Social Entrepreneurship in Emerging Markets: An Interview with MVision and Harmony Ventures
EMPEA had the opportunity to speak with EMPEA Member, Mounir Guen, Founder & CEO of MVision Private Equity Advisers, and Harmony Ventures’ founders Yassamin Issapour and Aymeric Pacton about the winner of a Dhaka Start-up Competition, MyDoctor, a micro health insurance program which uses garbage as a financial resource to create clinics staffed by local doctors and medical students to treat and support people in the Bangladesh community. Harmony Ventures’ Inaugural Dhaka Start-up Competition was held in Spring 2016 with the intention to provide ‘young entrepreneurs with mentorship, resources and funding to develop their social enterprises in Bangladesh.’ The nine-month long competition gathered over 250 applicants and featured nine finalists who pitched their sustainable development business model ideas to a panel of local and international expert judges.
Humayun Kabir, one of the founders of MyDoctor, commented on behalf of their start-up work after the Competition, “Bangladesh, as a developing country, is marred by many sustainable development and structural issues; putting these factors aside, there are individuals there with transformative ideas and businesses. Without private capital investments in Bangladesh, the marketplace for business opportunities, for anybody who does not want to work as a laborer, is non-existent.” MyDoctor was awarded the MVision Innovation Award for Social Entrepreneurship.
Mounir Guen, Founder & CEO, MVision
How did MVision become involved with Harmony Ventures’ Inaugural Dhaka Start-up Competition and why did you find it important to be involved with a program such as this?
MVision was excited to support talented, young university students with international backgrounds who are interested in making an impact and assisting others in the emerging markets, especially in Bangladesh. It is important for us at MVision to invigorate, encourage and promote young minds interested in the emerging markets space to think forward.
Students who have start-up business ideas that are originating in an environment that is more challenging, such as in Bangladesh, have
to approach their business model with a much more transformational and creative angle than those students studying and promoting start-ups in developed markets due to the necessity of daily life. When we look at the winner of the Competition, MyDoctor, we see their innovative business model in the healthcare sector that uses garbage that has been recycled back into the community in order to provide medical care in neighborhood clinics. MyDoctor shows that when working in an environment that is challenging to understand, solutions are driven by innovation more than money.
MVision finds it crucial to look at the ideas that young people have and look to promote them globally so they may be copied or used in other emerging markets. We wanted to create an infrastructure that
recognizes the value of innovation and talent for the next generation
across the world. It’s all about innovation, energy, and impact.
What do you think made the MyDoctor organization stand out and win the MVision Innovation Award for Social Entrepreneurship?
Throughout the Competition, Harmony Ventures looked at a variety of factors of the final panelists, including their academic background, sector preference, and business experience, in order to asses and see what was most impactful about their social welfare pitch.
The nine finalists’ proposals were so impressive that it was clearly a difficult decision to make because of the high quality of the start-up propositions. But what I believe made MyDoctor stand out among the rest was their robust proposal and innovative spirit behind changing the healthcare sector in Bangladesh. We plan to offer long-term support to brilliant young minds behind social entrepreneurial ideas such as MyDoctor, and we encourage other people to learn from their model and be inspired to make changes in their communities. Our goal would be to continue to promote these operations and support start-ups with visions like MyDoctor by implementing a sustainable 1-3-5-Year Business Plan.
I applaud structured entrepreneurial environments like Harmony Ventures who are working to create an atmosphere where young minds can be in a controlled environment to be recognized and supported in their endeavors. At MVision, we want to provide on-going support. We are hoping to execute on this by having the Competition’s candidates come back to MVision with 1-3-5 Year Impact Plan, to nationalize it, globalize it and look for funding.
What role does sustainable development play in private equity and the overall economic development in emerging markets?
It is important to address the role of sustainable development and ESG policy when it comes to improving the conditions in emerging markets, and the role of young people is extremely relevant to address. We must listen to the intelligent young minds of tomorrow who are pointing out changes that need to be made in the sustainability business arena as they are also showing us areas of solution. Every private equity firm has different views, ideas or practices on ESG policy and sustainable development initiatives, but we all take it very seriously.
When we look at the pragmatic side of promoting private equity through sustainable development, we see a great example of MyDoctor’s work in Bangladesh. Private Equity in newer markets should be working with different new structures, such as corporate structures and platforms. Currently, there is nothing stopping start-ups in this space from going into this area. MyDoctor is retrieving the waste from the community, recycling it so it can benefit healthcare system and creating a strong corporate structure which enables a resilient culture which ultimately helps with the overall healthcare environment.
We want to stress that MyDoctor’s start-up work is something that others can replicate to impact the welfare of those in the emerging markets. To be specific, diagnostic centers, clinics and hospitals represent a large area of activity where this impact can happen: they can create a better welfare environment which will lead to better neighborhoods, which then allows private equity to step in, ultimately creating a profit for investors.
How can the private equity ecosystem and EMPEA Members help these innovative social welfare ideas?
Through EMPEA’s networks, I could see the private equity ecosystem create a community or subgroup where people put in small venture capital or personal money and try to stimulate Harmony Ventures’ Competition for example in different countries. If we could replicate this type of competition that we saw in Bangladesh in other counties, we would create a lot of change and see strong social welfare impact.
EMPEA Members are investing and working in these types of emerging markets, we must find socially responsible outlets, like MyDoctor, to contribute to the communities. Many private equity firms in emerging markets are building local schools, clinics, social programs and scholarships, and these are helping to improve the communities.
We are listening to the minds of tomorrow that are showing us nuances in how to impact our world a little more creatively, and the additional private equity contribution in start-ups like MyDoctor is quite powerful in the emerging markets environment where they are working. Our generation needs to be guided by the young since they are very quickly able to point out the opportunities: something that needs to be improved and changed for the betterment of our communities.
Yassamin Issapour, Founder, Managing Partner, Harmony Ventures
Aymeric Pacton, Managing Partner, Harmony Ventures
What prompted you to start Harmony Ventures and the start-up competition?
I [Yassamin Issapour] was completing a field research project in Bangladesh through Columbia University on income inequality and had the opportunity to converse with students, government employees, and other professionals. I saw a difference in their cultures and how they viewed the problems their country faced, especially sustainable development challenges in their communities. While I realized there were grave problems, like access to clean water, I also saw that there was no outlet for students who had social welfare ideas to address these issues and to follow up on their brainstorming. I spoke with
Aymeric Pacton about creating some sort of outlet where students can turn their ideas on socially sustainable welfare into actual businesses. Aymeric and I then formed Harmony Ventures in order to explore the venture capital community in Bangladesh and see how it could support sustainable development in emerging markets.
Harmony Ventures thought the best way for upcoming sustainable entrepreneurs’ ideas to come to fruition is to create a competition where students could propose their business plans and contend to win funding, mentorship, consulting services, and classes. We wanted to make sure that the Inaugural Dhaka Start-up Competition presented the winner with more than just a monetary prize, but also with the internal support that they would need to peruse their business goals.
What role do you see sustainable development playing in private equity in emerging economies?
People are starting to realize that financial interests and social interests are not divorced and that they are and should be related. We think that private equity investors will play a more interesting role in emerging markets’ social welfare start-ups once the community understands sustainable development better and the overlap it can have with returns.
Implementing private equity in the early stage of sustainable companies, especially in Bangladesh, makes a monumental impact on the community since private equity can act as an accelerator to promote the ideas of the companies; however, it is currently difficult to find this important capital. We believe that private equity is what is going to drive the markets like Bangladesh in the future and make them much more effective, and we hope that the initiatives of Harmony Ventures help investors better understand the culture of these markets and what the needs are in these developing communities.
How does using private capital help promote innovation and ultimately, aid in reaching your goals for Bangladesh?
Private capital is one of the largest drivers of innovation and economic productivity, given that the capital markets are not easily accessible in Emerging Asia, and so we hope the Competition will provide access for private capital to directly meet the needs of these sustainable entrepreneurs. Bangladesh does not have the market developments that other countries do such as transparency standards, accounting standards and there remains to be issues in liquidity. Therefore, private capital can help build businesses from the ground up, develop and communicate best practices, and pave the way for a very much needed future private market in Bangladesh.
People should know that Bangladesh has a lot to offer the world. There is a blossoming start-up community with highly educated and highly passionate entrepreneurs with big ideas. Bangladesh should be an attractive marketplace for private equity investments as it is not an overcrowded space and has the government’s support and promotional backing. We believe that international private equity investors should be looking for hungry entrepreneurs, such as the team behind MyDoctor, as they have had to think and work in conditions that are unlike anything investors will see in developed markets. We hope that Harmony Ventures and the Inaugural Dhaka Start-up Competition will raise awareness and showcase the need to build a market space in emerging markets for early stage impact investing. The best way to do that is to provide the means for these social entrepreneurs to connect to capital in every form available.