In our quest to support innovations that further financial inclusion we had initiated Office Hours a year back. We bring to you an account of our journey so far with this article. Office Hours began as a pre-scheduled 45-60 minutes long mentoring session with experts from within the team and our rich repository of extended networks. While we were limited in our ability to deeply engage with entrepreneurs through our acceleration and seed-funding initiatives, we have tried to address the pressing need for one-on-one mentoring with Office Hours. Entrepreneurs were provided with a safe, non-judgemental, and friendly environment to interact and inquire about specific aspects of their business, the regulatory environment, technology, and other relevant issues.
Over the past several months, we received interest from 100+ startups and mentored over 50+ startups that met the BII mandate. These startups spanned across areas such as digital lending, digital identity, purchase financing, personal finance, payments, invoicing & ERP, chit funds, agritech, skilling, etc. While 69 % of them were headquartered in the metro
cities of India, we were amazed to receive active participation of 31% of startups from non-metro cities including Kanyakumari, the southernmost tip of India!
The process involved accepting applications, which was followed by diving deeper into the startups to trace the nuances and the specific challenges encountered by them. The right experts were identified across academia, industry, think-tanks, government organizations, consultancy organizations, and experienced startup founders. Some of these veterans were associated with National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI), iSPIRT, Gray Matters
Startups faced a wide array of challenges extending from basic to advanced, strategic to operational, tech-related to human-centric ones. Some of the questions explored RBI regulations governing financial inclusion areas such as micro ATMs and digital lending or the effects of the new ordinance on Aadhaar Pay. A few were more technical in nature and delved into IndiaStack and its usage. The founders also had queries on how to run their business. In particular, the marketing strategy, customer onboarding, customer engagement, and revenue model were a few areas that boggled them. During the mentoring sessions, experts provided empirical insights on potential solutions for their problems. They also aided founders with networks and business development opportunities to help them take their idea to the next level and convert it into a successful venture.
Based on the Office Hours sessions and FAQs, here are some takeaways for startups:
1. Product market fit matters.
2. Everything is important but not everything is urgent. Prioritise.
3. Learn to firefight with available resources.
4. Quarterly goals are stepping stones towards the long-term vision. Set quarterly milestones.
5. Identify red flags in business. Act before it’s too late.
Office Hours help startups to succeed by facilitating the right kind of counseling, network expansion and providing honest feedback.
We strongly believe in developing and strengthening the community that helps in building innovative solutions for middle and lower-income groups. If you are a startup in search of expert advice for your challenges, kindly apply here to book a slot. We are here to help, so connect with us through mail if you have more questions or scoot over to our FAQs to find the answers!
About the Author:
Disha Pandit is an Associate — Programs at CIIE.CO, India’s foremost entrepreneurship centre housed at IIM Ahmedabad.
About Bharat Inclusion Initiative (BII):
Bharat Inclusion Initiative (BII) is an incubator platform at CIIE.CO that provides entrepreneurs the domain knowledge, training, financial support, mentorship, and market access they need to bring inclusive, for profit-business to life. BII’s core design is to promote technology-driven entrepreneurship towards the delivery of affordable services to the “Bharat Segment- the poorest 200 million households in India who survive on less than $5 per person a day” through programs, fellowships, and funding where possible.
The program focuses on solutions leveraging technology, especially the India Stack. It integrates financial inclusion research with entrepreneurship and training to transform these solutions into scalable, viable and high impact businesses. We are keen on partnering with entrepreneurs who are driven by building next-generation digital services for India. Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or ask your questions in the comments section below.