Report: meet-up on scaling innovation

Report: meet-up on scaling innovation

Event – April 30th, 2018

To provide humanitarian innovators with useful information and examples, DCHI organized a Third Thursday Meet-Up on scaling innovation. During the event on 19 April, the Humanitarian Innovation Fund (HIF), Africa Clean Energy (ACE), Akvo and World Start-up Factory shared their lessons learned and advice.

Claire Dusonchet from the Humanitarian Innovation Fund explained what the HIF can do to help start-ups to scale. The mission of the HIF is to support innovations that improve humanitarian response. It has a core grant program, 3 thematic funding initiatives ​and currently 140 innovations are funded​. According to the HIF the definition of scale is: Building on demonstrated successes to ensure solutions reach more people while delivering the intended impact, in a financially sustainable way. Creating a truly enabling environment for scale, will require a collaborative effort across different actors in the sector. Other essential elements on the road to scale are: setting the trajectories, keep on learning, and developing routines in your way of working.

Jeroen van der Sommen, co-founder and director from Akvo, went through the changes Akvo has made to its internal organization, in order to keep up with the growing size of their activities and tools for data-driven development work. Akvo is a not-for-profit foundation that creates open source, internet and mobile software . Jeroens advice on how to manage growth: ​become predictable, so people know what to expect from you, and you know what to expect as the business grows​. This also extends to financial monthly figures, market sales pipelines​, billable hours, the IT development process​ and risk assessment.

Judith Joan Walker, director of operations of African Clean Energy, explains that in order to make impact at scale, ACE is not just selling cook-stoves, but offering their clients in rural areas a complete package in line with their needs.​ The cook-stoves have the following benefits: health Improvement​, financial savings, reduced woodfuel use​, CO2 reduction​ and reduced burn risk. So in fact, ACE sells a lot more than just a cook-stove. Essential on their road to scale was the use of smarter data​, customer-centric service​ and digital technologies​. By collecting data regarding the current situation of the target group and by organizing customer surveys, ACE could form a clear idea about the wants, needs and financial situation of their target group. This allowed them to develop a business model in line with the needs of the potential buyers.

Gerrit Jan van ‘t Veen, co-founder of World Startup Factory & Wunderpeople, provided the perspective of an investor and explained that when they assess if a start-up has got the potential to scale, predictability and good data are key. A financing model with multiple recourses (funds, investors etc) can help to reduce the risk for each party involved. Gerrit Jan emphasized that working in teams is important to bring innovations to the next level. You can’t know everything, so make sure you work with people that bring together a diverse skillset.

scaling innovation

During the discussion we defined some barriers, lessons learned and recommendations that can help when you want to take your innovation to scale.

– Getting your solution to potential clients, including humanitarian organisations.
– Scale is too dependent on temporary funding or funding from one source.
– Wanting to scale too fast.
– Lack of investment / working capital / cash flow.

Lessons learned:
– Choose a scaling model that fits your organization (social enterprise, hybrid, centralized or decentralized, franchise etc).
– Be clear: what is your core offer. Stay focused on that. Kill your darlings if needed.
– Know your customer and their needs. Strong data-collection can help you with that.
– Connect to competitors or parties that deliver part of the solution that you work on.
– Work with a diverse team with diverse skills, including expertise regarding the way larger organizations are run.

– Offer a solution with an integrated approach to problems.
– Structure your organizational process.
– Use mixed revenue models.
– Develop a payment model that fits the client.

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