Whether you are just starting a new venture, or whether your enterprise is at growth level, there are many reasons to participate in business accelerator. Drawing from our Business Performance Evaluation (BPE) studies, Giulia Monteleone, researcher on our SPRING evaluation team, shows how businesses gained momentum and benefitted from the SPRING experience.
When businesses were selected to participate in one of the four cohorts of the SPRING Accelerator, they embarked upon a nine-month programme receiving support in a variety of areas, including:
- in the use and application of Human Centred Design (HCD),
- technical assistance from legal and marketing experts,
- advice from SPRING’s investment director, and
- some of the businesses received in-country pro-bono legal and branding support.
As a result of this suite of offerings businesses were able to:
- Use HCD to reach users at scale
Businesses that reached the most girls often targeted adolescent girls as part of a broader market. To do so they used HCD to better understand and meet girls’ needs.
Among all businesses that reached more than 5,000 girls, as well as more broadly across businesses sampled for BPE research, HCD was the single most common tool used to understand and better allow businesses to respond to adolescent girls’ needs. HCD, in fact, was the cornerstone of the strategies which businesses devised to reach adolescent girls. We found that with HCD, businesses that reached a high number of girls gained a better understanding of ‘adolescent girls’ – realising that it is a heterogeneous group with various challenges and needs – as well as other stakeholders. This also allowed businesses to better tailor their offerings and strategies and adjust their prototypes over time.
“HCD is something we picked up at SPRING and are not going to let go of any time soon because it just makes sense. Take something out to the user, test it, use the journey, make [the product] more engaging. I think everything should be done through HCD.” (Kenya-based business)
- Improve sales performance
It costs money to launch a prototype. But even though businesses had initial short-term costs, our findings show that 46 SPRING businesses’ prototypes have remained operational, and over half of all SPRING businesses have increased their sales since the end of the programme. The initial investment proved worthwhile for most prototypes. Most of the businesses which launched prototypes scaled up activities: 80 per cent of the businesses interviewed as part of sustainability research – 50 out of 63 – reported having scaled up, either by reaching more or different types of customers or by expanding to new geographic areas.
“The pandemic actually really accelerated the role of EdTech. The first thing we had to do was cater to a larger volume of students who were coming onto the platform, very organically. We have a YouTube channel … [there was] huge growth there – a lot of students flocked to the YouTube channel and also the live teaching platform.” (Pakistan-based business)
- Refine their targeting strategy
SPRING-supported businesses refined targeting strategies to better appeal to and resonate with specific audiences. For many businesses, the SPRING experience turned out to be an eye-opener that made them realise the economic potential of adolescent girls – an ‘invisible’ market up to that point. As a result, businesses whose prototype did not focus primarily on girls decreased from 80% at baseline to 42% one year after their initial engagement with SPRING.
Businesses then started targeting girls either as part of a specific age group or as part of a broader population – females, households, children, and youth. The approach depended on each business’ aim and whether they wanted to affect broader social norms, achieve a ‘trickle-down’ effect, or reach girls at scale.
In refining their targeting strategy they also learned that that is was not sufficient to gain the trust of adolescent girls. Gatekeepers such as family members or community leaders play a crucial role as they have the power to influence girls’ ability to purchase or access a certain product.
- Attract investment
SPRING supported businesses to attract investment or grants, providing direct support though investment readiness, visual identity, branding and organisational strengthening:
“We are receiving continued support…so whatever bottleneck we face in terms of communication, in terms of access, access to government agencies or any donor agencies or development agencies, even with [corporates], they will help us on getting that access.” (Nepal-based business)
Across the SPRING portfolio, 49 out of 75 businesses received investment readiness support. Of these, 27 improved their performance against SPRING investment readiness criteria, and 29 managed to attract investment that was attributable to SPRING, for a total value of £16.9m.
As a prospective participant, the decision to participate to a business accelerator needs to be weighed against the short-term opportunity cost of such decision. Our research indicates that an accelerator may be exactly what you need if you are looking to deepen your impact, broaden your target audience, reach clients at scale, or raise investment finance.
If you are interested in further understanding how participation in a business accelerator of the likes of SPRING could support your venture, please consult our Business Performance Evaluation Summative Report.