing a game of dominoes. “González then created abcdespañol and “ABC de la Matematica”, an innovative learning solution employing games as a teaching methodology.”

For many, this is how it works. Social entrepreneurs in education see an issue and then fight to find and put into practice new ideas to correct the issue. The journey doesn’t stop there, though.

Going back to Javier, “he continued searching for additional ways to make the learning process more interesting.”

Education isn’t an easy fix and is not a one solution fits all circumstance ordeal. Teaching the world’s future leaders takes innovation and improvement. Social entrepreneurs, like Javier, know this and continue to seek out a better way.

Ashoka fellow Flick Asvat of South Africa is another excellent example of this.

In the country of South Africa, Asvat found that many youths become more discouraged than not by the truism that education is the path out of poverty due to the strikes, violence, and other issues that have continuously interrupted such attempts.

To fight this, “Flick is putting children in control of their own out-of-school educational programs. She has developed a concept, Bugrado, based on the idea that human beings have the power to change their circumstances.”

Through innovative new techniques, real change was seen in schools. “Flick has successfully created five pilot programs around Johannesburg and is now focusing on Alexandra Township, where the program is operating in four schools, reaching approximately six thousand students.”

As a social entrepreneur in education, Flick resigned from her job as Minister of Education to solely focus on the implementation of the Bugrado program.

Such stories have become increasingly common. Through simply opening one’s eyes and caring about making a difference, individuals have made change happen. When one thing doesn’t work, new ones are tried. In this way, education is constantly improving.

Jeff Skoll, Founder and Chairman of the Skoll Foundation has expressed the importance of these social entrepreneurs around the world.

On their site, it is stated that it has become, “the premier global event for social entrepreneurship…the Forum has increasingly become a showcase to highlight large scale impact that social entrepreneurs are having on the big challenges facing the planet.”

By connecting social entrepreneurs with the resources and connections they need to improve conditions, the Skoll Foundation helps millions experience the impact of positive change.

In short, these entrepreneurs are alike in a fundamental thought process. As Skoll puts it, “I believe “a lot of good comes from a little bit of good,” or, in other words, where the positive social returns significantly outstrip the amount of time and money invested.”

Katherine Martin

Sources: Schwab Found 1, Schwab Found 2, Ashoka, Skoll
Photo: Wikimedia

injaz
In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), a new emphasis has been placed on teaching children about entrepreneurship. In Morocco, four out of every five young people between the ages of 15 and 34 are unemployed and not taking an active role in changing their circumstances.

The idea behind encouraging young people to become entrepreneurs is that they will eventually create jobs for themselves and others as well. Injaz is a non-profit at the forefront of this initiative.

According to their website, Injaz aims to “reveal to youth their potential and stimulate their spirit of initiative through a partnership between the corporate and the public worlds.” They have 10 offices all over MENA that are carrying out programs that teach young people about how to create a business.

Injaz has volunteers on the ground who are engaging students at all grade levels for two hours during a three-week period in each location. During their time at each place, volunteers attempt to implement Junior Achievement programs, which has been a global leader of entrepreneurship since 1919.

These programs work to get unemployed youth engaged and re-energized about their futures.

The high unemployment rate can be attributed to several factors: public sector employment preferences, lack of “high quality” jobs and a mishandling of skills and the education that is provided when it comes to what jobs are most needed in the job market.

These and other intricately interwoven factors contribute to the lack of engaged youth and the clear need for an entrepreneurial initiative.

Although the governments in MENA have recognized and attempted to enthusiastically rectify this growing problem, they haven’t been able to gain the trust and respect of its people due to their predecessors. The public is skeptical because there have been many failures on the part of past government officials when it comes to this initiative.

It is important to remember that there have been failures, yes, but also many success stories, some of which are shared on Injaz’s website.

In 2014, the efforts of Injaz helped to provide almost 11,000 students with hands-on classes on global business, practical entrepreneurial skills, financial literacy and an encouragement towards imagination and creativity.

As Sarah Alaoui, a team member of the American Moroccan Legal Empowerment Network, says, “the fairies of innovation and entrepreneurship will not magically dissipate the hurdles faced by unemployed youth in the country, [but] if cultivated properly, they are a long-term channel for Morocco’s youth to contribute to the country’s growth and development as valuable members of society… [and] the ship of entrepreneurship must be encouraged to stay afloat in Morocco.”

Drusilla Gibbs

Sources: Al Jazeera, Injaz Morocco, Huffington Post
Photo: Morocco World News