Kickstarting the first Financial Inclusion Lab!

by Akanksha Mittal and Abhas Mrig

The CIIE+Bharat Inclusion, MicroSave team with the Donors

The Bharat Inclusion Initiative’s first cohort of early stage startups kickstarted their journey with CIIE, and with each other at an intense (or not so?) 6-day bootcamp within the hallowed walls of IIMA. The cohort comprised startups working in the areas of financial inclusion, skilling and livelihood enhancement. The bootcamp served as a means to impart key knowledge and skills to the founders. We witnessed startups finding synergies in each other’s work. Their long, arduous, and often lonely journey of being entrepreneurs got them closer.

Discussions with experts from various domains along with candid conversations with the teams helped the entrepreneurs fine-tune their product ideas. Representatives from donor organisations, viz. Pawan Bakhshi from BMGF, Maneesha Chaddha from JP Morgan and Santhosh Ramdoss from MSDF, highlighted their vision and expectations from the Bharat Inclusion Initiative. They strongly re-emphasized the sheer scale of the financial exclusion that prevails, and hence, the scale of opportunity that exists for the entrepreneurs.

Learning sessions were structured to help entrepreneurs gain insights into the user behavior and characteristics of the low income customers. The objective was to enable the founders leverage this information to build products that serve the needs of this underserved population. The sessions carried the founders through a product development journey towards building the right MVP. They covered a comprehensive range of topics, from sharply defining the key value propositions to designing detailed business models around it, while using technology such as India Stack to further strengthen the value proposition. Interspersed between these, were sessions on the small-little big-skills that every entrepreneur needs to possess. These included negotiation, effectual thinking, unit economics, and impactful communication.

The sessions were put together by various partners and sectoral experts like MicroSave, iSPIRT, ThoughtWorks, CIIE, and IIMA. These sessions provided a hands-on environment for entrepreneurs to extract themselves from their daily business operations and take a bird’s-eye view of their startup. Conversations with experienced entrepreneurs like Abhishek Sinha of Eko, Sasidhar Thumuluri of Basix Sub-K, Sanket Nayak of Digio and Sucharita Mukherjee of Kaleidofin and Jayshree Vyas of SEWA Bank engaged entrepreneurs in exploring entrepreneurial challenges and the means to surmount them. A comprehensive discussion ensued around India Stack and managing the regulatory uncertainty around Aadhaar usage. Abhishek Sinha’s session in particular, highlighted, amidst other key learnings, the need to get the right customer value proposition, while Sanket Nayak shed light on India Stack APIs, especially eNACH, which many startups were looking to integrate in their models.

Each startup spent time with multiple experts and mentors who helped them identify key risks to be mitigated, problems to be solved, and assumptions to be validated as they go about building their solutions. This provided a perspective, fresh and nonpartisan, while addressing specific doubts and leaving the founders with lots to ponder upon. Evenings passed by quickly for entrepreneurs as they participated in Diagnostic Panels with 2 -3 hour discussions between the founders and relevant experts. These panel focused on identifying some of the key challenges facing the entrepreneurs and brainstorm on ways to overcome those. A networking dinner organised along with the bootcamp was an opportunity for attendee startups and mentors to engage in a relaxed setting and candid conversations.

With the kickstart done, it is now time to accelerate. The startups will now refine their solutions based on the inputs received and set themselves up for challenging milestones. CIIE and MicroSave will continue to support the founders’ endeavors through field studies, market access and mentoring (and of course, a generous prototyping grant!).

Eager to know which startups made it to the bootcamp? Keep watching this space to know the cohort of the first Financial Inclusion Lab.

About the Author:

Akanksha Mittal and Abhas Mrig are Portfolio Managers of Bharat Inclusion Initiative at CIIE, India’s foremost entrepreneurship centre housed at IIM Ahmedabad.

About Bharat Inclusion Initiative (BII):

Bharat Inclusion Initiative (BII) is an incubator platform at CIIE 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 bharatinclusion@ciieindia.org or ask your questions in the comments section below.