DAI hosts ANDE West Africa Workshop: How Incubators & Accelerators Can Build Corporate Partnerships

Many donors, governments, and corporations have recognized the need to assist small businesses and entrepreneurs amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, but another group—entrepreneurship support organizations (ESOs), which help those same small firms—are also suffering from a lull in funding and assistance.

In recognition of this knowledge and funding gap, the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE) West Africa Chapter recently hosted a workshop on Building Corporate Partnerships During and Post COVID-19. This 90-minute session was the most recent in ANDE’s series of capacity-building workshops for intermediary entities—primarily ESOs—designed to continue supporting entrepreneurs during the global pandemic and its associated macroeconomic uncertainty.

Facilitated by three DAI Sustainable Business Group (SBG) experts—Zaki Raheem, Senior Manager in Entrepreneurship and Enterprise Development; Dipika Chawla, Manager in Corporate Social Investment; and Alyssa Menz, Associate Manager in Sustainability and Supply Chain Development—this interactive discussion covered three elements of building corporate partnerships for ESOs: the why, the how, and tips to build more and better corporate partnerships.

Watch the full webinar here:

Drawing on learning from SBG’s corporate client base, the team kicked off the workshop by sharing corporates’ two primary motivations for funding entrepreneurship programs:

  • Development objectives: generating jobs, strengthening local supply chains, promoting innovation, and simulating local markets.
  • Strategic and commercial objectives: social license to operate, industry competitiveness, stakeholder engagement, and access to research and development.

Unlike donors, corporates are not looking to give out funding. Thus, it is critical for ESOs to better understand the corporate partner’s objectives, which not only affect how an ESO should approach a corporate (through a unique value proposition), but which type of program the ESO should ultimately implement.

The team then dove into three primary mechanisms ESOs can use to partner with corporates:

  • Nonfinancial support: inviting corporate employees to serve as mentors, coaches, guest speakers, or judges for pitch events; attend ESO buyer days and demo days; and provide perks (“noncash prizes”) to high-performing startups and small businesses that graduate from the ESO programs.
  • Core program funding: securing corporate sponsorship for ESO programs and/or specific cohorts; seed capital (in the form of grants, investment, and/or debt) for ESO graduates; and space rental.
  • Consulting and fee-for-service: offering to conduct research for corporate clients such as market studies, ecosystem mapping, and industry briefs; support with local supplier development; and deliver internal corporate innovation and entrepreneurship facilitation for employees.

DAI provided examples of such activities from corporate-funded entrepreneurship training programs, including the Kosmos Innovation Center in Ghana and Shell LiveWIRE program.

The team also outlined three key challenges that ESOs face when pursuing corporate partnerships and offered potential solutions:

  • Bridging different worlds: Corporates and ESOs often speak different languages and function on different time frames, meaning many ESOs don’t fully understand the corporate’s needs and drivers. The SBG team recommended treating corporate partnerships as a business development process and truly investing the time, energy, and resources needed to build trusting relationships and strong channels of communication with corporate counterparts.
  • Articulating a value proposition: ESOs tend to focus on what they need instead of clearly stating their value to corporates. This challenge can be overcome by conducting market research to understand the corporate’s greatest competitors and obstacles, then tailoring a pitch to meet these specific needs (with an emphasis on social impact and the corporate’s triple bottom line).
  • Sustainability: ESOs need sustained funding for operations yet corporates may want to simply offer one-time investments. Many corporates still view entrepreneurship programs as a public relations exercise, thus ESOs must help corporates see the value of entrepreneurship for long-term impact and clearly connect corporates’ financial investment to their social impact story.

To help put the ideas into practice, the workshop concluded with an activity where all 63 participants (representing more than a dozen countries across four continents) were broken into small groups and tasked with creating a corporate partnership strategy for one of four international firms: Olam (agribusiness), Barclays (finance), Chevron (energy), or MTN (telecommunications). After 15 minutes, the groups gave a one-minute pitch that drew on learnings from the previous workshop sections.

Their persuasive pitches and clear value propositions revealed that the participants were leaving with the toolbox needed to pursue meaningful, innovative partnerships with corporates and in turn advance ANDE and DAI’s shared mission of propelling entrepreneurship and community development in emerging markets.