[Interview] Jane del Ser, Program Director, Catalyst Fund Inclusive Digital Commerce, Ghana
Catalyst Fund, managed by BFA Global, is an accelerator that supports inclusive tech innovators and facilitates the growth of innovation ecosystems in emerging markets. Jane del Sur directs this program in Ghana, West Africa.
Could you introduce Catalyst Fund and its function to businesses in Africa.
Catalyst Fund first launched as a global accelerator for inclusive fintech startups in 2015, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and JPMorgan Chase & Co., and fiscal sponsorship from Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. The accelerator was created to support early-stage startups who are building affordable, accessible and appropriate digital financial solutions that improve the financial health of underserved communities in emerging markets. Today, Catalyst Fund aims to support tech innovators across multiple key areas where embedded fintech approaches are crucial to developing better and more impactful solutions that can improve the livelihoods and resilience of underserved customers. The flagship inclusive fintech program is supported by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office and JPMorgan Chase & Co., and the new Inclusive Digital Commerce Accelerator is supported by Mastercard Foundation, and run in partnership with MEST.
In which countries does Catalyst Fund operate?
The flagship Catalyst Fund Inclusive Fintech Accelerator works with early-stage fintech startups in 5 core markets: Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, India, and Mexico. Now with the expansion of the Catalyst Fund Inclusive Digital Commerce Accelerator, we operate in our fourth African country, in Ghana.
Please explain your collaboration with MEST and Mastercard and how this is to benefit SMEs in Africa.
Catalyst Fund, in partnership with the Mastercard Foundation and MEST, just announced the launch of the US$4.3M Catalyst Fund Inclusive Digital Commerce Accelerator, aimed at scaling digital commerce companies in Ghana to support the digitization of micro and small enterprises (MSEs) in the country. This program was founded as part of Mastercard Foundation’s COVID-19 Recovery and Resilience Program, and in alignment with its Young Africa Works strategy to enable 30 million young people in Africa, especially young women, to secure employment they see as dignified and fulfilling by 2030. Country partner MEST brings deep market knowledge and networks, leveraging 12+ years training and incubating tech entrepreneurs in Ghana.
The two-year program delivers benefits for informal micro and small enterprises and aims to improve the livelihoods and financial resilience of MSEs in Ghana that have been impacted by COVID-19, by enabling access to digital commerce platforms and access to market.
There are also benefits for tech companies. The six growth-stage digital commerce companies selected for the program will benefit from Catalyst Fund’s proven acceleration model, which delivers outsized success. Selected companies will receive flexible grant capital of up to US$120,000 per company, expert-led venture acceleration support and portfolio meet-ups and curated cohort-based workshop sessions with local expertise and operational support by MEST
Catalyst Fund Inclusive Digital Commerce also seeks to accelerate the digital commerce ecosystem in Ghana by fostering a more enabling investment and business environment in which digital commerce companies can prosper. We facilitate connections between our portfolio companies and partners from among our global Circle of Investors, with over 65 leading global impact and commercial investors, and our growing Circle of Corporate Innovators. We are also committed to sharing best practices, toolkits, learnings, and insights with the digital commerce sector to expand the knowledge base and trigger a demonstration effect.
Which are the industries of focus in this effort to cushion the effects of Covid-19 on businesses in Ghana?
The recent Ghana Statistical Survey business tracker documents the massive hit that businesses, especially micro businesses, have taken as a result of COVID-19. Among businesses that had opened at the time of the survey, the average decrease in sales compared to April of last year was 60.6 percent. 24% of Ghanaian businesses in the accommodation and food sectors have closed, and microenterprises -- compared to small, medium, and large enterprises -- are facing larger drops in sales and closures. Lockdown measures disproportionately affect informal services and sales businesses, such as street traders which means that women, who are more likely to work in informal microenterprises in urban areas, are facing adverse impacts.
Digital commerce can help underserved segments rebuild their livelihoods. We are currently conducting primary research, which, together with findings from other surveys and studies, will help us understand how the sector can better serve and include informal MSEs, and will guide the priorities of our program.
Who can access the funding being made available?
Interested digital commerce companies can express interest in being considered for the accelerator on our website if they meet a few selection criteria:
Inclusivity. Company targets informal MSEs in Ghana directly or enables other players to reach informal MSEs
Stage fit. Company has a digital product in market, past the minimum viable product stage
Traction. Company has demonstrated traction through a customer base of minimum 1,000 registered MSE users
Geography. Company is Ghana-based or is operational in the Ghanaian market.
Other requirements are;
Product. Company offers solutions across the digital commerce value chain: e-commerce businesses, stock management solutions, logistics, warehousing solutions, and fintech offerings with digital commerce features or products for MSEs
Runway. Company has 6 months of runway based on current projections
Scale potential. Company can contribute to reaching 25,000 additional MSEs within 2 years
Youth focus. Company primarily serves informal MSEs and workers between the ages of 18-35
Is there to be follow-up mentoring and administration of funds with benefiting businesses?
After companies have gone through the Catalyst Fund accelerator, we will continue to offer light touch support via matching with potential investors, strategic partners, and a network of mentors, as well as invitations to participate in our ecosystem activities.
What are your projections for the SMEs in Africa post-COVID-19, and which industries do you think will come out strongest?
Adoption of digital payments has been accelerated by 2-5 years as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Economist. We see digital payments platforms as the big winners here. We are also seeing more adoption of online grocery and food delivery services to absorb the demand for servicing local value chains and marketplaces with essential goods (food, groceries, personal goods) that have had to go online under lockdown.
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