Accion, a pioneer and leader in global microfinance, today announced the launch of Venture Lab, an initiative dedicated to providing seed capital and management support to financial inclusion start-ups worldwide.
The $10 million program will seek out companies that have completed research and development and are at the pilot/first-revenue stage. Investments will typically be in the range of US $100,000-$300,000, invested either as convertible debt or equity.
“There is tremendous excitement and promise across the globe in efforts to deliver vital financial services to those who have traditionally lacked access,” said Michael Schlein, Accion president and CEO. “Our new Accion Venture Lab will seek companies developing innovative technologies and disruptive business models with the potential to transform the quality and scale of services available to the financially excluded.”
Seeking approximately 20 investments over the next three years, Venture Lab will focus primarily in the following areas:
- Mobile financial services: Mobile phone-based financial services or business models built on branchless banking platforms, delivering services that include savings accounts, remittances, credit, and micro-insurance.
- Credit underwriting/delivery: Specialized credit assessment or delivery models to finance not only microenterprises, but also housing, education, small and medium enterprises, and energy initiatives.
- Internet and social media: Online or social media platforms for enabling financial access (e.g., peer-to-peer lending and social media-based financial services).
- Embedded financial services: Pay-as-you-go or lease-to-own energy products, modular housing and other ‘embedded’ financial-service models.
- New technology for bottom-of-the-pyramid finance: Taking advantage of new technology innovations (cloud computing, Internet access, handhelds/tablets) to improve the reach, cost, or quality of financial services to underserved customers, including customer relationship management, field force management, marketing/customer education, and analytics.
Geographically, Venture Lab’s mandate is global. Preliminary research has focused largely on companies in East Africa and South Asia. In the coming months, Latin America will also be a focal point.
Venture Lab will seek to support start-ups at a vital stage when they are normally considered ‘pre-investable’ – that is, when a product or service is ready to test the market but has not yet proved its ability to generate revenue. The Lab will provide not only patient capital, but also a dedicated team ready to assist with early-stage tasks such as analytics, financial modeling, business development and reaching scale.
Venture Lab’s assistance will leverage Accion’s technical capacity, its global network of microfinance institutions, and relationships in the global microfinance and mainstream financial industries to help build an entrepreneurial ecosystem in which portfolio companies can thrive.
The Lab will be directed by Paul Breloff out of Accion’s Washington, D.C. offices, with staff to be based in East Africa and India.
Venture Lab complements Accion’s Frontier Investments Group, which focuses on similarly disruptive but more established companies with demonstrated revenue traction. Both investment vehicles are part of ongoing efforts by Accion to explore innovative business models that will radically improve the efficiency and enhance the quality of financial-service delivery to the under-banked.