In two and a half weeks, I will travel back to India where we will launch our first accelerator program in Delhi with a cohort of eight companies that we announced yesterday. Through everything that has led to this, the word that keeps revolving around my brain like an LED loop is “connections.” The vital role that so many of the companies in this cohort play is creating better connections between people and opportunities. We called this cohort “formalizing the informal sector” and while that’s a nice turn of phrase, it can seem a little abstract.
Let me borrow from one of our cohort’s applications to make it concrete:
We started this as Maids4U. The reason was a maid telling us that to enter a high rise for a job interview she had to oblige the security guard by either paying money or sitting near him for a while. This shocked me and I decided to make a database of maids at least in my society, so that employers could call them directly. In the beginning as we moved across the slums of Mumbai, we had boys approaching us and saying: “Why are you doing this only for women? We also need jobs.” It was then that we realised how deep the problem was for the Bottom of the Pyramid, and our ABC became ABCDE, andMaids4U became Helper4U even before we had gone live. And we are happy we did…
Helper4U is connecting the individuals who had been knocking on doors on their own into a protected, supportive group to a much larger universe of employers. Formalizing the informal sector.
But the connections I’ve been pondering go further than that. The process of finding these companies began with outreach to over 700 people—entrepreneurs, investors, consultants, old friends… And the response was gratifying. We learned of so many wonderful leads through referrals. Without these connections, we would have been knocking on doors on our own.
Preparing to greet these companies and deliver a program that is valuable to them has been a similar exercise in asking ourselves “who is the best thinker I know on unit economics?” And again, the positive responses have been overwhelming. We have built a curriculum from practical, academic and industry experts who are all willing to share their time to help support these businesses.
Building this network is core to why Upaya has moved into working with groups of companies at a time before we invest. Creating a cohort of businesses in a similar stage and with similar obstacles leads to the best learning possible. The value that these entrepreneurs will get from each other is at least equal if not greater than any value “experts” or “consultants” can confer. It is our privilege to be able to facilitate and participate in that—and make wonderful new connections along the way.